Migration as a Peace Issue

MigrantsOne in every thirty people on our planet is a migrant. For hundreds of thousands of years human beings have been on the move. It is stated that about 240 million people are on the move in the world today. Our globalised world is confronted with migratory flows and reactions against migration are growing.

Migration is the subject of the day!

  • In 1964, the Belgian government signed an agreement with the governments of Morocco and Turkey to make migration to Belgium possible.
  • In October 2013, we saw the Lampedusa boat tragedy with refugees coming from sub-Saharan Africa, some of them unaccompanied children. Almost every year the Mediterranean Sea turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate effort to reach the European Union.
  • On 9 February 2014, a small majority (50.3 %) of the Swiss population voted in a referendum for a stop to mass migration.
  • The number of Syrian refugees is close to 2.5 million and one in three Syrians has been forced to leave their home.
  • In Bulgaria, which is the border between Turkey and the European Union, the government has authorised the building of a fence to keep Syrian refugees out of the country.
  • On 16 February 2014, a co-pilot of Ethiopian Airlines high-jacked a plane to Geneva, requesting asylum in the country.

When we discuss the issue of migration almost everybody has an opinion on the topic. Right-wing parties and sectors of the media are feeding the general population with anti-migrant feelings – “they” against “us.” “Our territory is full” is a statement expressed many times by populist politicians and opinion makers. The narrow interests of people get more attention than the expression of solidarity with those who are in need. The global debate in most European countries is polarised. You are either in favour or against new migration. In most of the cases “fear” is fed to justify the restrictive policies against new migrations. I notice a lack of political leadership in most EU countries on this issue. Right-wing parties and the media are filling the gap and that is not in favour of those seeking asylum. 

Because of the advancements in communications and transport, but also because of the power of networks, migratory flows have been gaining in density and intensity, from South to North, but more in particular within the South – from China to Africa – from the East of Africa to South Africa.

The push factors of migration are well known: misery or poverty, persecutions or discrimination, civil war, climate change, etc. At the same time, people are thirsty for freedom and looking for jobs. Women, who are the majority of migrants, are not looking for family reunification but they are looking for a job. Women want to play their role in our economy. Some of these women risk ending up in the hands of traffickers and “disappear” in prostitution or illegal activities.

The link between migration and security can be seen in the field of terrorism risks, import of diseases, and an increase of criminal activities. Critics are also arguing that the growing influx of migrants is weakening our social services as well (schools, social, security, etc.).

It becomes clear that the routes of migration gain in complexity. It is important to question the root cause-effect relationships between all the social, political, economic and security challenges posed by migration in today’s globalised world. Clearly, migration is a peace issue.

Fr. Paul Lansu,

Senior Policy Advisor at Pax Christi International

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