Adverse impacts of illegal migration

Published : 13 Dec 2022 07:38 PM

The trail of illegal migration and immigration winds its way through the Bay of Bengal to the Indian Ocean or pursues its own path from the North African and Levant shoreline to the south and south-eastern coasts of Europe. This has also raised illegal connotations of human trafficking as desperate people from several countries in Africa, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Asia try to escape from the confines of mortal danger, poverty and uncertainty to cherished social and economic freedom. Erosion of law and order, internal conflict and lack of good governance are acting as catalytic agents in this carnage.  

In the recent past, we have watched with horror the unfolding in the print and electronic media the revelation of death camps and illegal detention centers that littered the southern jungles of Thailand and the northern coastal parameter of Malaysia. We were overcome with guilt as we received reports of large numbers of families with young children adrift in the ocean, stuck in over-crowded boats, short of drinking water and food.

Some action was taken by the United Nations, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to control the deteriorating situation by arranging urgent and emergency action aimed at rescuing these unfortunate refugees, providing them emergency shelter and then arranging the repatriation of most of them to their own countries. Legal action of sorts was also taken in Thailand and Malaysia against those found guilty in being part of this human trafficking process. A meeting was also convened under the leadership of the United Nations, participated by countries from the affected regions in South Asia and SouthEast Asia and representatives from developed countries. Least common denominators were identified within this matrix of illegal immigration to facilitate the creation of a security paradigm that could stop such human trafficking activity in the coastal waters as well as the high seas through cooperation between the respective Navies and Coast Guards of this affected region.

We now have the latest developments in the Mediterranean region comprising North Africa, the Levant and parts of former Eastern Europe. The media over the last two weeks have been highlighting reports of illegal migrants trying to enter Europe through rickety boats, ramshackle steamers, containers and trucks. Despite best efforts by Navies and Coast Guard vessels from Italy, France and Greece, there have been unfortunate occurrences that have resulted in hundreds of deaths from drowning or from suffocation. In this context the photograph of deceased infant Aylan Shenu washed ashore on a section of the Turkish beach still reminds the world about the human aspect of this disastrous paradigm.

The on-going conflict situation in Syria, Iraq, uncertainties near the Turkish border, in Jordan, in Egypt, in Yemen, Lebanon and Libya are not only creating security uncertainties but also affecting economic opportunities. This is casting its own shadow on Asian expatriates and people of African origin seeking work in Northern Africa and Syrian refugees trying to reach safer destinations with their families. 

Affected people are now trying to enter Britain, Europe, Canada and the United States through the crossing of the Mediterranean or the Atlantic or through Mexico overland along with their family members. Unfortunately disasters within this dynamic are resulting in the deaths of family members and children. According to the IOM thousands attempting such illegal migration are dying each year. Some have been rescued and then transported to refugee shelters and provided minimum assistance. The humanitarian and political crisis is now seriously testing the survival of both Europe's open-border regime and its asylum rules.

J. Chamie, a Consultant demographer has recently drawn attention to some of the associated factors related to this unfortunate dynamic- of unlawful border crossings and unauthorized arrivals at different shores of countries and overstaying visa durations-that can only be termed as a global catastrophe. He has observed that illegal immigration has evolved into a mounting crisis for a growing number of countries worldwide and governments appear to be at a loss on how to deal with the crisis. 

In many of those countries illegal migration is viewed as a threat not only to national sovereignty but also a factor that undermines cultural integrity. It is being seen as an important factor that is creating financial impact on public funds.

Interestingly, based on recent available statistics of 2022 the country with the largest number of immigrants in the world is the United States with almost 48 million foreign-born residents, approximately 14 percent of its population. About one quarter of those immigrants are estimated to be illegal immigrants. 

Republicans in general favor less immigration than Democrats. For example, a national Gallup poll in July 2022 found that the proportion saying immigration to America should be decreased was 69 percent among Republicans versus 17 percent among Democrats.

In addition in countries like Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and the United States, where such activity is seen as undermining the rule of law, threatening regional cooperation there is gradual erosion in public support for legal migration. This is also changing the political equilibrium and enhancing xenophobia. Such public concerns are being reflected in the increasing influence of extremism and far-right political parties.

Analysts and sociologists have also observed that multinational human smuggling networks are also contributing to the mounting illegal immigration crisis as well as generating substantial profits for criminal organizations. They are exploiting this matrix of younger people seeking to leave their countries, offering various forms of assistance including transportation, accommodations and critical information. These denominators are then used to extract money from the victims. We have seen such activity being carried out in various parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh. 

It appears that government programs aimed at countering migrant smuggling networks have achieved limited success. Also, international attempts to address illegal immigration, such as the Global Compact on International Migration of 2018, have neither diminished illegal immigration nor the activities of smuggling networks. It needs to be mentioned here that according to Joseph Chamie the number of people in the world wanting to migrate to another country is estimated to be over one billion. They represent about 15 percent of the world’s population. 

Chamie has observed that the number of people wanting to migrate is also more than four times the size of the estimated total number of immigrants worldwide in 2020, which was about 280 million.

While an estimate of the total number of immigrants in the world appears to be available, the number of illegal immigrants is a very different matter with few reliable estimates available on a global scale.

It would be important to understand the various dimensions related to human rights and international migration. The widely recognized human rights regarding such international movement are relatively straightforward.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Articles 13 and 14 state- “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”, and “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. The United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 Protocol also clarifies that a refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Importantly, it however also needs to be understood that everyone does not have the right to enter nor remain in another country. The unlawful entry into a country and overstaying a temporary visit are clearly not recognized human rights. Moreover, to be granted asylum, an individual needs to meet the internationally recognized definition of a refugee. Difficult living conditions, such as unemployment, poverty, inadequate housing, lack of health care, marital discord and political unrest, do not qualify an individual for the internationally recognized refugee status nor to a legitimate claim for asylum.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a right to migrate to another country, people wanting to do so are increasingly turning to illegal immigration. And upon arriving at the destination country, many are claiming the right to seek asylum.

Once inside the country, the process of determining the legality of an asylum claim takes a long time-sometimes years, permitting claimants time to establish households, find employment and integrate into accepting communities. Many of the unauthorized migrants also believe, based on the experiences of millions before them, that government authorities will not repatriate them even if their asylum claim is rejected. This creates another area of contention.

It is apprehended that the numbers of displaced people are expected to increase substantially over the coming decades- partially because of weather related events, such as wildfires, floods and extreme heat resulting out of effects emerging from climate variability. UNHCR estimates that an annual average of nearly 20 million people- also referred to as climate refugees- is being forcibly displaced by such conditions, especially from coastal areas. Some estimate that by mid century nearly one billion people, largely from less developed countries, might be displaced due to climate and environmental changes and resulting civil unrest. 

These potent forces are resulting in large and increasing numbers of men, women and even unaccompanied children arriving at borders and landing on shores of other countries without authorization. Such unauthorized migrants, as well as visa overstayers, subsequently seek to settle in those destination countries by any means available and are not prepared to return to their countries of origin.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance