A tough 2018 for migrants

Asylum seekers and migrants are finding it ever more difficult to reach safer and more prosperous countries in 2018.

For those attempting to reach Europe, North America, and Australia from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, 2018 has been one of the most difficult years. The recent surge of irregular migration has caused unease in destination countries, leading to a rise in populist parties promising hard-line policies on managing migrants.

In the past year, Italy has banned NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean. It has given Libya training and patrol vessels to intercept and take migrants back to Libya, which the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called unsafe. Most recently, they passed the “Salvini decree” that would leave migrants homeless and unprotected.

During a meeting of African and EU ministers in Vienna to discuss migration, the interior ministers of Italy and Austria backed a proposal to process the asylum claims of migrants on ships in the Mediterranean. “Once people have set foot on the continent, you can only remove them with great difficulty and much expense,” Austrian interior minister Herbert Kickl said.

These efforts have seen the lowest number of crossings in the last five years. However, the proportion of people dying is increasing. Over 2,200 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year, making it the most dangerous journey in the world for migrants. Many set off from Libya or Morocco, where conditions have been documented to be extremely poor and unsafe.

But 2018 has also seen positive moments. In some countries with young populations looking to leave, governments are looking for ways to provide greater opportunities for young people. This includes business grants, vocational training and business management training.

The EU is also investing in Africa to further the employability and job prospects. In August 2018, the United Kingdom (UK) signed a GBP 115 million grant to Ethiopia, aimed at creating 100,000 jobs and improving the country’s tax system. Germany said it will be financing a four-year programme to reintegrate refugees with host communities in the East African country. In November 2018, the EU Delegation to The Gambia, said the Jobs, Skills and Finance for Women and Youth Programme (JSF) will create about 3,000 jobs for women and youth in The Gambia.

For those seeking to return home while on their irregular migration journey, international organisations like IOM and UNHCR have helped evacuate, relocate or return migrants and refugees. A UN relocation programme has evacuated hundreds of stranded migrants from Libya to Niger to await relocation.

Lastly, a historic global agreement. At the conference for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration on 10-11 December 2018 in Marrakesh, 164 of the 193 UN member states agreed to 23 objectives. This included the creation of opportunities for regular migration, the prevention of irregular border crossings and the promotion of ethical labour standards for migrant workers, among other issues.

2018 may have been a tough year for migrants and asylum seekers around the world, but for many economic migrants, steps are also being taken to support them with opportunities back home. And at least 164 countries have come together to create a safer world for migrants.

TMP – 31/12/2018

Photo caption: August 13, 2018; Bihac, Serbia. A protester holds a placard saying ‘Immigrants, go home’.