In September 2023, boats with 7,000 immigrants from North Africa landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. This territory only had a population of around 6,000 before, meaning the amount of people there doubled in only two days. The mayor, Filippo Mannino, has said the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean has reached a “point of no return,” as reported by CNN. The group that recently landed on Lampedusa came in order to “flee political instability in Tunisia.” In the past, migrants came from the African country Libya. Those groups were many times rescued before reaching the island, by rescue teams on “NGO charity vessels.” But, as the CNN article mentions, Libya recently experienced environmentally devastating floods. This could lead to another influx of immigrants, only adding to the problem. This event illustrates a much larger issue in contemporary society, which is the global refugee crisis. Data from the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) shows that around 71 million people are considered “forcibly displaced worldwide” in 2019. With conflicts like the Ukraine War reigniting in 2022, the numbers can only be rising more and more. Calling it a “slowly-accelerating issue for the last 71 years,” the NGO Concern USA stated that this crisis didn’t really have a definitive start. Instead, over time costly conflicts sprouted up throughout the world. Some examples are the 40-year conflict in Afghanistan, or the Syrian Civil War, which both forced many people to leave their homes. When so many people are forced to move, problems arise in the countries that take them in, due to the eventual overcrowding. The global response is multifaceted. On the base level, countries like Turkey and Germany take in certain numbers of refugees, spreading them around to try and minimize total intake. At a more global level, organizations like the UNHCR work to help ameliorate the crisis. There are also statutes like the Geneva Convention which guarantee certain humanitarian rights to victims of armed conflict. Yet, as shown by the events in Lampedusa, more must be done to help both migrants and the countries that take them in.
The current response to the crisis has faced a myriad of challenges. One of its biggest impediments is the spread of new conflicts, which is out of their control. As noted above, an example of this is the recent Ukraine War. Putin’s invasion was unexpected, and took global refugee efforts a step back from where they could have been. Another example of this can be found in the aftermath of the flood disaster in Libya, which was equally impossible to stop, but nevertheless exacerbated an already strained refugee pipeline in light of Libya’s civil war. In this case, the country itself lacked an adequate meteorological apparatus, which made bad consequences even worse for the citizens within. Just as in the Russia case, leadership within the country created conflicts without a care of who it would displace.
Another massive problem for the response comes with how to integrate displaced peoples once they are in a new host country. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) specified three potential solutions for how host countries should respond to the refugee influx, though each has its own flaw. The first is “repatriation,” usually the goal of both parties, wherein asylum seekers have the opportunity to return home and reunite with their homeland. Unfortunately, this goal is not easily reached, as many times existing conflicts mean refugees are unable to safely get home and/or will not be safe once they return there. If the refugees have a credible fear of harm in their home country, international law in fact requires the receiving country to refrain from returning them, based on the principle of non-refoulement. The second goal is “local integration,” but “host states are often reluctant to extend public services or citizenship” to people entering the country for asylum. They would prefer to keep certain parameters for citizenship, because too large of an uptick can lead to issues within the state. An example of this would be a job shortage which hurts the economy, and/or stretched government resources for things like health care or education. On top of this, stereotypes can harm refugee integration, like beliefs that they commit crimes or internalized racism in the country. The remaining possible solution is “resettlement, which basically means that a third state will agree to eventually take in some number of refugees, alleviating overcrowding on both sides. It’s the most difficult solution to achieve, because so few countries actually have resettlement programs.In fact, “in 2016, just 1 percent of refugees worldwide were resettled.” Staggering numbers like this show efforts to resettle are still only in the early stages. All three of these possible solutions are promising ideals, but lack practicality. Coupled with the hostile conditions between or within countries causing refugees to leave, one can see how response efforts to solve this crisis have struggled.
Inherently, this is a problem that gains complexity because of its constant fluctuation. Efforts can be going well for months, but a new war/conflict or environmental disaster can easily bring more issues. Also, one could argue that it isn’t fair for other countries to be expected to accept such a large number of people. On top of the higher job demand, there may be a shortage in supply due to having more mouths to feed. This could hurt a country, so while some should be integrated, another solution must be found. The answer lies within the third possible solution the CFR considered: resettlement. The main flaw within that idea was the lack of programs around the world to effectively resettle people. But, if there were simply more organizations and a greater world focus on resettlement, naturally the policy would work better. Another possible fault with this solution is that the hypothetical third country has to agree to be part of the process. If there’s no space, resettlement doesn’t work. This too can be solved if there was cohesion between world organizations, which would create a framework to resettle effectively. This is the only way countries can ensure their society can absorb the allocated amount of people they agreed on, while still granting asylum for those in need. This idea would also make it easier to do damage control when new refugee needs emerge, because there would be a system to spread refugees around evenly. A method like this would also make the jobs of world organizations like UNHCR easier because there would be more of a map for what to do in case of a new crisis. This would still not be enough to stop the refugee problem, because the societal issues of a large new influx of people from a different culture may still persist. No matter what, events like what happened in Lampedusa would create turmoil. But, a larger focus on resettlement policies would help them deal with the worst-case-scenarios better.
Overall, while there are many world responses to the refugee crisis already, the random nature of conflicts makes it unpredictable. Emergencies like the huge influx of 7,000 people into a small Italian island require patience and a planned response. The best way to do this is to focus on resettlement projects, which create a balanced effort to solve the crisis. They will keep countries’ populations stable, while still granting help to those in need.
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