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Illegal Migration is Among the Primary Challenges Facing the World

Illegal Migration is Among the Primary Challenges Facing the World

Wednesday, 8 February, 2023 - 12:45
Dr. Nassif Hitti
Former Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs

Illegal migration is a global challenge that has grown in scale for a number of reasons. At the top of the list, of course, are the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and the negative implications it has had for various parts of the world, albeit to different degrees decided by the extent to which the pandemic spread in each country, as well as the country’s economic and other capacities for successfully addressing its various repercussions.

The repercussions of the ongoing Ukrainian war have also played a role in increasing migration rates, mostly by pushing millions of Ukrainians to flee the country. According to the statistics of the National Bank of Ukraine released earlier this year, around nine million Ukrainians have left the country because of the ongoing war. The global food crisis, another one of the repercussions of this war, has had various repercussions across the world, pushing many to migrate for economic reasons.

To these factors, we can add the “traditional” historical reasons for migration. Among them are never-ending crises and wars that impoverish societies and make the living conditions of citizens unbearable, pushing them to seek refuge abroad. Of course, we also have the heated political crises plaguing countries across the globe and all the negative repercussions they imply, like turning these countries into what are known as failed states that are uninhabitable.

Climate change and the drought and desertification it causes have major demographic implications as well. They propel the migration of substantial segments of the population searching for a place where they can lead normal lives and meet their basic needs. Indeed, the famines that these climate conditions create are a major reason for migration.

Last year, Europe saw the highest rate of illegal immigration since 2016, with a 77 increase from 2021. The Western Balkans are among the main pathways for immigration toward the European Union: migrants coming from the Middle East and other Asian countries like Afghanistan and its neighbors. The Mediterranean region, in the east and south, is another route. It is not only taken by the residents of these Mediterranean countries, which have been hit with wars or severe economic crises - Libya, in particular, comes to mind. In fact, most of the migrants taking this route come from sub-Saharan Africa, especially from East Africa, where drought and desertification have wreaked havoc and exacerbated the acute economic crises in this region...

This has had an impact on Italy’s “Mediterranean” diplomacy. The Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other officials have been proactively engaging with Libya, Algeria, and Egypt in an effort to assist and cooperate in developing policies to curb migration to the Old Continent through the Mediterranean. It goes without saying that Italy is a major gateway for this migration. Italy’s recent moves come within the context of the crystallization of a European Union policy to prioritize addressing illegal immigration and cooperation with the countries from which the immigrants reach Europe.

Mexico is another hub for illegal immigration. Most of those migrating from there to the United States of America illegally are, of course, from Mexico itself. However, it is also a gateway for citizens of other South American countries suffering from economic problems that also make life unbearable. Illegal migration through Mexico was on top of the agenda at the ‘Three Amigos’ summit that brought Mexico, the United States of America, and Canada together in Mexico less than a month ago.

It is should be noted that many European countries do, nonetheless, need legal immigration. This is not new to modern European history, and the same is true for the US. Indeed, some European countries suffer from what is called an inverted demographic pyramid (that is, the percentage of senior citizens and retirees far exceeds that of young people of working age or close to becoming of working age). This makes receiving immigrants of working age who can meaningfully contribute to the economy a necessity. They also work in particular sectors and businesses that struggle to find employees for an array of reasons.

The countries receiving these illegal immigrants face a massive challenge. The exacerbation of the economic crisis, first because of the coronavirus pandemic and then the Ukrainian war, makes this challenge more difficult. Another complicating factor is that many of these host countries are dealing with a broad array of economic crises due to globalization, which has limited their productive competitiveness... These problems have increased unemployment and laid the groundwork for the rise of racist populist movements.

The radical hard right feeds on crises and exploits these problems to push a conspiratorial, simplistic and reductive narrative that holds the “other” (those of a different ethnicity, nationality or religion) responsible for the crisis weighing down on citizens. This has heightened tension and field strife, undermining these countries’ ability to address the real causes of their economic crises.

Illegal immigration cannot be resolved overnight. It demands global cooperation and joint efforts that address the various causes of migration from the countries of origin, those that export immigrants and shun their people. It can only be addressed effectively through multi-faceted, multi-dimensional joint efforts and cooperation in addressing the domestic and global challenges specific to each country. International, regional, and national cooperation aimed at developing local solutions, even gradually, for countries suffering from acute crises will not be as easy as many think. However, it is not impossible. It requires a will to save these countries, which is in everyone’s interest, though in different ways and at different times. Only thus can we address what is simultaneously a humanitarian and strategic issue in its dimensions and implications.

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