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Quit Turning Your Backs on Desperate Migrants. Help Them Instead.

| June 17, 2015

immigration kofi anan

Undocumented immigrants are generally treated like criminals, even though many are closer to refugees.

By Kofi Annan

The scenes of death and misery that are occurring with increasing frequency in the waters of the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia have focused renewed attention on one of mankind’s oldest activities: migration. It is time to accept the reality that, like the waves on the seas that many of the migrants traverse, the ebb and flow of human movement cannot be stopped. That is why the international community must manage migration with understanding and compassion.


Today, some 250 million migrants live and work around the world, and in the coming months and years many more will certainly join them. We must put in place policies to manage the flows of people in ways that benefit migrants’ countries of origin, transit, and destination. And of course, we must ensure the wellbeing of the migrants themselves. This calls for action on four fronts.

For starters, leaders of destination countries – whether in Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia, or Oceania – should not turn their back on the desperate and wretched. For many elected officials, migration poses a complex political dilemma: how to reconcile their citizens’ demands with the interests of migrants. They must find the courage to make the case for a humane migration policy.

But, all too often, migrants are used as scapegoats. To be sure, immigrants must agree to adapt to the cultures and customs of the countries in which they settle. But the public in destination countries, for their part, must acknowledge the critical role that the new arrivals can play in the economy. Migrants fill critical skill gaps, perform jobs that others cannot or will not do, and replace a country’s workforce as it grows older or shrinks. According to the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research, Germany alone will need an estimated 32 million immigrants by 2035 to maintain an adequate balance between its working-age and non-working-age population.

Second, we need to ensure that migrants who choose to send money back to their countries of origin can do so as easily and inexpensively as possible. In 2014, remittances by migrants to developing countries amounted to an estimated $436 billion – a sum that dwarfs the annual total that the international community spends on official development aid.

Unfortunately, however, financial intermediaries take an average of 9 percent of the precious earnings that migrants send home. Reducing the intermediaries’ share would boost the income of migrants’ families back home, increase economic opportunity in these countries, help reduce poverty, and, by extension, contribute to global stability.

Third, we must provide immigration systems with the resources needed to process asylum claims quickly, fairly, and openly, so that refugees are protected and safely resettled. European countries, for example, need to devise mechanisms to share the flow of incoming migrants. The developed world sometimes wrongly feels that it is being asked to care for a disproportionate number of people seeking a better life. In reality, 70% of refugees seek protection in developing countries. Lebanon, for example, has a total population of 4.5 million people. By the end of this year, it will likely harbor close to two million refugees, driven from their homes by violent conflict in neighboring Syria and elsewhere.

Those migrating today are doing so for the same reasons that once spurred millions of Europeans to leave their countries. They are fleeing poverty, war, or oppression, or are searching for a better life in a new land. Moreover, many of today’s migrants, like those flooding into Lebanon (and Jordan) have legal claims to asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the subsequent 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. When potential refugees are blocked by offshore barriers, detained for excessive periods in unsatisfactory conditions, or refused entry because of restrictive legal interpretations, the protection of international law is lost.

Finally, interdiction efforts should focus on traffickers, not on those whom they exploit. We must be careful not to drive migration further underground or offer additional opportunities to the criminal gangs that prey on the desperation of migrants to make obscene profits.

This is not a call for unrestrained migration. But it is important that we accept the fact that efforts to block migration are bound to fail, with disastrous consequences for human lives – whether they are lost on sinking boats in the Mediterranean and the Andaman Sea or threatened by xenophobic violence in South Africa, India, or elsewhere.

Building higher fences cannot be the answer. Migration will continue until we lift the poorest and most vulnerable out of the conditions they are currently fleeing. In the early 1980s, I worked at the United Nations Refugee Agency, and I recall how

Europe’s political leaders, intellectuals, and academics rallied to the cause of the boat people fleeing Vietnam. The world has a moral duty to come together in the same way today.

kofi annan project syndicateKofi A. Annan, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, is the founding chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, which mobilizes political will to address threats to peace, development, and human rights. In 2001, he and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. © Project Syndicate.

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14 Responses for “Quit Turning Your Backs on Desperate Migrants. Help Them Instead.”

  1. Rich Mikola says:

    Absolutely right! The United States should do all it can to help ‘LEGAL’ immigrants.

