The number of conflict refugees worldwide has reached a world record of 1% of the world population. According to the 2018 Global Peace Index, that shows that the world is less peaceful now than it was over the last 10 years. With the influx of migrants to Europe following the Syrian crisis, the 2015-2016 migration crisis led to many political tensions and is still causing stress within and between nations. Recently, after a populist anti-immigration coalition took office, Italy refused to offer safe harbor to a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants, giving rise to a diplomatic debate between the country and the EU. In July, Austria’s anti-immigration government will make migration the centerpiece of its half-year presidency of the EU.
When the number of conflict refugees surges, data on migration are often used as political tools. Concerns over “invasions” of refugees, for example, contributed to the election of Donald Trump and swayed Brexit voters. Nature made the case that data show the situation in 2017 was different from how it was often portrayed and that international migration tracking can be messy and ambiguous. Furthermore, although it is commonly believed that the volume of international migration of any kind has increased, research shows that this belief is largely untested and that global migration patterns in the period of 1960-2000 challenge this idea. However, the study also shows that the origins and the destinations of migrants have changed. The range of countries people are fleeing from has become wider and the range of countries people are fleeing to has become narrower. Wealthier countries attract the most migrants (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the U.K., as well as Scandinavia, have surplus migration). As such, the volume of migrants may increase at a smaller number of hubs. Furthermore, it is easier than ever before to travel long-distances. And thus, if conflicts increase, this will impact countries far away, as the wave of Syrian refugees in Europe has shown.
If this trend continues and the number of safe havens that attract immigrants declines further, right-wing governments will increase efforts to keep them out, while others will try to reduce or prevent the conflicts abroad. An analogy can be drawn to the trend of migration on a more local scale: rapid urbanization. Cities can be seen as hubs attracting people from all over the country, the urban-rural rift representing a demarcation between the haves and the have-nots and governments put effort into making it attractive to stay in the countryside, e.g. offering free housing to fight depopulation.