Our reporting – from Greece to Peru to Niger – examines the changing politics and policy responses to migration. In many parts of the world, refugees and migrants have become a polarising political issue. The demonisation of migrants by populist politicians has led to policies that make it harder for people to access asylum and other legal protections. This pushes more migrants underground – a shadow population without status. Meanwhile, people helping migrants are increasingly falling foul of laws that effectively criminalise assistance.
Anti-migration politics affects foreign as well as domestic policy. There is growing pressure on countries in the Global South to take back or resettle migrants. Wealthy countries have stepped up support for border enforcement in countries along migration routes, effectively externalising their border controls to countries like Libya, Mexico, Morocco, and Niger. Thus, the humanitarian crisis recedes from public view in the richer parts of the world.
Recent efforts have tried to reform the international policy framework. The crisis in the Mediterranean created political momentum behind two global compacts meant to improve international cooperation on migration and refugees. These efforts are not comprehensive – for example they barely address people displaced inside their own country’s borders, who outnumber refugees two to one. Such initiatives also faced a political backlash, including from the United States. Whether such efforts can genuinely reform humanitarian response, or are derailed by anti-migration politics, will be tested in the years to come.
At a glance: The policy landscape
- Fledgling accords: In late 2018, 164 countries adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and 180 voted for the Global Compact on Refugees.
- Changing needs: When the main international framework on internal displacement was launched two decades ago, there were 20 million internally displaced people. Now there are around 40 million.
- Aid becomes a crime: From the United States to Greece and Italy, Western governments are increasingly using anti-smuggling laws or counter-terror legislation to criminalise humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants.
- Xenophobic politics: Far-right politicians in the West have capitalised on unease over migration in the wake of the Mediterranean crisis; many have introduced anti-migration policies.