With climate change, it is estimated that we will see more refugees fleeing from climate-related disasters than wars.
Between 2014 and 2015, Germany saw hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and temporary housing complexes were built all over the country. However, it was not until September 2015 that back home in Canada, people woke up to what was happening with the Syrian civil war when the news hit about Allan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned along with his brother and mother in the Mediterranean Sea. After that, he became known as "the boy on the beach." The image of his dead body was front-page news all over the world. Suddenly people had to take notice. He was like Phan Thi Kim Phúc, who became known as the "Napalm girl" during the Vietnam war, finally waking people up. However, like most news stories, that story of Allan came and went. Nevertheless, we are just at the beginning of the crisis. Are we ready?
Humans have been migrating since we have been on earth in some form, whether seasonal migration, continually searching for food supplies, or climate-related. However, more recently, large numbers of migrants over long distances have been a reasonably new phenomenon. The largest was the "Great Atlantic Migration" of migrants from Europe to North America, the most significant being in the 19th-century migrants from Ireland and Germany. Then there was a second wave that was even larger, and in 30 years between 1880 and 1910, over 17,000,000 Europeans entered the United States; overall, the total amounted to 37,000,000 between 1820 and 1980.
Recent times with conflict in countries including Syria, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, and the extreme violence that forced Rohingya to seek safety in Bangladesh have displaced millions of people. However, more than ever, we face large numbers of people needing to migrate due to extreme changes in weather and weather-related hazards, particularly in Mozambique, the Philippines, China, India and Latin America.
The Mediterranean Sea is the deadliest migration route holding the most significant number of casualties and missing people. The Balkan border closure has resulted in 72,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, Cyprus and the Balkans, including over 22,000 children. Between 1994 and 2018, over 34,000 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean. No one is held responsible. Furthermore, United States Border Patrol recorded, between 1998 and 2018, the deaths of 70,505 migrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States.
It is a horrifying situation in Greece and Croatia, where an investigation revealed they are now using unidentifiable "shadow armies" to force people back off their shores. Additionally, Greece announced a 40K fence and surveillance system at its border with Turkey over concerns about a surge of Afghanistan migrants.
Most of the world's borders were formed after World War I. Now our borders have become a political card to pull. Nothing showed the importance of borders in politics more than Donald Trump's campaign to build walls along the border with Mexico. However, many do not realize that behind closed doors in Europe, military-armed walls have been going up to keep migrants out, along with policies put in place without a vote or discussion. Recently the Uk, for instance, quietly amended its Draconian Nationality and Borders Bill by introducing a provision that gives Border Force staff, if they fail to save lives, immunity from prosecution. In Poland, the government passed an emergency law allowing authorities to turn back "illegal" refugees that cross into the country. The surveillance and border wall industry is set to be worth over 68 billion dollars by 2025.
There were reportedly 7,500 children migrants this year alone, and of those migrants, 92% were travelling alone, putting them at risk of human trafficking and forced labour. Most who take the journey are on a "pay as you go" system. Some are forced to work days or months along the way to pay off their smugglers. Europol earlier this year reported that 10,000 refugee children had gone missing.
"If you try to run, they shoot you, and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade," said one 16-year-old from The Gambia who worked on a farm in Libya.
"We're now refugees. People don't like us. No one is loyal, everyone lies. I was a kid before. I am older now. I know more." Rawan, aged 12, who had to flee from Aleppo in Syria.
Moreover, with every tragedy comes to a rise in economic exploitation. Migrants are at a considerable risk of human trafficking, a very profitable business today. According to the International Labour Organization, the annual profits generated by trafficked people in forced economic exploitation can be estimated at approximately USD 4 billion. Annual profits from forced commercial sexual exploitation due to trafficking amount to USD 28 billion. The total illicit profits of all forced labour resulting from human trafficking are about USD 32 billion per year.
Migrants who are taking the journey to find a safe home puts them on a path outside the borders of humanity. Without the right to citizenship, they are stripped of dignity and left without protection and human rights. Migrants are so vulnerable to dehumanization. The worry is that we have become so desensitized to the same world of "Migrant" that it has taken humanity away from who migrants are, our fellow humans that have been put in circumstances that required them to leave their homes.
This expression is felt in words spoken by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. "You have hopes, dreams and expectations. You take your humanity for granted. You keep believing you are human even when the catastrophe arrives and renders you homeless. […] You try to make it to the border. Only then, hoping to leave, or making it across the border, do you understand that those who live on the other side do not see you as human at all,". To be able to endure their dangerous journey, migrants must come to embrace their own worth as human beings while those around them refuse to acknowledge it.
Without a doubt, if we do not immediately address the need for large amounts of people to be displaced through climate disasters due to climate change, this will and has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.
We can no longer be spectators in the dehumanization of migrants and allow people worldwide to be confined to inhuman conditions. Let us not wait for another Allan Kurdy or Phan Thi Kim Phuc to get our attention. Humans will need to migrate in large numbers with our current climate crisis, and we need to be prepared, not with border walls and guns but with a plan that does not hold people at their death but allows for their fundamental rights as humans to live.