It’s up to the entire global community to solve the migration crisis

By the end of 2017, 68.5m people were forced from their homes – more than the entire population of the UK – with 28 million of these refugees or seeking refugee status.

A commentary for the Global People Movements programme by Baroness Philippa Stroud

Published 1 Apr 2019

Soldiers swept through Myanmar a year ago, killing, raping and torturing thousands of Rohingya people.

They burned down homes, shops and mosques, and forced more than 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

The Rohingya survivors who remained in Myanmar are now at risk of starvation because the military has blocked access to their fields, stolen livestock, and destroyed local markets.

Samkina was 15 when her village was surrounded by Myanmar military and set ablaze. In the chaos, she managed to escape with her mother, brother and sister, but the soldiers opened fire and shot her father dead. She expresses deep grief about having to leave her father’s body where he fell, unable to bury him.

The journey through the jungle took them 14 days, without food or safe water, until exhausted they reached the Bangladesh border. The stench of corpses along the way made them vomit.

Currently living a makeshift life in a refugee camp, Samkina is like millions of displaced migrants – she doesn’t know if or when she will return home. The average length of displacement for a refugee lasts for an astonishing 17 years, almost a quarter of a person’s life.

When people are forced to flee, they are either displaced in their own country or cross into a neighbouring country where they can become trapped, lacking the means to move on.

Migrants are at huge risk when they make irregular journeys. They can lose all legal protection after crossing a border and are particularly vulnerable to traffickers and people smugglers who can force them into labour and prostitution, if they cannot pay the “fare”.

Conflict and war is not the only cause of necessity-driven migration. People fleeing from crime, unemployment, and degradation of the land and environment (including lack of water) are also contributing to the highest levels of people displacement on record.

By the end of 2017, 68.5m people were forced from their homes – more than the entire population of the UK – with 28 million of these refugees or seeking refugee status.

Most distressing of all, half of all refugees are children, with about 174,000 of these travelling unaccompanied, separated from their families and living unimaginably desperate lives.

The source of some migration is relatively concentrated geographically. More than two thirds of all refugees originate from just five countries – Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia – and the majority of migrants seek sanctuary in their own region.

What these figures show us is that migration is not just a country problem – it is regional. Conflict and intolerable living conditions in one country displace people and force many to flee to a neighbouring country.

Migration in the Middle East and North Africa, for example, is largely conflict-driven, with a big impact for countries bordering war zones. The long-running civil war in Syria has forced five million Syrians to flee, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, as well to Iraq and Egypt.

Our new research published today, as part of the Legatum Institute’s Global People Movements programme, is an attempt to highlight the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis which remains misunderstood, confused, and largely ignored.

The international community is failing to take full responsibility for the challenges posed by migration.

We need policymakers at a regional level to realise that this is our problem, and we must solve it together.

Resolving it will require us to harness our best instincts: collaboration, imagination, and, perhaps above all, compassion.

The world can no longer ignore forced and necessity-driven migration. Think about the data not just as numbers, but as millions of individual lives like Samkina’s.

Then ask: how will a refugee feel about their life and the world in 17 years, if nothing improves? And if we do not take responsibility, who will?