COVER STORY by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Are we facing history's largest mass migration?
, July 4, 2015
Demographics, poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, conflicts, crime and failed states are contributing to what could prove to be the biggest mass migration of people in history.
If you have watched any of Ross Kemp’s various TV documentary series on the violent, lawless regions of the world, it provides cameo insights into the unrest brewing in large parts of the developing world.
His programs include: Gangs, focusing on Latin America; Afghan-istan; In Search of Pirates, operating out of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and out of Nigeria; Middle East; Battle for the Amazon, in Brazil and Ecuador; Extreme World; Back on the Frontline in Afghanistan; A Kenya Special; and The Glue Kids of Kenya.
Out of such troubled regions of the developing world, 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and conflict, half of them children, according the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This is the highest figure recorded since the UN began counting displaced people in the 1980s.
Most end up in refugee camps in the world’s less-developed nations, particularly Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Kenya. These countries are sheltering many more refugees than is Europe. Many have been in camps for years or even decades. Last year, fewer than 127,000 refugees returned home, the lowest figure in 31 years.
The top 15 sources of refugees fleeing conflict and violence are Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Eritrea, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Iran, Somalia, Russian Federation, Albania, stateless people, Ukraine and Mexico.
However, the UN refugee figures record only those fleeing conflict and violence. Many, many more people are migrating because of natural disasters, poverty, lack of jobs, crime and gang violence. They are leaving homelands that offer them no future to find a new life in countries with a higher standard of living.
Joergen Oerstroem Moeller hails from Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Recently, he pointed out that from 2005 to 2010 almost 9 million people moved to Europe.
Elsewhere, 3.5 million moved out of Africa. In Asia 618,000 left Bangladesh for India, 489,000 left Indonesia for Malaysia and 258,000 left Kazakhstan for Russia. More than 1.8 million arrived in the U.S. from Mexico.
“The pressure against Europe from Africa, the United States from Latin America and Russia from Central Asia is motivated by the lure of higher living standards … Any country that has a higher living standard than its neighbour can anticipate migrants,” says Moeller.
Africa has the world’s youngest population. Between 1986 and 2013, its population doubled to 1.1 billion. In some African countries more than half the population is under the age of 25. By 2050, Africa will almost have doubled again to 1.9 billion, and quadrupled by the end of the century.
Nigeria, which is about the size of NSW, could have a population of 1 billion by 2100.
Health and education have contributed to a declining infant mortality rate, resulting in a huge youth bulge in the population. Young people are increasingly moving away from rural areas to the cities, but the cities lack infrastructure, industry and jobs and have become major centres of crime, unrest and conflict.
Some desperate young Somalians have turned to piracy to make a living. In West African cites, internet cafes abound with educated, unemployed young people running sophisticated counterfeiting schemes aimed at making money by defrauding innocent people around the globe.
South Africa’s population is 48.4 million, of which 48.5 per cent are under 25, and the country is considered to have one of the highest crime rates in the world, despite having halved the murder rate in recent years.
In some countries, young people join gangs or the armies of local warlords. In others they are attracted to radical ideologies like the jihadist al Shaba in vain attempts to find solutions.
It’s a similar story across the Middle East. Since the 1960s, the investment of oil money has slashed the infant mortality rate, leading to a youth bulge in the population. Investment in education has resulted in young Muslims leaving their ancestral farmlands and villages for large urban centres.
These young people are “a generation in waiting”. Increasingly they are urbanised, educated and waiting for jobs and seeking a new social compact to include democracy, respect for human rights, market economies and employment opportunities to allow them to buy a house and get married.
About 30 per cent of the Middle East and North Africa is under the age of 30, about 100 million people. Official statistics put the unemployment rate of 15–24 year olds in this region at 27 per cent, twice the global average. In reality it is much higher because the youth workforce participation rate is much lower than in other nations and official statistics poorly measure unemployment outside the large urban areas of many Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Latin America also has a huge demographic youth bulge. South of the U.S. border, 630 million people live in Mexico, Central and South America, and 43.3 per cent are under the age of 25. Drug-cartel and gang-related violence, poverty and the attraction of a better life have tempted millions of Latin Americans northwards into the United States.
History shows that in countries with large youth populations suffering poverty, inequality and from failed governments, many are easily attracted to crime, gangs and radical ideologies. These conditions broadly describe Russia just before the communist revolution in 1918, Germany in the 1930s before the rise of the Nazis, and Syria, Iraq and other countries in Africa today. It is a recipe for conflict and wars.
According to Commodore Martin Connell, commander of Britain’s HMS Bulwark, which has been sent to save desperate refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, about 500,000 people are there, ready to make the treacherous voyage to Europe.
