The Migration Policy Institute has traced worsening humanutarian crisis in the Sahel region to multiple conflicts ranging from insecurity to fraught and climate challenges.
In its issue brief issued this week,the institute while identifying Migration propelling issues in 2019 noted that insecurity drives displacement in the region.
“A humanitarian crisis in Africa’s Sahel region (including parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria), led to major increases in internal and cross-border displacement in 2019. Nearly half a million people were displaced in Burkina Faso during the year—about 300,000 over the span of just four months.
” During the year, the climate of insecurity reached new heights in a region marked by interwoven violence and instability since 2016.The Sahel is combating conflict on several fronts, including changing climate and violent attacks by extremists, which have combined to displace nearly 1 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.
“Drought followed by intense, unpredictable rainfalls and extreme temperatures—rising 1.5 times faster than the global average—have limited crop production, degraded land, and reduced the water supply for humans and livestock alike. The result has been a spike in emergency levels of malnutrition. In November, the World Food Program warned that 2.4 million people in the Central Sahel faced severe food insecurity, putting “a whole generation” at risk.
“The region is also battling surges of violence, erupting between local militants and Islamist extremists, with the jihadis, some with ties to the Islamic State and al Qaeda, extending their strength. Although localized conflict and attacks from militants were common, large-scale attacks were rare until last year. The geographic scope of violence has also increased: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned “about the continuing escalation of violence in the Sahel and its expansion to the Gulf of Guinea countries.”
“While much of the displacement is internal, many have been forced across international borders, prompting the UN General Assembly to call for a “global response” to this under-reported crisis”,the institute noted
The highly respected Migration monitoring body posited further that , “long-running and emerging crises forced significant new displacement in places such as Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, and Africa’s Sahel region”,adding that “Elsewhere in the world, migrants and asylum seekers faced increased barriers to reaching international destinations; in places such as the United States, access to asylum was further narrowed.
“While gains made by far-right, populists in Europe and elsewhere faced some reversals in 2019, hardening attitudes about migrants and refugees spurred violent attacks in New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.
Other migration flashpoints reviewed by the institute include the following :
Countries Push Borders Outward, Preventing Migrants from Reaching Hoped-For Destinations
Amid hardening attitudes towards asylum seekers and other migrants seeking to reach desired destinations in Europe and North America, 2019 witnessed a number of steps taken by governments to implement “remote-control” policies or engage in informal practices to turn back arrivals.
Perhaps most notably, the United States implemented Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, informally known as Remain in Mexico), adding a formidable layer to a series of Trump administration policies designed to narrow access to the U.S. asylum system. Under MPP, more than 60,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico, where they remain in difficult conditions while awaiting a long-off date for a U.S. immigration court hearing.
Beyond MPP, the United States took new steps to sharply limit who can apply for asylum, including a July rule barring asylum for nearly all who transit through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border. And in November, U.S. authorities began sending a small number of asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala, under one of three controversial asylum cooperation deals struck with the three countries.
Across the Atlantic, word emerged of a secret deal Malta negotiated with Libya for the latter’s coast guard to intercept and return migrants before they reach Maltese territorial waters. Italy already has such a deal. The human cost of these and other policies, described by some as creating Fortress Europe, was thrown in stark relief in July when an airstrike on a Libyan migrant detention center killed more than 40 people.
Beyond overt policies, informal practices to thwart migrant arrivals also were seen, including reports of forced pushbacks of asylum seekers from Greece into Turkey.
Despite the controversial nature of offshoring policies, governments tout them as a success. Noting five months of declining apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, a U.S. official called MPP and similar policies “a game changer.”
Difficulty of Returns Manifests Amid Resistance from Origin Governments and Migrants Themselves
Though migrant-destination countries are increasingly prioritizing policies to return failed asylum seekers and other migrants found not to have a reason to remain, 2019 offered some proof of the difficulty of actually carrying out such actions.
In Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge since a brutal crackdown in Myanmar, authorities had no success convincing 3,450 Rohingya to return voluntarily.
In January, the African Union sought to discourage cooperation with the European Union on returns, a troubling development for European policymakers eager to increase the paltry rate of return for sub-Saharan Africans ordered to leave the bloc. The overall return rate in 2018 stood at 36 percent—but fell to just 1.7 percent for Malians and 2.8 percent for nationals of Guinea. In March, the Gambia refused for several months to accept deportees from Europe.
The International Organization for Migration, which operates an assisted voluntary return and reintegration program, averaged fewer than 5,000 returns monthly during the first nine months of the year. Elsewhere, returns occurred at much higher rates: More than 470,000 Afghans living without authorization in Iran and Pakistan were returned during the year.
