24 Apr, 2020

Concerning migration issues, politics has given way to walls and bulldozers

by Food&Migration

Interview with Massimo Livi-Bacci, professor of Demography at the "Cesare Alfieri" Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Florence. He was a senator in the Italian Parliament between 2006 and 2013, as well as a member of the upper house Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Neodemos is an independent think-tank for study, analysis, and proposal whose purpose is to illustrate the meaning of current demographic trends, to interpret their short and long-term consequences, to suggest interventions and policies. It deals with population, society, and politics.

1. The arrival of the summer season is about to bring the public opinion’s attention back to the issue of migration flows to Europe, via the Mediterranean. What can we expect this year, given the coincidence with the pandemic alarm? 

There are plenty of variables difficult to predict, including the pattern of the pandemic along both banks of the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless I believe that the control over irregular flows by countries of the Northern Mediterranean shore will be strengthened, primarily for health reasons. 
At the same time, one should also keep in mind the strong labour demand for harvests, especially in Italy and Spain, which until yesterday was met by seasonal flows of migrants that are now mostly blocked. 
This may give rise to new pushes for irregular immigration, as well as incentives for traffickers to identify alternative ways of entering the European countries. 

2. What are the main variables that impact migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region? 

Traditional push-attraction factors continue to operate within the whole region, supported by the gap in income levels and abitual demographic trends. 
In North shore countries, the demographic weakness is accentuated, the working age population decreases and a strong segmentation in the labour market remains, with natives abandoning humble and tiring jobs. 
The real unknown is the degree of international political instability that will characterize the region in the near future. I am thinking about Syria and its Near Eastern neighbourhood, as well as other Sub-Saharan countries and the “mixed” flows of refugees and irregular migrants generated by this instability. 

3. In general terms, is it reasonable to expect an increase in African emigration? Is anyone who speaks of ‘invasion’ right?

Without migration, between 2020 and 2050 the European Union, barring of course the United Kingdom, could lose around 42 million inhabitants or 1.4 million people per year, while Africa seems destined to earn around 1.2 billion (39 million a year): a huge imbalance that migration alone will be able to mitigate, but certainly not solve. 
However, Africa and especially sub-Saharan Africa are regions with significant potential resources, which has undergone a sustained development during the first part of this century although ultimately unbalanced due to the poor support received from agriculture and small enterprises, which absorb plenty of workforce. In addition, the vast majority of migratory movements occur, in most cases, within the African continent. In the coming years there will certainly be an increase in migratory pressure towards Europe which, in my opinion, could reasonably be governed. But talking about an invasion is completely inappropriate. 
Today the foreign population born in Africa and living in the EU is about 9 million, less than 2 percent of the total. According to a plausible forecast recently published on Neodemos, it is possible that African foreigners could grow to 25 million by 2050, which makes about 5 percent of the entire European population. Undoubtedly many people, but not an invasion. 

4. What are the areas of the world where we will witness the greatest movement of people in the coming decades?

I would look carefully at the development of mobility across the Asian continent. In the first place, for what concerns internal mobility in each single country: just think of the hundreds of millions of Chinese migrants moving from inland to coastal regions every year. These people make up the floating population that has supported Beijing’s unprecedented economic development. Secondly, we should consider migration patterns between different countries, given that in Asia coexist regions marked by speedy economic development and extremely poor populations, as well as countries with weak demographics and other with rapidly growing populations. Finally come migration flows towards the developed world, which concern populations that share old migratory traditions such as Filipinos, Chinese, Indians, Pakistani and Bengali. On this matter I would also consider the long-term effects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which will stimulate the mobility of people despite being initially conceived to promote the mobility of goods and trade. 

5. Last year the issue of climate change was at the center of global attention. What relationship exists between global warming, migration, and wars?

I believe there is no direct relationship. However, in the long term, new migratory pressures may arise in those populations living in areas marked by severe desertification, especially in Africa. These regions are populated by 150-200 million people devoted mainly to agriculture and pastoralism, that may also generate substantial migratory flows to neighbouring areas in the event of persistent climatic stress. 
More correctly, it should be argued that climate change can accentuate the stressful conditions that contribute to determine migratory movements, as well as wars and other conflicts. Together with many other factors and without being the only triggering factors. Just read what the IPCC says on this matter in its latest report on climate change and land.

6. When it comes to peoples and migrations, a subject that comes up frequently concerns the relationship between borders, walls, and barriers. Are we facing an evolution of the concept of frontier? 

I am afraid so. After the Second World War, only 5 borders were marked by a wall, while in 2016 we could count more than 70 and today even more. Walls are increasing in both numbers and length. 
In the era of globalization and technology, there is no better method of regulating flows of people than resorting to walls, barriers, ditches, or barbed wires. It is a bit like what Roman emperor Adrian did when he ordered the construction of the well-known barrier to keep the populations of northern Britannia at bay, or the Chinese emperors who erected the Great Wall to defend their country against the incursions of nomadic barbarians.
Unfortunately, the migration issue is in the hands of individual states, an international government does not exist, and at the end politics has given way to bulldozers.