Migration has been a common occurrence in all of human history, people carrying out conquest or fleeing from it, or from religious or ethnic persecution, or from natural disasters, or just seeking a better life. Under current global conditions this has reached unprecedented scale - according to recent UN figures, there are almost 60 million people forcibly displaced, including almost 20 million refugees, not even counting many unregistered or others wanting to flee but currently unable to do so. Additionally there are millions of economic migrants fleeing into Europe and the United States.
The overarching challenge is to outline what an acceptable global migration pattern would look like and then assess how to get there. Ideally, there would be zero migration, no forced movement of any large groups. Migrations can be very disruptive to the receiving countries and they drain source countries of some of their most dynamic and dedicated individuals. In addition, they often cause extensive suffering as well as local conflicts. Eliminating migration does not mean eliminating international movement. There will always be individuals attracted to move to other countries temporarily or permanently, and such movement spreads ideas and promotes innovation. Eliminating migration means eliminating large scale movements of people in distress.
Obviously the first requirement is to improve the situations in the source countries, to buttress failed states, to promote global prosperity. Essentially this recognizes that globalization means the Industrialized World canno longer prosper unless the whole world does. It means finally addressing the lingering effects of colonialism and the subsequent plunder of resources by the Industrialized World, as well as a plunder of labor either by importing it for menial wages or simply paying minimal wages to manufacture goods or provide services from outside the Industrialized World. It is these grossly unequal economic ties that are fueling the current migrations.
Just as obviously such major realignments of the global economy will not happen overnight. In the longer run, grass roots development and population control are both important. But for the immediate future, it is necessary to focus efforts on the most attractive opportunities, countries that are the source of major refugee flows and where significant progress is possible in the short term. Successful actions there can serve as models for wider application in the future.
Immigration for years was a positive element for the American economy and to some extent also for Europe. The United States was a Beacon of Freedom, welcoming those fleeing hunger and repression with the words chiseled into the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." Not only did the United States welcome these huddled masses, but the Melting Pot made them Americans and helped stoke America's rise as a world power. Unfortunately the two critical conditions that made immigration attractive to America are gone. First, the open lands, especially in the West, that helped to absorb millions of immigrants have not been open for a hundred years. Secondly, the growing economy that needed unskilled immigrants and then gave them new skills to move up and open space for even newer immigrants is gone. Partly as a result of automation and partly because of foreign competition, new jobs for the unskilled have all but disappeared. Those that remain are dead end jobs that Americans are reluctant to take because the pay is so poor. Seasonal immigrants doing these jobs are grossly exploited, while illegal aliens are consigned to a permanent underclass of economically distressed people, exactly the group most likely to fuel social unrest.
For the United States, the immediate challenge is clearly to support development of the adjacent Latin American countries which are the major source of immigrants. Conditions in a number of Central American countries are now chaotic, fueling a significant crisis in early 2014 when thousands of unaccompanied minors flooded across the US southern border. The Administration responded with a media campaign in Central America seeking to persuade families of the dangers of the journey north, with pressure on Mexico to restrict transit routes, and with a request to Congress (largely rejected) for development funds for the area. With renewed pressure from young immigrants, renewed development efforts are essential. Mexico is a more difficult case since its government has historically been strongly resistant to American influence. But its biggest challenge now is the drug trade, fueled by American demand, in turn at least partly due to domestic economic conditions; heroin overdoses have reached a historic peak. This is all the more reason to address domestic economic inequality, as well as to promote increased cooperation with the Mexican government on drug suppression and development. These countries are still heavily agricultural, so support for agricultural development and associated light industry is most important. Some relatively simple measures, like tax breaks for US investors, could bring prompt results.
For Europe, the challenge is more pressing. The sheer volume of new refugees is overwhelming the system. Even countries historically supportive of refugees are seeing a significant increase in segregated areas of permanently lower class immigrants and are implementing a wide range of anti-immigrant measures. Jobs for newer arrivals are simply not there. The immediate cause of the current crisis is the destabilization of the broader Middle East, initiated by the US removal of established governments in Afghanistan and then Iraq, but a failure to replace them with stable regimes, based at least partly on a total failure to promote economic development. The situation was then exacerbated by the Arab Spring, a grass-roots movement promoting core Western values of freedom and democracy. Yet the main Western involvement in this effort was the destruction of another established government, this time, in Libya, and again without any replacement by a stable regime. As Libya descended into chaos an even more difficult situation arose in Syria where the government of Bashir Assad grimly hung on to power while mercilessly engaging rebels with widespread bombing of civilian areas. This has been the source of the largest refugee flow, and is now exacerbated by Russian military support of Assad. But the most distressing development was the rise of the Islamic State in the chaos of Syria, spreading into Iraq, and greatly exacerbating the Sunni-Shiite divide. For its own sake, Europe has to address this Middle Eastern turmoil. In addition, development efforts could help dispel Muslim skepticism on Western motives.
- The most pressing requirement is promoting cease fires in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Following that up with focused economic development is essential.
- The biggest opportunity is reinvigorating NATO involvement in Afghanistan, particularly focusing on a new economic development effort, a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. This could provide an immediate reduction in Afghan refugees as well as a model for other states to follow.
- Germany is taking the lead in another development effort, proposing employment of Syrian refugees in Jordan to build local schools and infrastructure, underlining the importance of jobs for any regional development efforts.
- Coordinated efforts to eliminate the Islamic State can help further stabilize Syria, Libya and Iraq and reduce the attraction of Islamic militancy to groups already in West Europe.
- Modest efforts to assist Tunisian economic development can help to stabilize the only constructive example from the Arab Spring and to provide a new positive model for Middle Eastern development.