Crisis just beginning of massive migrations

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

September, 2015

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

The images the past few weeks of thousands of Syrian refugees streaming towards safety across Europe have been both heartbreaking and daunting at the same time. It’s easy to understand why they seek safety in Europe; their homeland has turned into a nightmarish no-man’s land of constant warfare where there is little if any regard for the lives of innocent civilians. What person wouldn’t want to save their family in these conditions?

There has been, of course, a predictable backlash against the refugees, most of it from the right-wing in Europe which hates all foreigners but Muslims in particular. But there has also been a not insignificant amount from more moderate members of the European Union.

It was only 70 years ago when the same nations faced an even greater refugee crisis during and after World War II. In those cases, however, almost all of the displaced people searching for a new home looked the same as the people in the countries to which they were immigrating. The new refugees from Syria are of a different ethnicity and culture, and while most Europeans have been welcoming (especially Germans) to the massive numbers of people looking for safety, the sheer number looking to Europe as their lifeboat has been unnerving for many.

They need to get used to it. This is only the tip of the iceberg. And what will be driving the next great wave of refugees will not be political violence, but climate change.

This point was made recently by Elon Musk, best known for being the co-founder of Tesla motors and for his interest in private spaceflight.

“Today’s refugee problem is perhaps a small indication of what the future will be like if we do not take action with respect to climate change,” Musk told an audience at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. “Today, the challenge is in terms of millions of people, but in the future, based on what the scientific consensus is, the problem will be in the hundreds of millions and much more severe.”

Another organisation that has predicted an unsettling future due to climate change is the United States military. A few years ago, in one of its scenarios of what the United States will have to worry about in the future in terms of security, the US military named climate change as one of the main reason for worry. The reason? Massive demographic changes as people leave areas of a world hard-hit by climate change and look for newer safer lands, most likely in Europe and the United States.

Then in 2014 the Pentagon upgraded that “future” threat” to a much more imminent one.

“The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability,” the Pentagon wrote. “These developments could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”

I spent much of my time, when not working with, writing for two websites that cover the Middle East. One thing I have learned is that the greatest predictor of the spread of terrorism in a country is a lack of stability.

Take Syria, for example. The millions of refugees who have left their homes have done so not only because of the fear of being caught in the middle of a conflict but also because there is no access to water or food or reliable healthcare. Aid organizations are trying their best to alleviate these problems but they can only do so much in such a perilous situation.

Now take what’s happening in Syria, and multiply it. Think of millions of people worldwide without access to water, food or reliable healthcare. Do you think they’re just going to stay where they are and tough it out with their families? Would you?

Ignoring climate change is perhaps the greatest sin of which Western civilization is currently guilty. The tide has begun to change somewhat, as the overwhelming body of scientific evidence forces many longtime doubters into accepting the climate change as a reality. And the importance of dealing with climate change has been given a large public boost by figures such as Pope Francis, who have spoken out so eloquently about our need to deal with the issue.

It is, however, too little too late. Climate change is happening, on a massive scale, all around the world right now. And this means that we are only a few years away from yet another massive refugee crisis. I wish I could tell you differently, but that would be as bad as ignoring climate change itself.

Therefore we must not only do our best to mitigate the effects of climate change as much as we can, but we must put in place the infrastructure to deal with the future where massive immigration will not be a jarring one-time event, but a commonplace regular occurrence.

Some people say that history is written in the movement of people. If that is so, we are about to move into a very historical era.


Further reading on F&O:

Refugee, asylum seeker, migrant: what’s the difference?
REUTERS (*unlocked)

“Politicizing” Alan Kurdi’s death
ALEXANDER KENNEDY   (Disturbing content warning)

Photo-essay: Migrants: A Train Towards a New Life
OGDEN REOFILOVSKI, Reuters (*unlocked)

Refugees now the biggest crisis facing the European Union
JONATHAN MANTHORPE (*subscription)

Europe faces a 1945 moment
JONATHAN MANTHORPE (*subscription)

Eritreans take perils of the Mediterranean over torment at home
JONATHAN MANTHORPE (*subscription)

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State
HUMEYRA PAMUK  (*unlocked)


Hungarian police officers face migrants outside the Eastern railway station in BudapestA policeman stands in front of a door of a train ready to go to Munich at Brenner railway stationMigrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with HungaryMigrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek borderIranian migrants approach the Greek island of Kos on a dinghyPeople stand in a queue to buy train tickets a the railway station in BudapestTravellers sit on a platform as they wait for a train to Austria at the railway station in BudapestMigrants stamped as they are gradually let in MacedoniaA policeman assists a family as migrants try to enter Macedonia near Gevgelija near the border with GreeceMigrants seeking asylum status queue outside the foreign office in BrusselsSyrian refugees raise their arms in front of the railways station of Budapest


Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.





Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.