With one person being forcibly displaced from their homes every two seconds, the worldwide static of forced migration is nothing short of shocking. There are over 68.5 million people in the world who have been displaced from their homes, often with nothing except the clothes on their backs. Why would anyone willingly leave their homes and their entire lives behind? Let us find out the most common causes of forced migration.
Drought or Famine
In countries that rely on agricultural means to put food on the table, just one drought can be a disaster. With the changing climate, many agricultural provinces are experiencing prolonged and severe droughts, resulting in a dry spell for harvests and a lack of sufficient food for families, livestock and to make a living. Additionally, droughts mean a lack of a clean water source for these people, sometimes leaving them for days without water or food. If they are desperate, they may also use contaminated water, which can carry illnesses or even prove to be fatal.
A lack of food is often linked to drought, but can sometimes be its own issue. Those who live in agricultural sectors could have their crops pillaged or destroyed, especially if there is ongoing war or conflict in the area. Others may be living in perpetual poverty, unable to afford their next meal. This often results in a vicious cycle where the poor are malnourished because they do not have enough to eat, and being in a malnourished state can make it very difficult to work long hours or engage in hard labor so that they can earn more money to buy better food.
Regardless of the effects of drought or the causes of hunger, the end result is the same – people are finding their living conditions difficult and not survivable, and are forced to look for somewhere else to settle down so that they can have their basic needs met.
Violence, War and Conflict
Even in the peace of today’s world, violence, war and conflict remain a threat to some countries. Most of the time, those displaced from their homes are simply caught in the crossfire and find themselves living in war zones. One good example is the deadly civil war of Syria, which has forcibly removed over 11 million people from their homes. More than 5.6 million Syrians are considered refugees, while nearly 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced. Even nine-year-old South Sudan has been plagued by conflict, forcing many of its residents out of their homes due to political infighting and violence in public streets.
Aside from living in the middle of a war, some refugees are also forced to leave when the situation becomes hostile towards them. For instance, some terrorists attempted to set up their operations base in the war-torn Afghanistan, leading the United States to send their troops in case of a war. Those still living in the middle of the conflict are regularly faced with suicide attacks and airstrikes and can no longer trust that their homes or belongings will remain safe.
Disasters such as flooding, earthquakes or hurricanes often devastate entire towns and cities, causing people to lose their homes and all their savings just overnight. Numerous natural disasters have ravaged certain areas repeatedly, making it impossible for anyone to settle back into their homes and forcing them to look for shelter elsewhere. In 2010, the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, rendering 1.5 million Haitians homeless. Five years later in 2015, three earthquakes of 7.5, 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude hit Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in succession, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Haiti also suffered devastation from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, destroying 200,000 homes and leaving 1.5 million citizens – more than a tenth of the country’s population – in need of humanitarian aid. The damages arising from the hurricane were counted to be around $1.9 billion.
A report published in 2017 by Cornell University estimated that natural disasters caused by climate change could account for 1.4 billion forced migrations by 2060, and over 2 billion by 2100. However, these numbers have been disputed by some critics, who claim that the numbers are only meant to shock the Western governments into taking action to conserve the environment. Yet others argue that there are no “environmental refugees”. Although environmental factors can contribute to instances of forced migration, the real factors forcing people out of their homes have usually been in tandem with other aspects such as social and ethnic conflict, weak rulership and abuse of human rights. As such, some believe that environmental disasters should not be made to shoulder the blame of the real issues of development, inequality and conflict resolution.
People could also be pressured to migrate if their country’s economy is unable to keep up. While some countries are suffering from a workforce deficit, others are finding that their population is expanding too rapidly for the country’s resources and job market to support them. With few options left in their home countries, young people may be hard pressed to look outside the country for job opportunities – a main incentive behind many of the illegal migrations that have occurred worldwide. Amid high unemployment rates, even if people are able to secure jobs, the jobs typically have low pay and are insufficient for helping entire families out of poverty.
According to the 2018 World Migration Report by the United Nations, the declining economy is a great driving factor for migration in West Africa. One example is the West African country of Niger, which has one of the fastest growing populations in the world and is expected to triple by 2050. However, the country is experiencing difficulties keeping up with the demand for jobs as a large generation is now ready to enter the workforce, potentially creating the need for some locals to relocate someplace else with more opportunities.
Human Trafficking and Smuggling
Finally, people are also forcibly displaced from their homes if they are trafficked or smuggled across borders. It is worth noting that trafficking and smuggling are two different actions: human trafficking relies on deception and coercion and is carried out with the intention of exploiting the trafficked person, while smuggled persons are usually partners in a commercial transaction, even if the shares are unequal. Those who smuggle people are paid for the act of transporting the person over, while those who traffic people are paid for the trafficked person’s sexual services or labor. As such, most smuggled migrants tend to be men while most trafficked persons are women and children.
Kidnapping women and children for their sexual services has occurred for a long time all over the world, with many of them tricked into getting caught by gangsters. Victims of war and forced displacement are also taken advantage of and sometimes sold to brothels.