Joseph Chamie, former Director of the UN Population Division, has a new article posted online discussing an upcoming "first-ever United Nations high-level summit meeting for refugees and migrants, to occur on Sept. 19 in New York." He is careful to point out that this is not the same as a global conference, such as the ones the UN has held on population, environment, women, and other demographically related issues. Migration is essentially too hot a topic to be put on the table for all to discuss. Why? First, there is a huge global imbalance between people who want to leave and go elsewhere and the places where they can realistically be accepted and integrated.
International surveys find that about one of every six of the world’s adults, close to 900 million globally today, would migrate to another country if they could. In contrast, annual numbers of migrants worldwide today are only several million.
A clear illustration of the extent of the demographic imbalance in the supply and demand for migrants is the top destination country, the United States. While more than two hundred million people have said they would like to migrate to the US, the country’s annual number of immigrants that are admitted is a fraction of that figure, approximately one million.Another example of the imbalance is the growth of the African population compared to that of Europe, as shown in the graph below. The youth bulge in Africa has created a huge number of people who see themselves better off somewhere else than where they were born. Who can blame them?
But the other big problem is that governments and the people of receiving countries are routinely at odds over the value of immigration.
While most governments tend to favor immigration, the public mostly wants policies favoring less immigration. Opinion polls regularly report that large majorities of the public think there should be greater restriction of immigration and tighter control of their country’s borders. Besides economic uncertainties and unemployment, people are concerned about losing their traditional culture and national identities. Many people migrating today are ethnically, religiously and culturally different from the populations of the receiving countries, increasing anxiety about integration and cultural integrity and fears about ethnic conflict. In contrast to public opinion, few governments view their immigration levels as too high.And, since it is the average person on the street who is asked by the government to accommodate the immigrants, who can blame them for balking? As Chamie points out, then, there are no easy answers, but the migration dilemma is growing and we really do need to cope with it better than we have been.