By Tim Marshall.

2016 is likely to see wave after wave of migrants and refugees trying to reach Northern Europe. However, the success rate is likely to fall albeit only slightly.

Photo from UNHCR

Photo from UNHCR

The Europeans are searching for ways to stem the tide. A pan European border force is being constructed, Turkey has been enticed to ‘try harder’ to prevent people leaving its shores and heading across the Mediterranean, and there will be a push for a settlement in Syria, which although unlikely, may at least reduce the level of fighting in some areas. Any reduction in Syria will likely be offset by a rise in people leaving Afghanistan.

There have always been mass movements of people, think of the forced deportations from Israel to Babylon, or the two way exodus between Pakistan and India in 1948, but there has never been anything approaching the scale of what is happening now.

For every 122 humans on the planet one is a refugee, displaced from their home, or seeking asylum. They total almost the entire population of Italy, which at 60 million is the 23rd most populous country in the world.

What causes people to leave their homes has always been war, famine, drought, and lack of work. What is different now is that the massive increase in population growth has been accompanied by advances in transport, and now joined by the revolution in technology communication. The result – the greatest movement of peoples in history.

The figures from the UNHCR Global Trends report from June this year show the scale of the problem in 2014. Behind each statistic is a story, always of hope, often of desperation, and frequently of tragedy. The figures for 2015 when fully collated will be even higher, especially concerning the Middle East and movement towards Europe.

The south has been moving north for decades now, a norm that has accelerated with the turmoil in the Middle East, but this is a global problem.

2014 was a record year. There were 59.5 million forcibly displaced people. This compares with 51.2 in 2013. This is the biggest jump in numbers ever recorded and half the people involved are children. Ten years ago the total figure 37.5 million.

Last years unprecedented rise is mainly down to the war in Syria. From there wave after wave of people have fled. The flow gains strength relative to the level and area of the fighting. From Syria, (if we include 2015) 4 million people have poured into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. From there many have moved North West into Europe following

The new Choucha transit camp near the Tunisian town Ras Adjir, on the border with Libya.

The  Choucha transit camp near the Tunisian town Ras Adjir, on the border with Libya.

the now well beaten, yet perilous, path through Turkey, across the sea, and up through Italy and the Balkans. Another 7.6 million people are displaced inside Syria and at least 250,000 have died. All this from a prewar population of 22 million. Half of all Syrians are no longer in their homes.

After Syria the biggest flow of people has been from or within Afghanistan, 2.5 million, and Somalia, 1.1 million.

The past few years have shown how new technology, including mobile phones and GPS, has allowed refugees and migrants to stay in touch with each other to plot a course to a new life and then pass information on to family and friends.
Violence is the biggest driver of movement. In the past 5 years we have seen 15 conflicts either begin or continue. Among them, in Africa, are wars in Mali, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Diplomats at the UN are now openly speaking about the possibility of genocide in Burundi where between 1993 and 2005 300,000 died. In the past 4 months 200,000 have fled. Among the most overlooked of the multiple tragedies around the world is the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Almost 6 million people have died in conflict related events there since war broke out in 1993. Renewed fighting this year has displaced another one million people.

In the wider Middle East, as well as Syria we see conflict in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen. Conflict in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan is displacing people from there, the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma is adding to the rising figures in South East Asia. In Europe war in Ukraine has left 275,000 people displaced inside the country and over 250,000 leaving, mostly for Russia which received a record number of asylum claims.

As the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres puts it – “”We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”

And where do all these people go? Turkey hosts the most, 1.6 million, and rising. Iran and Pakistan are among the countries shouldering a disproportionate amount of the burden partially due to the now decades long conflict in Afghanistan. However, the exodus from Syria means it has overtaken Afghanistan as the world top source of refugees. Lebanon and Jordan are also creaking under the immense strain of so many people requiring help.

Inside the European Union zone Germany is receiving both the most people, and the most asylum requests. In 2014 202,000 people applied, a 160% increase from 2012. Sweden recorded 81,000, Italy, 64,000, France, 64,000, Hungary, 42,000 and then the UK with 32,000. Of those applying in the UK, the biggest percentage were from Eritrea (3,568), Pakistan (2,302), and Syria (2,204).

In 2015 the applications in Germany have risen to well above 331,000 and in Hungary to 143,000.

Concerning origin of people applying – Kosovans were third in the list and Albanians fifth despite their not being involved in conflict. This has led to moves within the EU to say that those from Balkan countries will not be granted asylum.

The figures represent the route the migrants take, the state of the economies of the target country, and the way in which they are viewed by a supplicant. Britain is regarded as a place where work can be found, but as it is outside of the Schengen Zone and retains border controls it is more difficult to reach.

When the weather improves next spring we can expect another wave of people trying to cross the Mediterranean. This unprecedented movement is changing not just the demographic of Europe but will likely impact in many ways including political. European unity has already taken some hammer blows this year. The attacks in Paris may have brought calls of support and solidarity, but they also caused the Polish Prime Minister designate to announce that Poland will refuse to have a refugee quota imposed on it.

Finding positives in the various statistics from the UN and other bodies is difficult. However, amid the gloom there is some light. For example, the intervention in Mali by the French military helped calm the situation and last year 155,000 people went home.

It is clear that many people who are genuinely fleeing war, or who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality’ and other UN criteria are seeking asylum want to return to their homes one day. That of course requires stability and is one of many reasons why finally there is a genuine diplomatic push to get a peace settlement in Syria.

The south will continue to move north for economic reasons, but the flow will be stemmed if there is stability back home, and would become a trickle if there was global prosperity.


1 Comment on "2015 – The Year Of Moving Dangerously"

  1. Tim, thank you for an interesting post. I wonder how much international global communications (satellite TV and Internet) has influenced this migration? I (just) remember the slums of Naples and in the 1970s was struck by the poverty in North Africa. I imagine those poor(er) people looked upon us almost as another species as we walked around with our Voigtländers and Pentaxes, wearing clothes and jewellery they couldn’t dream of owning. It would not have been obvious to them that they are every bit as intelligent and able as we were. Today, everyone can see how the other half lives. That’s going to cause aspiration and envy on a scale never before seen. The same is true today with the ordinary European and North American man seeing into the intimate lives of celebrities and billionaires, but that’s another issue.

    Emigrating to the (rich) north to share its prosperity is not going to work for long. The north is not prosperous because we are in the north (though geography is a factor in these things as your excellent book ‘Prisoners of Geography’ shows). The rich world grew rich by exploiting the poor world. That’s what the European empires were about. I’m not making a pro-socialist point, I’m simply stating what I believe to be a fact.

    If the poor come to the north the first waves of immigrants will do better than if they’d stayed put but eventually we will end up with a north far poorer than the south…and the cycle will reverse. The mass movement of people does not create wealth. I believe that it will create misery in Europe on a scale we haven’t seen for many generations. I would say to bright and able folk in those troubled countries “Stay where you can if you can possibly bear it. The tide will turn and you will have the opportunity to rise whereas those who flee to the north face a very uncertain long term future.”

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