Today dark clouds hang over Afghanistan as the Taliban takes over the country. The situation may soon deteriorate into a humanitarian crisis, leading to a mass exodus of refugees to neighboring countries and beyond.
However the story in Afghanistan unfolds, at least four critical global developments will keep migration at the top of many country’s policy agendas for decades to come.
More people crossing borders, whether as refugees or economic migrants, ensures that countries will be unable to ignore questions of inclusion and exclusion.
- Conflict and terrorism. A 2019 paper estimated that global conflicts were at an all-time high since 1945. all-time high since 1945. Ongoing as well as new conflicts and terrorism will result in more refugees and economic migrants. Pressure will increase on countries to either accommodate more people from outside their borders, or they will use ever more draconian measure to keep people out.
- Climate change and the devastation wrought by extreme weather events are pushing people to cross borders. Last year, in a lengthy article on the subject, New York Times declared that the “The Great Climate Migration” has begun. An unprecedented number of people will migrate to more temperate zones. Madagascar, already extremely poor, is suffering from a devastating famine. UN organizations are linking it to climate change.
- Democratic backsliding. In 2021, Freedom House reported the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Lack of participation in democratic processes across the globe—Tunisia, the one Arab country where the Arab Spring did not end in failure, is the latest example—means fewer people are participating politically. If people can’t vote at the ballot box, they will vote with their feet, and get out if they can. Already thousands of people have fled Belarus to escape President Lukashenko’s violent crackdown after elections were rigged.
- Falling birth rates and ageing populations in the rich world are contributing to a labor deficit. The number of births per 1,000 is now half of what it was in 1950, and fertility rates are falling well below replacement levels. Unlike the push factors above, low fertility will act as a pull factor for migration. If societies are to continue to prosper, higher workforce participation will be key. This will involve skills training and better childcare options to make it easier for those who don’t work, while making it easier for more migrants to enter.
Meanwhile, racial injustice in the US and elsewhere has been brought into relief by the killing of George Floyd in 2020, and the broader recognition that the issue can no longer be ignored. Many more people have become aware that African Americans and other minorities still don’t enjoy the rights and privileges other citizens take for granted. Hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the U.S. are up.
These global developments all but guarantee that the issue of inclusion, who gets in and who doesn’t, will only grow more acute as the century progresses.
Broader inclusion and the diversity that comes with can bring huge benefits, but it won’t be easy, either for societies or organizations.
How policy makers manage these pressures and processes, without inciting more backlash from anti-immigrant groups, will pose a major challenge for policy makers for generations to come.
In many countries, the urge to erect more barriers—physical and otherwise—will compete with calls to let more people cross.
Can we muster the empathy to recognize that anyone of us could be a migrant, excluded, and struggling to start a new life? Can enough of us muster that empathy?
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on August 17, 2021 on Evaluate This, a website featuring commentary by Nils Junge, an independent consultant working in the field of international development. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Junge.