Why the World Should Get Ready to Welcome Asylum Seekers

The world is currently immersed in news of human migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of people escaping unresolved conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa...
Bangladesh, Satkhira district. A woman carrying her son in the flooded village of Debnagar; in the background her flooded house. ©Alessandro Grassani

The world is currently immersed in news of human migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of people escaping unresolved conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa have arrived in Europe to seek asylum. This is the biggest migration since the Second World War.

Traditionally, migrants fleeing their homes would seek asylum in neighboring countries where they would either live in refugee camps or settle in urban areas. Times have however changed and many of them would now rather be smuggled in un-seaworthiness vessels to seek a better life in Europe. As a result, more than 2,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year. Thousands more have been rescued.

During the first seven months of 2015, there were nearly 340,000 migrants entering Europe, up from 123,500 in the same period last year. In August, the numbers hit a record high of 107,500. While the numbers are likely to increase, some European countries have shown reluctance in receiving the migrants. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron recently showed his phobia for migrants attempting to enter the UK by using a dehumanizing language when he referred to them as a swam of people.

Some countries like Macedonia and Hungary have shown hostility to asylum seekers already within their borders. Hungary in particular has built a wall along its borders to prevent their entry. In August, asylum seekers were dispersed by teargas at a refugee registration point in Macedonia. Others were barred from boarding trains in Hungary.

As a result, they have had to forcefully cross over countries at the front row of the Mediterranean Sea into Western Europe. Most of them hope to arrive in Germany, which has shown a softer stand on migration. It is against international conventions on asylum to forcefully return migrants home if they have valid claims for asylum. The European Union and its member states will therefore have no choice but to accept migrants and share asylum responsibility under the international framework.

This is not a European crisis but a global concern involving all nations including those from which migrants are fleeing. For now, it may be of little interest to the rest of the world but in the long run, no country should really exclude itself from issues of forced migration. It is impossible to talk about climate change without bringing up the issues of human displacement. If we are scared of conflict related migration, then we should be more scared of climate change induced displacement. There isn’t any nation that is immune to effects of increased global temperatures.

Scientists have openly warned that if states do not reduce their gas emissions, global temperatures will continue rising to unbearable levels. If they rise above the limit of two degrees, the world could be exposed to catastrophic climatic changes that will spur human migration like never seen before. Climate change has already had far reaching effects in several parts of the world. In 2011, thousands of Somali refugees flee into Kenya and Ethiopia with a mix of problems including intensified conflicts in Somalia and a severe drought that engulfed the Horn of Africa.

Elsewhere in the pacific, some island nations are poised to be wiped out completely if global temperatures keep rising. Think of the tropical island paradise Maldives which is known for its white sand beaches. It may not be around for much longer if expert predictions are right. Shall there be no fix to global warming; Maldivians and other islanders in that region will unfortunately be forced to seek alternative settlements elsewhere in the world.

Global temperatures below two degrees are not only foreseen to cause severe storms and droughts, they will also deplete natural resources and livelihoods. Food security and access to drinking water will be a big challenge and dependency shall most likely be the new normal. With all these, it is inevitable that people will migrate to seek alternative lives. With these facts, it beats logic to have some nations demonstrate xenophobia towards migrants, yet it’s their international responsibility to extend them asylum.

It’s understandable that human migration would often bring about security challenges including terrorism. However, the idea of putting up expensive fences at border areas to prevent any entry of asylum seekers violates human rights. Apparently, the current rate of global gas emissions could raise the temperatures to the two degrees limit in a few years. It can only be hoped that the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this November will strongly put into perspective issues of climate induced migration.

In the meantime, our efforts to enhance global security should promote human dignity and not erode it. The mere fact that all of us are at risk of displacement should be a constant reminder that migration for asylum is a human right.

Duke Mwacha

Duke is a 28 years old Kenyan communication specialist currently working for UNHCR Sub-Office Dadaab as an External Relations Associate. He has worked in UNHCR Dadaab since June 2013 and his work involves community communication, media relations, donor relations and reporting.

    One Comment
  • Ganmor Manfelt
    7 September 2015 at 12:01 pm
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    Yeah, imagine if climate change would force us to move to Syria… that would be a problem :/

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