International Migration Flows: a Global Challenge Requires a Global Response

International Migration Flows: a Global Challenge Requires a Global Response

By Igor Ivanov

It might be fair to say that no other phenomenon of today’s world politics demonstrates the deficitof global governance as vividly as does the current migration crisis. The topicof the disaster not only makesthe front pageand a staple of TV news shows, but also provokes lively and often heated discussion on the Internet. The migration issue is becoming particularly dramaticfor our western neighbours, particularly the countries of the European Union. For manyobservers, the migration crisis is a most serious challenge for the ‘European project’, which puts to test the very values that the EU was built upon.

 

What should the attitude here in Russia be regarding this crisis? Some cannot resist the urge to gloat and once again point to the low efficiency of many European institutions, or even predict the looming end of the European integration. Others would beeager to see in the migration calamity yet another insidious U.S. schemeand blame it for stirring up the regions surrounding Europe, which has resulted in masses of migrants flooding the European continent. And then there are those who go even further and predict an era of chaos, radical nationalism and ‘no-holds-barred’behaviour in world politics. Also, many question Russia’s ability to successfully address the looming ‘migrant flood’, which, they believe, will in the nearest future inevitably spill over into Russia.

 

However, the explanations that the West gives as to why this crisis happened in the first place are more than peculiar. For example, not so long ago, the outgoing NATO SACEURPhilip Breedlove said that Russiawas mostly to blame for the crisis, since it was purposefully destroying the civil infrastructure in Syria to force masses of refugees to flee to Europe and bring about the destabilization of the EU institutions.

 

However, let us leave the phantasiesto vainconspiracy theorists and to U.S. generals. A sober-minded expert analysis of the migration issues in today’s worldgives no reasoneither for gloating or panic. First and foremost, we need to remember that today’s migration isa global and long-term phenomenon. Surely, the irresponsible and short-sighted strategy that the U.S. has been pursuingin a number of regions of the world (particularlyin the Middle East and in Northern Africa) has largely triggered the migrant avalanche we are witnessing today. However, in my view, the fundamental causes of the migrant crisis run deeper.

 

They are rooted in the widening economic gap between the rich North and the poor South. They are to be foundin the lowefficiency of the programs of assistance to the poorest developing countries, the irresponsible behaviour of transnational corporations and financial profiteers. They are in the weaknessof many international organizations and the crisis of global governance as a whole. It is clear that today’s crisis is but the tip of an iceberg ofproblems that have been piling up worldwide and in certain parts of the world for many decades.

 

At the same time, the conventional wisdom that migration is but ‘an inevitable evil’ that goes hand in hand with globalization is quite wrong. Migration processes are an irreplaceable resource for the development of any society. This is so not only because the majority of developed countries are experiencing a steady decline in birth rates, which results in long-term problems of social and economic nature, to mention just a few.The meeting of cultures and the enrichment of human capital through immigration has always been a powerful catalyst of progress, renewal and, in the end, increased competitiveness of civilizations and individual states. It is no coincidence that there is busy competition for the attraction of certain categories of migrants, and it is likely to grow only more intense in the future.

 

For Europe, the regulation of migration flows comes down to the question of choosing the development path, of the future of the European identity and the search for a new balance in the fundamental European values. Symptomatically, just afew years ago, our European partners spoke very confidently, over-confidently even, of the ‘European’ values as the framework for dialogue between the EU and Russia. Today, the once orderlyframework is crumbling before our eyes amidst fierce political debate and bitter quarrels within the European Union.

 

Russia cannot keep aloof when such a discussion is taking place. Our countryis among active participants in the global migration processes, which has been the case throughout a larger part of our history; in the 19th century alone, about five million people immigrated to Russia. In this respect, the Soviet period, when international migration was brought to minimum numbers and the country was artificially isolating itself from the outside world, should be considered an exception rather than a customary state of affairs. History amply demonstrates that each period of successful modernization in Russia coincided with an upsurgein migration, prosperity of our country being closely associatedwith its openness to theouter world.

 

At the same time, it has to be noted that, for objective reasons, our country turned out to be unprepared for the migration boom that happened after 1991. Looking for a proper response to the rise in migration in post-Soviet Russia could neither beeasy nor swift. We need to give it to the political leadership of the country of the time, which while foreseeing the aggravation of the migration issues took a whole number ofpreventive measures to minimize their potentially negative impact upon the nation. It is also worth mentioning that the authors of Russia’s strategy regarding migration faced severe opposition from those holding widespread old-fashioned attitudes and longstanding social stereotypes, which madeevery new step of the way in promoting that strategy a true struggle.

 

The very establishment of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) illustrated the high order of priorityof these issues for the Russian leadership. Since its creation, the Service has accumulatedsubstantial expertise in regulating migration flows, in preventing and solving problems related to migration. As to managing migration flows, modern Russia has had only two decades to achieve what other countries spent centuries working on, and today we are fully capable of not only being creative and making use of borrowed expertise, but offer our own tried-and-tested techniques to colleagues and partners abroad.

 

It goes without saying that we have no reason to be complacentbecause the migration-related issues demand that we be in constant search for new solutions. Russia’s migration policy should probably shift its focus from the mechanisms of institutional regulation of migration flows, which the authorized government bodies can easily deal with, to addressing the issue of adaptation and integrationof immigrants. To tackle the second category of issues, what we need are joint actions by the authorities, private sector, the civil society, educational organizations, the media and many other institutions.

 

Then again, these problems are not unique to Russia. No modern state or society has managed to find the most suitable solution to migration-related problems. Some have more luck doing that than others, but the migration challenge has gained unprecedented scale, hence it is only through joint effortsthat we can effectively overcome these difficulties. Our major goal today is to develop and jointly implement a global strategy for governing migration processes.

 

Migration-related problems, different in scale and gravity, do not hurt all countries in the same way, which makes it harder to find shared approaches. This also leads to a significant decrease in the efficacy of international cooperation in this field. The factors that affect migration flows often lie outside the control of the country that is affected the most, and hinge on another state’s domestic policy. When it comes to migration, countries do not always share the same interests. In fact, they may be precisely opposite. However, we hope that common sense and the appreciation of shared long-term interests will allow the international community to be in greater control of migration.

 

At the same time, one has to bear in mind that, in today’s world, it is hardly possible to solve the problem of migration without addressing the rest of the global governance issues. Migration flows depend on global climate change, the lack of basic resources (such as fresh water) and on the unpredictable spikes in energy prices. What affects them most is the state of global and regional security, or rather the lack thereof. Hence, the migration problem can only be solved by way of improving the manageability of the global system as a whole, including its economic, environmental, political, military and strategic dimensions. In my view, this objective needs to become a top priority for world politics in the decades to come.

 

Igor Ivanov, President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

 

 

RIAC

  

 

  

 

15.04.2016 

 

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