Mass Flight

by Glen

The continuing meltdown of Venezuela’s economy is drawing increasing worry in global circles, and not just about finance. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was right to warn about the regional effects, including a pending refugee crisis. As she noted recently:

“I do think. . . this is a humanitarian crisis as well as a political one. We are seeing the real preventable suffering of the people of Venezuela.   And I think . . . there are mounting signs of a regional refugee crisis as well. Colombia and Brazil are facing a lot of pressure. So I think it is an area where Canada needs to be very engaged.”

Given all that’s transpiring on the refugee file around the globe, it’s easy to overlook the threat in Central and South America. Financial mismanagement, political upheaval and the reduced price of oil are placing entire regions at risk and at some point citizens in the region are going to look about for better prospects elsewhere.

The sheer scope of the refugee file guarantees that it will become one of the top developments of this century, with no sign of abatement. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reminds us that that 65.6 million people are displaced worldwide, with only 189,300 refugees resettled in 2016.   Some 55% of current refugees come from only three countries – South Sudan (1.4million), Afghanistan 2.5 million, and Syria (5.5 million). It’s difficult to imagine this protracted problem getting any better when 28,300 people are forced from their homes every day – that’s 20 people forcibly displaced every minute.

Professor Jennifer Welsh of the European University in Florence, and also of Oxford University, asked Canadians in her recent Massey Lectures to consider the refugee problem from a different angle.

“If the total population of displaced persons today constituted a nation, it would be larger than the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, and significantly larger than Canada. One in every 113 human beings is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum, and more than half of them are children.”

The term used for this phenomenon is “mass flight,” and it represents the largest movement of humanity in history – greater even than the displaced number of people following World War Two. The movement of such a great stream of humanity roaming the globe is destined to impact virtually every country on earth. Prosperous Western nations, like those in Europe, Canada, and the United States already feel they are handling the bulk of the burden, but the reality is something quite different.

Of the top five host countries for refugees, not one is from the West. Jordan has taken in more than 2.7 million people. Second is Turkey is with 2.5 million, followed by Lebanon and Pakistan each with 1.6 million people. In Lebanon, that means 183 out of every 1,000 inhabitants are refugees. The next nations in line are Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad. These are the nations bearing the world’s burden from violence, climate change, political upheavals and tribal wars.

Nevertheless, Europe is under tremendous strain from mass flight (one million), with Germany taking in one-third of Europe’s refugees. In fact, for most refugees, their number one preferred destination is the European continent, but most don’t have the means for getting there. The sudden presence of so many people is causing increasing turbulence in European nations, with some elections being largely decided by the threat some citizens see from the immigration and refugee crisis.

While this week the Government of Canada said it would be admitting some 300,000 immigrants and refugees each year, America is threatening to move in the opposite direction as a result of the Trump Doctrine and the country’s declining financial prospects.

There appears to be no end in sight regarding this global crisis and this present’s a troubling portent regarding political stability in the Western world. Unless headway is made in those nations from which the bulk of refugees emanate, then host nations will forever be reacting to global pressure instead of taking leadership. More money must be put into foreign aid and development, peacekeeping, women’s programs and infrastructure if we are to stem the refugee. That will take many years of dedicated planning, global partnerships, and generosity, perhaps even military intervention to safeguard improvements made. Are prosperous nations ready to tackle the problem of mass flight at the source? Unless that occurs, the term “mass flight” will soon become important part of our human lexicon.