Among those fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, many are educated and have seen the West on the internet and regard a new life in Europe as their only hope.
These mass migration pressures raise a host of major humanitarian questions that demand solutions by the international community.
The developing nations are bulging with young people at the same time that the populations of many Western nations are declining due to a collapse in the birth rate. The question arises: should people without a future be entitled to migrate to a land without people?
Then there is a crying need for a global approach to combating the people trafficking networks. Smuggling people from across deserts and oceans to other countries is now a major global business.
As pointed out by News Weekly (May 23, 2015), there is an overlap among the world’s arms traders, people traffickers and drug smugglers. They also feed into the pornography and prostitution industries.
Marshall-type plans needed
Most of all, there is a need for an array of political and economic solutions to tackle the heart of the problem – the need for huge global investment to build market economies that provide real, secure jobs in the emerging nations and global efforts to help establish stable democratic political systems.
The urgent need for global development programs to lift these burgeoning youth populations out of poverty comes just as the world economy is stalled because of the fallout from the 2007 global financial crisis.
Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics and Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, says that the world was in a similar economic position 70 years ago after World War II. It was “geopolitically riven and burdened by heavy sovereign debt” comparable with the debts being carried by many nations today, “with many major economies in ruins”.
Rather than limited international investment and cooperation, the world’s leaders took a long-term perspective. The US led the way with the Marshall Plan to rebuild shattered Europe. They did not regard the huge war debts as a constraint and they cooperated on many fronts with the strongest nations bolstering investment in nations with weaker economies.
Spence says: “International cooperation is just as critical to success today as it was 70 years ago.
“There is plenty of incentive for countries to collaborate, rather than using trade, finance, monetary policy, public-sector purchasing, tax policy, or other levers to undermine one another.
“After all, given the connectedness that characterises today’s globalised financial and economic systems, a full recovery anywhere is virtually impossible without a broad-based recovery nearly everywhere.”
Given that the world is far more interconnected today, “the reluctance to cooperate is difficult to comprehend”, says Spence. It’s time that the U.S. and other developed nations realised that market forces and quantitative easing alone cannot restore economic growth in the developed economies or solve the huge development challenges of Africa, southern Asia and Latin America.
International cooperation is necessary first to create the capital needed to drive the global economy, while big efforts are needed to negotiate the building of democracies in dozens of emerging nations, just as the UN and other groups have done in several troubled states. The Bank of England has described how banks can create the capital needed for major investment and economic growth (see News Weekly, May 24, 2014).
Latin American has a paltry growth rate of 1.25 per cent this year, about the same as last year. Africa is doing slightly better, accelerating from just below 3 per cent in 2013 to a forecast 5 per cent for 2016.
China’s Silk Road investment initiatives are leading the way in East Asia. If the U.S. and the West do not give the lead, the developing world may look to China for economic and political models.
Oerstroem Moeller argues that the international community has to face some big issues: “The wealthiest cannot continue to use developing nations for natural resources, low-cost labour, or dangerous and temporary manufacturing facilities while trying to construct some kind of fortress around their own homes that is impossible to defend.
“Trying to build such fortresses is sure to ignite partisan divides and bring down democratic political systems, paving the way for repulsive political movements that want to protect a few and enshrine permanent inequality.”
He concludes: “This would amount to renouncing moral standards and ushering in an era of political strife, economic disasters and armed conflicts – all of which would dwarf the costs of serious financial assistance and opening of markets.”
 “60 million people fleeing chaotic lands, UN says”, News York Times, June 18, 2015.
 Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, “Desperate Millions Flee Poverty, Persecution and Inequality”, Yale Global, June 11, 2015.
 “Africa Population, 2015”, World Population Review, October 19, 2014.
 Navtej Dhillon, Tarik Yousef, Generation in Waiting: The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East, The Brookings Institution, 2009, p.11.
 “Youth unemployment in rich Middle East a 'liability': WEF”, CNBC, October 15, 2014.
 Farzaneh Roudi, Youth Population and employment in the Middle East and North Africa, Opportunity or Challenge?, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, July 2011.
 “The Problem of Unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa Explained in Three Charts”, The World Bank, August 25, 2014.
 “Up to 500,000 desperate refugees wait in Libya for illegal death boats to Europe”, The Mirror, June 6, 2015.
 Peter Madison, “New fronts in the fight against human trafficking”, News Weekly, May 23, 2015.
 “A World of Underinvestment”, Project Syndicate, May 20, 2015.
 Colin Teese, “Can banks create credit out of thin air?”, News Weekly, May 24, 2014.