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January 2022, Volume 28, Number 1

Global: Refugees, Africa

December 18 is celebrated as International Migrants Day. Leaders of UN agencies emphasized the importance of protecting migrants, and some called on governments to open more channels for regular labor migration in order to reduce irregular migration and migrant smuggling.

World leaders are expected to review progress under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration signed in 2018 during the first International Migration Review Forum scheduled for May 2022.

Refugees. UNHCR reported 82 million persons of concern at the end of 2020, including 26 million refugees, four million asylum seekers, and 48 million internally displaced people. No country is required to accept refugees, but the 1951 Refugee Convention obliges its 145 signatories to not refoul or return persons inside their borders who fear a return to their countries of citizenship “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Eight countries are the source of most of the world’s asylum seekers and refugees: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia, Congo and Eritrea. Most people leaving these countries move to nearby countries, where they often settle. UNHCR data show that fewer than 10 percent of persons who flee their countries are repatriated or return to their countries of citizenship, and one percent are resettled in their countries.

What should be done about the 30 million asylum seekers and refugees? With few prospects for returns and resettlement, the most viable option appears to be integrating them into the countries to which they have moved. However, many host countries do not want to integrate asylum seekers and refugees, as exemplified by Bangladeshi efforts to place Burmese migrants on islands where they are cared for by NGOs and not allowed to integrate into Bangladesh.

The most promising new ideas involve bribing host countries to integrate the refugees they host, as with the EU providing aid to Turkey to integrate Syrians and the US providing aid to Colombia to integrate Venezuelans. Some decry such aid as a bribe to reduce the number of asylum seekers who might eventually appear in EU nations or the US.

Given the expensive case-by-case approach of industrial countries to determine whether a person is a refugee, and the inability to remove many of those who are found not to be refugees, most industrial countries would rather provide aid to countries hosting refugees than process and integrate them. If the consensus is to bribe host countries to treat asylum seekers and refugees as immigrants in the countries to which they move, some of the neighbors of the countries that generate refugees could become major immigration destinations.

If integration into neighboring host countries becomes the de facto solution for many asylum seekers and refugees, should more distant industrial countries expand legal pathways for potential migrants to reduce unwanted migration? For example, the US reserved 6,000 H-2B visas for residents of Northern Triangle countries in the hope that US employers seeking such workers would recruit in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Africa. Africa currently has 1.4 billion people or 18 percent of the world’s population, and is projected to have 4.5 billion or over 40 percent of the world’s 11 billion people in 2100. Nigeria could have 800 million people, Congo 250 million, and Ethiopia 225 million in 2100.

Africa is expected to urbanize as its population triples. Two of the world’s 20 largest urban areas today are in Africa, but 13 of the top 20 are expected to be in Africa by 2100 including Lagos, which is projected to be the world’s largest city with 80 million people. Other large urban areas in Africa in 2100 are expected to be Kinshasa with 60 million residents, Khartoum with 28 million, Abidjan with 19 million and Mombasa with 11 million.

Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania are expected to be among the world’s 10 most populous countries by 2100.

Cruising. The cruise industry depends on international migration. Some 225,000 crew from many nations provided services to 30 million cruise passengers in 2019 on 270 ships, half American. Cruise ships accommodate 100 to 6,000 passengers.

There were 92 cruise ships with American passengers in January 2022, and all had some covid cases, prompting the CDC to advise Americans against cruising. Most cruise lines require all passengers to be vaccinated and tested, but the omicron variant nonetheless spread among crew and passengers.

The IMF predicted that the global economy would expand by six percent in 2021 and five percent in 2022 as government support in the wake of covid wanes. Economic growth is projected to be uneven, with Latin America facing a potential lost decade similar to the 1980s when there was little growth.

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