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Opinion – Global migration the new norm

15 September 20150 comments

The use of the word ‘crisis’ in relation to the influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons into Europe suggests that this is an aberration; a temporary disaster that can be solved by policy or politicians.

But many observers of the issue surrounding Europe’s ‘migration crisis’ are coming to the view that this is no aberration; that it is the new norm.

If they are correct, this represents a new paradigm in the global movement of people.

It was the philosopher Carl Schmitt who argued that when presented with a crisis, liberal democracies will put aside constitutional niceties in order to survive. He says the public will consent to its government violating democratic and liberal values to deal with a crisis which requires desperate measures.

The waterboarding and redaction of 9/11 suspects and the imprisonment without trial of IRA suspects spring to mind.

And recently we have seen the use of words like ‘swarms’ and ‘marauding’ in reference to migrants trying to enter Europe. Is this also a response to a perceived crisis that shows values of decency and humanity have been shelved for the time being?

And therein is the rub. This mass movement of people might not be just for the ‘time being’; this might be the new normal.

And if you factor in the potential for global warming to add to this unprecedented diaspora, the future looks confronting.

One estimate by Oxford University environmentalist Professor Norman Myers says climate change could cause 200 million people to be displaced by 2050.

A Pentagon report has already identified climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ – not just for unfettered global migration but also for conflicts that could spark more displacement of people.

The report says that a severe drought in Syria in 2006 was a contributing factor to the outbreak of conflict in Syria. Syria now has the highest number of refugees in the world and that “the rise of ISIS may owe much to the food crisis spawned by the drought”.

US scientist Jared Diamond says the most environmentally stressed places in the world are the most likely to have conflicts, which then generate refugees. Rapid climate change will environmentally stress lots of developing countries.

He says also that the Mediterranean will likely keep getting drier this century, with knock-on negative social and economic impacts.

So, just as they are now accepting migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, one day it could be Italians and Greeks moving into northern Europe as their own countries become even hotter and more arid.

Some scientists are saying that migration is a valid way of dealing with global warming and that the international community should not only work on stemming greenhouse gas emissions but also on how to deal with a world altered by them.

Yet another facilitator of the current ‘migration crisis’ is the connectivity brought about by digital technology.

Migrants are now using smartphones on their journeys; to post real-time updates about routes, arrests, border guard movements and transport, as well as places to stay and prices, all the while keeping in touch with family and friends.

So what should we do about the ‘migration crisis’?

There are two obvious measures. One is to intervene with military action or economic sanctions to stop the conflicts that have created the vast numbers of displaced persons. The second is to do more to tackle climate change.

But maybe what we also need to do is change our perceptions; to recognise the fact that migration isn’t going to go away or be ‘solved’.

There is a good chance it will become more common; the new normal.
But whatever the outcome, we must deal with the victims of this current crisis in a compassionate way, not just for their humanity but for our own.

How we choose to respond will reflect who we are as individuals and as a society.



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist