Fleeing homes for better future

In search of promising land: Millions of refugees and immigrants cross over to other countries in search of safety

Fleeing homes for better future

Take India’s biggest cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Ahmedabad – and imagine each and every one in them attempting to migrate at the same time.  You get an idea about the scale of migration and the refugee issue dogging the world.

Quoting latest figures, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) said there are, at present, 51 million refugees who fled their homes from persecution, conflict, poverty and in search of a better life. Migration of all kinds is at its peak since the end of the Second World War, says the UN refugee agency.

In fact, 2014 has turned out to be the worst year for migrants, some 5,000 of whom have died on way to their destinations, says the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The United States, Western Europe and to some extent India have been the default destinations of illegal migrants. In most cases, the visitors are unwelcome and governments have tended to deport them.  It is in this context that US President Barack Obama last month stunned Americans by deciding to legalise the status of several thousand illegal migrants.

Obama, in his second and last term in office, in November set the cat among the pigeons with his announcement on immigration reform that polarised the country like no other in recent years.  If Obama’s proposal goes through, it will mean a windfall for at least five million of the 13 million unregistered or undocumented immigrants.

The beneficiaries mostly comprise migrants from Latin America. Some 2,50,000 Indians too stand to benefit.

Obama’s decision has split opinion along its political fault lines with the Republicans quoted as saying that he is not an Emperor to make such unilateral announcements while the president’s supporters say it is a move to legalise those working in various industries without statutory protection and subject to exploitation.  

Take the situation closer home. India has seen a spurt in the flow of illegal migrants into Assam and West Bengal since the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971.  Estimates of migrants range from six million to 20 million. Cultural similarities which enable the illegal migrants, mostly Bengali Muslims, to melt into India’s vastness, a porous border and improper monitoring have made it impossible to arrive at exact figures.

Many migrants remain in West Bengal and the Northeast where they are viewed with suspicion by locals who regard them as people who will snatch already scarce natural resources and compete for jobs.

This feeling has bred resentment among local communities who frequently attack those they suspect to be illegal migrants.

Leftist political parties and the Trinamool Congress have extended patronage to the migrants in the hope they can make a difference during elections. Conservative parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party view it through a communal lens and demand strict restrictions. In short, the issue is a political hot potato in West Bengal and Assam with the migrants buffeted by cross-winds blowing from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

Among the more recent global trends in migration is the one within the European Union which is seeing a flow of people from the east of the continent to the more developed west.  Tied down by EU regulations, officials in countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and France watch helplessly as migrants arrive in droves.

Already, anger is building up over the entry of east Europeans which is threatening to alter political equations.  In the UK, for instance, Eurosceptic parties are gaining mileage on the promise of curbing immigration even if it means breaking away from the Union.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics , some 78,000 more migrated to the country in 2014, compared to 2013, June on June.
The EU immigrants to Britain numbered 2,28,000, up from 1,83,000 last year. These increases have come despite the David Cameron-led Conservative Government’s vow to reduce immigration through tighter laws.

 In fact, the UK has seen an overall rise in immigrants from 5,02,000 last year to 5,83,000 this year.

European countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, which are temptingly close to Africa, have built iron fencing to block unauthorised migrants.  After crossing tough forests and harsh deserts of the continent followed by a suicidal boat ride, thousands find themselves perched on European soil only to be quickly sequestered and deported.  In recent months, gangs have smuggled in asylum-seekers and refugees desperate to flee fighting in Libya, Sudan and Somalia. According to the United Nations, some 1,10,000 illegal migrants have entered Europe from Africa this year.  Some 3500 were not so lucky and perished in the Mediterranean sea while crossing it.

Europe’s entry point

Since the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the border has haemorrhaged with some 20 boats leaving for Italy every day.  In the past, Gaddafi’s security would clamp down on such exits. In 2013, an estimated 1,07,000 illegal migrants tried crossing into Europe, up from 75,000 the previous year, said the International Organisation for Migration. Of these, one-fourth was from conflict-hit Syria while many others were from Afghanistan.

The intention is to somehow set foot in Europe. Once in, reports say, they move on from the landing points in Italy and Greece to the richer countries of Europe where they use the democratic system to get asylum.  Italy looks the other way as the government there would prefer to distribute the refugees to other countries rather than take care of all of them.

A report in The Telegraph, London, said in 2013, there were more asylum seekers in Germany (76,000) and France (62,000) than in Italy (23,500) where they had come in.

The most complex of them all is West Asia where countries that were sanctuaries have now turned insecure and those that were unstable have now become relatively more stable.

 If migrants fled Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion to Syria and Turkey, now Syrians are fleeing from the civil war that has torn the nation since mid-2012.

Million people in displacement worldwide at the end of 2013

Year    Average Displacement of People Everyday
2011        14,000
2012        23,000
2013        32,000

3,50,000 people worldwide have taken to the seas in search of asylum or of better opportunities, since the beginning of 2014

4,000 Children, did not survive these dangerous journeys, although the real number is probably considerably higher.

* UNHCR anticipates number of people in displacement will be much higher by the end of 2014

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees : "In addition to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who had already sought safety in the Kurdistan Region, more than 1.9 million Iraqis have been internally displaced in 2014. And there are some 1,80,000 Iraqi refugees abroad, half of whom fled during the last 10 months."

Europe

Country    No of Refugees
France        2,32,487
Germany      1,87,567
UK              1,26,055
Sweden       1,14,175
Italy              78,061

Tony Abbott Prime Minister, Australia: "Let's remember that everyone in these (detention) centre is there because he or she has come illegally by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong….But we want them to go back to the country from which they came, that's what we want."

Syria

The Biggest Humanitarian Emergency of Our Era

In Syria: January 2014

Refugees                         1,49,292
Returned Refugees            1,40,761
Internally Displaced
Persons                          65,20,800
Stateless Persons              1,60,000
Total Population of
Concern                         69,73,348


Originating from Syria: Jan 2014

Refugees                      24,68,369
Returned Refugees           1,40,761

*The UN and its partners recently sought $ 8.4 billion from international community for a new programme in 2015 to help 12.2 million people inside Syria.

Iraq

In Iraq: January 2014


Refugees                  2,46,298
Returned Refugees        60,881
Internally Displaced
Persons                    9,54,128
Stateless Persons       1,20,000
Total Population of
Concern                  14,50,568

* About 1.8 million people were displaced by insecurity in Iraq between January and
September 2014, and heavy fighting has continued to force people to flee to other parts of the country.

* Many of the displaced have sought safety in the Kurdistan Region, which is also hosting more than 95 per cent of Syrian refugees in Iraq.


Originating from Iraq: January 2014  
   

Refugees                      4,01,417
Returned Refugees            60,881

North America

Major destinations of refugees

USA          2,63,662
Canada      1,60,349

Asia

Refugee situation in major countries in Asia

Country        Refugees From       Refugees In     Internally Displaced 
China               1,95,137              3,01,047
Sri Lanka           1,23,088                  145               42,191
India                   11,042              1,88,395                -
Bangladesh             9,839             2,31,145                -
Myanmar            4,79,608                  -                3,72,000
Indonesia              14,786                 3,206                -
Afghanistan       25,56,556                16,863          6,31,286
Pakistan                48,867            16,16,507         7,47,498

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