Despite Unspeakable Hardships, Migrants Keep One Billion People Alive

Human Wrongs Watch

MADRID, Jun 15 2022 (IPS)* – Here goes another fact: 230 million migrant workers are now a major life-saving source for up to one billion people starving in the world’s poorest communities, as well as a vital lifeline for the economy of their countries of origin.
Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Migrant workers’ remittances amount to over 6 billion US dollars a year, which is three times greater than the whole Global Official Development Assistance, now situated at around 180 billion US dollars.

Not only: officially recorded remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are expected to increase by 4.2% this year to reach 630 billion US dollars, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief released on 11 May this year.

At the same time, their remittances already exceed by six-fold the ‘profits’ –estimated in some 100 billion US dollars a year– made by the criminal gangs, human traffickers and smugglers, and sexual exploiters.

Moreover, migrant workers remittance flows have increased five-fold over the past twenty years, serving in a counter-cyclical capacity during economic downturns in recipient countries, according to this year’s International Day of Family Remittances on 16 June.

Obviously, this is the case of “privileged” migrants, those who have managed to survive and find a job. Tens of thousands of migrants do not have the same “luck.”

Hellish journeys

Nowadays, more and more millions of human beings are forced to migrate, feeling armed conflicts, man-made climate disasters, severe droughts, devastating floods, high indebtedness, starvation, shrinking humanitarian assistance, and political persecution. And death.

In fact, thousands of migrants are every year reported dead during their land and maritime journeys, in particular in the Mediterranean Sea, while attempting to reach Europe, which is seen as the promised land of democracy, human rights and equality.

The Gulf

Take the case of Yemen. At least 27,800 people have crossed from the Horn of Africa to war-torn Yemen in the first five months of 2022, more than the total who made the journey all of last year along what was the world’s busiest maritime migration route prior to COVID-19, according to the International Organization for Migration (OIM).

The rise in arrivals is “cause for alarm” in a country now grappling with its eighth year of conflict.

Upon arriving in Yemen, migrants face perilous onward journeys to Gulf countries in search of work, IOM reports. They often travel across conflict front-lines and face “grave human rights violations such as detention in inhumane conditions, exploitation and forced transfers across lines of control.”

“Women and girls often report experiencing gender-based violence, abuse or exploitation, usually at the hands of traffickers and smugglers.”

Remittances represent up to 60% of recipients’ families on average and typically more than double a family’s disposable income and help deal with uncertainty, allowing them to build assets. CREDIT: IFAD

Remittances represent up to 60% of recipients’ families on average and typically more than double a family’s disposable income and help deal with uncertainty, allowing them to build assets. CREDIT: IFAD

The deadliest sea

Meanwhile, migrants who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe on flimsy boats often piloted by people-smugglers, are at greater risk of dying now than for years, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on 10 June 2022.

Latest data visualisation figures from UNHCR, shows that there were 3,231 dead or missing at sea last year, a sharp rise from 2020.

The situation is a “widespread, longstanding and largely overlooked tragedy”, said UNHCR.

The UN agency noted that although some of those crossing the Mediterranean want a better life and better jobs, many are fleeing conflict, violence or persecution.

The neglected inhuman cost

During their journeys to life, migrants are easy prey to criminal gangs, human traffickers and smugglers, and fall victims of cruel exploitation and the growing wave of hatred and xenophobia, which is increasingly propelled by most politicians, let alone the right and far-right ones.

Heavily used as an electoral argument in the most industrialised countries, migrants are now perceived by voters as a threat to their own well-being and as a heavy burden to get rid of, as if this would alleviate the impact of pandemics they did not cause, wars that they have not launched, climate disasters they did not generate, and the failure to address ongoing economic hurdles, inflation, recession, etcetera.

The economic cost both migrants and their families are forced to pay for their journeys to survival often comes at the price of high indebtedness.

Meanwhile, smugglers have been demanding more and more money.

For instance, smuggling activities on the passage by sea to Italy has almost doubled, while the fee for this journey jumped from EUR 6.000 to EUR 12.000, according to a non-profit platform DoSomething report on human trafficking.

Swept away

Right now, several European countries are sweeping away migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

In what looks pretty much like an ‘operation dusting’ aiming at getting rid of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers by shipping them far away, the process of ‘externalisation’ of millions of victims of wars, poverty, climate crisis and political persecution, is now growing fast.

IPS already reported on such a practice in four European countries. See specific reporting on the cases of the United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary and Poland by clicking the respective links.

How are migrant workers’ remittances spent?

The United Nations reports the following:

  • Remittances represent up to 60% of recipients’ families on average and typically more than double a family’s disposable income and help deal with uncertainty, allowing them to build assets.

  • Analyses of 71 developing countries show significant poverty reduction effects of remittances: a 10% increase in per capita remittances leads to a 3.5% decline in the share of poor people in the population.

  • In rural communities, half of remittances are spent on agriculture-related expenses.

  • Additional income increases receiving households’ demand for food, which increases domestic food production and improves nutrition, particularly among children and the elderly.

  • Investment of migrants’ income in agricultural activities creates employment opportunities.

Migrants under fire

Last but not least: in a number of European countries, the demand for workers has been on the rise.

In the specific case of Spain, for example, in addition to the construction sector, hotels, coffee-shops, restaurants and other sectors depending on tourism, have been complaining about the growing shortage of highly needed waiters, cleaners, housekeeping workers, and so on.

The provided explanation is that Spanish citizens are no longer ready to accept highly precarious jobs, low-wages, seasonal contracts and excessively long, arduous working hours.

A quick conclusion would be to allow more migrants to do the job. But…

… But in most industrialised –and wealthiest– countries, migrants are being ‘accused’ by the rising right and far-right political parties for ‘stealing’ jobs, receiving humanitarian assistance, thus depriving the national unemployed, the youth and the elderly, and ‘wasting’ the citizens’ money… let alone of being the cause of crimes and a long etcetera.

What a world!


2022 Human Wrongs Watch

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