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On the move

By Jean-François Berger, Jean Milligan and Andrew Doupe
Migration describes movement and as such the settlement of our planet has been the result of migratory movements. Today people are migrating on an unprecedented scale. Current estimates put the number at well over 100 million. So who are these people and what is the nature of their humanitarian needs?

“Two hundred Albanians land illegally in Sicily” reads a headline in an Italian newspaper. “In 1998, 133 Mexicans died trying to cross the United States border,” reports a migrant- support group in Mexico. Too often these news reports are delivered in cold, dry terms portraying these people as a socio-economic problem, a law-and-order issue or a source of disease. But behind the numbers and headlines are the individual stories of people who have risked everything in search of a better life.

The reasons people migrate differ considerably. It is important to make the distinction between those who have decided to move and those who were forced to. A migrant is a person who freely chooses to move from one place to another. The main causes are generally economic or demographic – the famous gap between industralized and developing countries. It follows that while refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers are migrating, they are not migrants. Instead, they are fleeing war, persecution or natural disasters.

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are from elsewhere, they are the ‘other’ often accused of causing overcrowding, unemployment, draining social and health services, and posing cultural threats in host countries. This is a result of perceptions that there is already too much migration and from the ‘wrong’ countries as well as old- fashioned racism and prejudice. In the case of migrants, this is despite the fact that they have frequently been brought into a country to perform the work which nationals find too demanding, precarious or poorly paid to do.

The plight of these people is further complicated as the criteria separating each group has become increasingly blurred. This has left a growing number languishing in an administrative limbo some call it a ‘bazaar’ – in which, more often than not, they live in dangerous and clandestine circumstances.

 

 

 

Migration matters

As unprecedented numbers of individuals are on the move, the world’s policy makers and politicians are only beginning to come to terms with the fact that a worldwide phenomenon exists which has defied all their attempts at control.

In keeping with its humanitarian tradition, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has on the whole risen to the challenge posed by migration, particularly in terms of protecting and assisting refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, many National Societies deserve praise for their impressive efforts over the last generation to help settle refugees and asylum seekers and provide them with medical and social care, with the support of the International Federation and the ICRC. This being said, it now behoves the Movement to make even greater efforts to promote more humane policies towards those who migrate and develop a holistic response to the situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Such an adjustment requires creativity, courage and better coordination between the different components of the Movement.

In view of this, Red Cross, Red Crescent has chosen to illustrate the reality faced by certain categories of migrants and asylum seekers and the Movement’s response, focusing on two examples, one from Asia, the other from western Europe.


Jean-François Berger and Jean Milligan
Editors of Red Cross, Red Crescent magazine and Andrew Doupe, specialist in issues related to migration.



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