  2. Outsider says:

    Sure, let’s take them all in. We are trillions of dollars in debt, but so what, the liberal economists tell us deficits don’t matter. We’ll just take as much as we can from the people who do go to work every day to pay for the children they created and accept responsibility for, and then print money to make up the shortfall. Then, when these immigrants decide that our welfare doesn’t meet their religious standards and our laws are not in line with what Allah wants they will riot in the streets and kill Americans who dare to exercise their rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Go ahead me call me xenophobic for not wanting to tolerate immigrants who practice intolerance.

    • a tasty bacon sidedish says:

      The largest chunk of our national debt sits on the shoulders of social security. I encourage everyone to call their congressman and tell them to get these deadbeats off of america’s shoulders, if you can draw a breath then you should work – it’s the american way.

    • bill hoctor says:

      AMEN !!!!!

    • JenS says:

      Outsider: I am much for frightened by the way your mind works and the malevolence in your heart that produces the line of logic you draw in your comment. Annan takes a hugely complex global issue and delivers an enlightening provocative 4 part solution whose source is wisdom and humanity. And as such should be humbling to each of us. The hatefulness is appalling and in no way productive.

      • Outsider says:

        I am not drawing anything; I am stating the facts. I hardly call it wise to allow people to come here wholesale and completely unvetted, yet this is what is being forced upon everyone, by the Dems for the potential voters they will get, and the Republicans for the cheap labor they will get for their donors.

  3. Layla says:

    I’ve been supporting and helping them for years. And all it has gotten me is a country deeper in debt, an invasion across our borders, and more jobless American families.

    No thanks.

  4. groot says:

    “The world has a moral duty to come together in the same way today”. This is a global issue and not about more illegal immigrants here. It’s Kofi Annan speaking. The world also has a moral duty to deal with ISIS and terrorism in general. That is what is causing all the current disruption and migrations.

  5. Walter Pickens III says:

    I will help any and all of these people at any time.
    I will do this your name. I dedicate these actions to you.

    (those of you that hate these unfortunate people)

    Our country is broke because of the crooks you’ve
    elected and continue to elect, and the costly wars we’re paying for.
    Don’t blame these poor bastards for this.

  6. Anonymous says:

    They broke our LAWs in getting here they BROKE our laws in staying here yet it citizens who are wrong in NOT helping Law BREAKERS???? Its a simple fix first when they come into contact with Government it should be the law that they are sent home. NO government aid of any other then life saving medical. if you are here ILLEGALY and have a kid that kid should NOT be considered a citizen. I totally get wanting to come and live here BUT do it legally.

  7. Dave says:

    If they came into this country LEGALLY and have NO criminal record of any kind , I might help. But the BAD out weighs the good on immigrants workers. Not children but male workers. Too many crooks, drug users looking for a ‘IN” to be able to steal from people better off than themselves.

  8. Sherry E says:

    Which of the sailors on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria came here LEGALLY please?
    If all the illegal immigrants were deported, who would raise the kids and clean the toilets of the 1%, please?
    Who would pick our crops at 10 cents on the dollar please?
    Do you want to work in the fields? Wash the cars? Tend the gardens? Clean the houses of the rich? Wash dishes in a restaurant? All for cash, under the table, under minimum wage, with NO benefits!

    Bottom line. . . you can’t have it both ways!!!! If you want an under class of cheap labor. . . they, by definition MUST be illegal. . . get it???? That’s precisely why NOTHING is happening on immigration reform!!!!

  9. My Daily Rant says:

    Yes if they want to come here Illegally they should atleast Adapt to our culture because a lot of their cultures believe Rape is good or killing your kid because she dates some one different is good and lets not forget the sweet people that are willing to strap a Bomb on their own Children to kill innocent people we should adapt to their cultures.Not all are bad but how do you know the bad ones if their coming here Illegally.Our Country must heal before we can keep takeing people in by the Millions.Remember we are taking care of all of Mexicos finest.

  10. Sherry E says:

    Hola from the beautiful island of La Gomera!

    For those that inhale the hatred of human beings being blasted 24/7 on FOX. . . and for those that pretend to know anything at all about cultures in other countries. . . while probably never stepping a foot out of our own, please do try and educate yourselves before again spewing your hatred of humanity in the comments of this wonderful on-line news site.

    Thank You!

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