“Migration is inevitable, necessary and desirable,” according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency. Then why are we seeing increasing anti-migrant voices in European countries?
In an exhibition in The Hague, the secretary of the Dutch office of IOM declared: “Migration is inevitable in view of the driving forces in an interconnected world; necessary, if skills are to be available, jobs to be filled and economies to flourish, and desirable for the contributions that migrants make both to countries of origin and destination.”
Fear of migration
In the UK, it is especially ironic that fear of migration is being used for political gain, leading to racist British immigration policies. British Asian politicians with family connections to East Africa are fronting these policies: Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman. The previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is also of migrant descent. Her Nationality and Borders Act criminalises seeking asylum and aiding an asylum seeker.
Asians from Uganda and Kenya came to Britain seeking refuge after being expelled from these newly independent nations. Even the extremely modest numbers (28,000 in 1972) elicited viciously racist rhetoric at the time, echoing Conservative MP Enoch Powell in his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech (1968). National Front members chanted “Keep the Asians out.” Descendants of these migrants are now proposing deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and housing them in prison-like, unsafe barges. It is thanks to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that Rwanda deportations have been stopped, but the policy has not been scrapped. The country has been declared a safe country, despite the fact that since 2010, the IOM has had to help around 30,000 people flee from Rwanda.
The Jamaican Windrush migrants of the 1950s, who were especially invited to come to the ‘motherland’ after the war ravaged Britain, to help rebuild the country, still have not received compensation for their illegal deportations in the last two decades.
It was because of supposed threats of a flood of migrants that many Britons voted to leave the European Union in 2016. People were worried that the nature of their high streets was changing, as there were more dark faces and some people dared to speak Polish. However, since the 2016 Brexit vote, which was partly won due to this fear of migration, the influx of migrants has not receded.
In their anti-migrant policies, the UK government seems to ignore the fact that the UK desperately needs migrant workers due to increasing staff shortages. As of January 2023, approximately 11.5% of businesses in the United Kingdom were experiencing worker shortages. Over a quarter of accommodation and food sector businesses, which had already suffered losses due to the pandemic, had a staff shortage. The NHS is in crisis, not only due to underfunding but also because it is struggling with around 154,000 unfilled vacancies. Increased waiting times for life-saving assessments and treatments risk avoidable deaths. The shortage of veterinary surgeons, around 30% of whom came from the EU, puts farm animals and pets’ lives at risk.
Another major factor regarding migration which the government ignores is that climate change is going to lead to unimagined mass migration, but it is the same government, which sees it as its priority to stop small dinghies full of refugees from reaching our shores, that is also retreating from its climate action commitments.
Gaia Vince, in her book Nomad Century, argues that we have to start preparing for the largest movement of people ever experienced by humankind, as it is inevitable. “A great upheaval is coming: over the next 50 years, hotter temperatures with more intense humidity will render large swathes of the world lethal. There is no way to adapt. We will either be one of the billions of displaced or the ones receiving them.”
Humans are made inherently to cooperate, and the success of the species is founded on our flexibility of where and how we live, as we all depend on each other.
Rather than anti-migrant policies, Vince argues, we need to plan for a never-before-seen migration. There will be an inevitable shift from South to North. We must start to create cities in the northern parts of the world. Wealthy nations will be affected too. Parts of Australia and the USA will have to plan for people needing to leave.
This is going to be the century of planet-wide human movements. As scientists analyse climate change-related events, we already know which parts of the world will have to move. Vince demands that we must plan now, and prepare for building new infrastructure to accommodate this expected new influx.
Entire communities will have to move from the Western USA, as they are already facing the effects of climate change. In the UK, scientists predict that by 2050, Cardiff will be half underwater. We are too late to stop these events, and the upheaval may happen suddenly or bit by bit. Disasters in 2022 have already displaced ten times as many people as have wars. In Nomad Century, Vince demands that we have the maturity to act now. Quite apart from the moral duty, there will be no peace if we don’t agree on global solutions. We must come together as a human community. We must look afresh at our world to meet all our needs for a sustainable future. We must think in terms of a ‘commonwealth of humanity’. We must develop a way of feeding and maintaining our lifestyle while reducing atmospheric pollution.
Citizens of the world
Issues to address are power supply, sanitation, air and water pollution, and treatment of infectious diseases. For this to have a chance, we must overcome a geophysical mindset. Exactly the opposite of the anti-refugee messaging of the right-wing, populist movements. Instead, we must collectively transition to become citizens of the world with a pan-species identity and globally diverse societies. We need to always be ready to move again.
According to Vince, we are running out of time to manage this enormous upheaval. “Migration is not the problem, but it is the solution. Migration made us who we are. Migration is an essential part of our species. It made us the planetary primates. We migrate animals, plants and materials. We created networks exchanging our genes and resources to thrive.”
Social inequality and poverty are what create the damage. It is the lack of affordable health care, sanitation, and harmful policies by incompetent governments. It is the people with the least resilience who are hardest hit. We are facing climate apartheid, which could lead to incessant wars between nations unless we abolish nations to become a global society.
Solutions are within our reach
Gaia warns that it’s not looking good, but the solutions are already within our reach if we take action now.
Her book looks at where it will be safe to live, how and in what numbers. It describes where power and food can be produced. All cities will have to be adapted, rendering them unrecognisable, but this is the opportunity to become better at coping with the major influx.
Of course, in addition to preparing for the inevitable migration, we must not stop addressing the damage to the planet by harmful human actions. The final part of Vince’s book looks at restoring the planet by decarbonising our energy system to create a just world for the nine billion of us. “We are social, technological apes solving our problems with exceptional abilities. We now require our holistic toolbox. There are no easy or comfortable options, but we have few choices.”
In my view, this book should be compulsory reading for policymakers across the world. The inevitability of climate migration demands an immediate rethink. If we manage this global upheaval in a humane way, this century of upheaval will not be a catastrophe but may lead to a new ‘commonwealth of humanity’.