Despite friction between sending and receiving countries over returns, as well as the difficulty of actually effectuating them, their policy appeal was further demonstrated in 2019. The Trump administration negotiated immigration agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that would allow the United States to return transiting migrants to those countries, later restoring terminated aid. Elsewhere, the approach is less stick and more carrot, for example, EU partnership arrangements that include development assistance or other benefits.
Despite their allure, return agreements represent a contentious policy arena and one where implementation of the return objective under the Global Compact for Safe, Regular, and Orderly Migration will be closely watched in 2020 and beyond.
Far-Right Populists See Reversals, Some Gains in 2019
The upward trajectory that far-right populist parties and leaders have been on in recent years, aided in part by anti-migration rhetoric and policy agendas, hit a patch of turbulence in some places in 2019, even as successes were racked up elsewhere.
In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini—known for harsh rhetoric and anti-immigration policies—overshot and inadvertently triggered his own ouster from the country’s governing coalition in September. The far-right Freedom Party of Austria, which campaigned hard on an anti-foreigner agenda, suffered a significant setback in October parliamentary elections amid scandal. In Canada, while liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sails were trimmed in October national elections, the newly established far-right People’s Party failed to win a single seat.
Still, the year offered plenty of evidence of the weakness of centrist parties and governments. In EU parliamentary elections in May, the centrist coalition lost its majority amid gains by both far-right nationalist and liberal, pro-EU parties, though the populist gains were more ripple than anticipated wave. In Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Belang made key electoral inroads, while in Germany and Spain, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) beat Angela Merkel’s party to take second place in a state election in eastern Germany and Vox more than doubled its seats in the Spanish parliament.
Nonetheless, some observers suggest populism’s popularity may be waning among publics in Europe and North America, sustained by minority support. Amid mixed results for far-right nationalists in 2019, it remains to be seen if setbacks are anything more than temporary.
Campaign to End Statelessness Saw Setbacks, Some Successes in 2019
India’s Supreme Court supervised the National Register of Citizens process.
At its halfway mark, a decade-long UN campaign to end statelessness by 2024 suffered a setback in India. Nearly 2 million people in the Assam region face the real prospect of becoming stateless after their names were left off the government’s National Register of Citizens published in 2019.
While supporters maintain that the measure is meant to root out unauthorized Bangladeshi immigrants, many on the list have lived in the region for generations but did not meet documentation requirements reflecting their Indian citizenship. Efforts are underway to help some resolve their status. Some observers fear that beyond stripping people of citizenship, the register will be used to justify discrimination against Muslims.
Despite the expected swelling in 2019 of a global stateless population previously estimated at 10 million to 15 million people—including the Rohingya, migrant descendants in the Ivory Coast, and many Roma in Europe—some progress was made during the year. In July, Kyrgyzstan became the first country to eradicate statelessness. And Colombia granted citizenship to 24,000 babies born to Venezuelan mothers, setting an important precedent for children of the Venezuelan exodus.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the #IBelong campaign, joined by dozens of governments, had assisted more than 220,000 people acquire a nationality at its midpoint. But officials acknowledge new displacement in Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere could trigger new statelessness.
Amid Fears of Provoking Backlash, Governments Move Slowly and Softly on Global Compact for Migration Implementation
Coming on the heels of a contentious, but ultimately broad, endorsement by UN Member States in December 2018 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, 2019 was meant to be the year in which national governments began to demonstrate tangible commitments to advancing goals under the most substantive international agreement yet on international migration. Progress, however, has been slow, and trepidation among some states to ascribe new developments in migration and refugee policy to the compact suggests a lingering fear of reigniting backlash.
Still, 2019 witnessed action on some of the nonbinding compact’s 23 objectives—which include addressing drivers of migration, improving the quality of data gathering on migrants and migration trends, and providing basic services for immigrants. Among them: Ethiopia implemented a new refugee law under the auspices of the compact in January; in Chile, a platform to monitor the compact’s progress was established; and the African Union in September unveiled efforts to strengthen data gathering. More quietly, some governments undertook actions, albeit without tying them to the compact.
One significant aspect remains in neutral: a lack of donor commitments to a start-up fund to help countries implement compact-related initiatives. With the first of the quadrennial Regional Migration Review Fora coming up in 2020, offering a showcase for governments to indicate the steps taken towards compact implementation, it will be interesting to see if countries become more visible about discussing a topic that for some this year verged on the taboo.
Source: Migration Policy Institute
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