The Roots of Exodus: Why Are People Compelled to Leave their Homes?

People are leaving their homes. It’s not because they want to but because they have to—to survive. Climate change, food insecurity, war and conflict; these are the root causes of this displacement. But is anyone doing anything to address them?

Facts are facts, and one of them is that while everybody talks about the growing forced movement of people—whether they’re migrants or refugees—decision-makers haven’t seriously acted on the root causes as to why millions of humans are compelled to leave their homes.

There has been a surge in international migration in recent years, reaching a total of 244 million individuals in 2015. Forced displacement has also reached a record high, with 65.3 million individuals displaced worldwide by the end of 2015—including refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers.

These figures have been repeated again and again by the leading world specialised bodies and experts. Most importantly, they have also been explaining the major reasons behind such an unprecedented exodus.

Climate change migration is reaching crisis proportions, wrote Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and William Lacy Swing, the director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Over the last 18 months, some 20 countries have declared drought emergencies, forcing millions off their land, they added. “Often not for the first time, and, for many, it may likely be the last time, as they turn their backs on the countryside and try to make a life in urban slums and informal settlements.”

For at least the last two years, Glasser and Lacy Swing argued, we have seen more people forced from their homes by extreme weather events than by conflict. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, over 40 million people have been internally displaced by floods, storms and, in some cases, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides in 2015 and 2016.

“And these numbers do not take into account the many people compelled to move every year as a result of slow-onset disasters, such as drought and environmental degradation. Nor do they factor in the millions affected by these disasters who are trapped and unable to flee their consequences,” Glasser and Lacy Swing explained.

Migration flows can be heavily influenced by extreme weather and geophysical and hydrological events, they said. “Part of ensuring that people move as a matter of choice rather than necessity is to strengthen synergies between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, thereby ensuring that both agendas take into consideration migration dimensions, including displacement risks.”

Meanwhile, two other United Nations specialised agencies—the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP)—have been focusing on other major causes as to why people are forced to abandon their homes and even countries.

In its recent 2017 report, “At the Root of Exodus: Food Security, Conflict and International Migration,” WFP said that, though the initial driver of migration may differ across populations, countries and contexts, migrants tend to seek the same fundamental objective: to provide security and adequate living conditions for their families and themselves.

The study sought to answer some of the following questions: What is it that compels people to leave their homes? What role does food insecurity play in migration? Are these factors common across all international migrants? Or do unique root causes spur specific migrant populations to move from their homes?

One major conclusion is that countries with the “highest level of food insecurity, coupled with armed conflict, have the highest outward migration of refugees.” Additionally, when coupled with poverty, food insecurity increases the likelihood and intensity of armed conflicts, which has clear implications for refugee outflows.

Whenever the term migrant is used in the report, it refers to all migrants, including refugees.

“Food insecurity was also shown as a significant determinant of the incidence and intensity of armed conflict,” the report stated. And it was also found to be “a critical ‘push’ factor driving international migration, along with income inequality, population growth and the existence of established networks for migration.”

Furthermore, the act of migration itself can cause food insecurity, given the lack of income opportunities and adverse travel conditions along the journey, in addition to the potentially crippling costs of transit, the report underlined.

“This has clear implications for policymakers who aim to stem the dangerous land and sea journeys many migrants are forced to make.”

The WFP study provides some examples. For instance, among migrants from Bangladesh and East and West Africa, food insecurity and resource constraints are key drivers of outward migration, whereas lack of safety and security were triggers for migration from Afghanistan and Syria, the study said.

Many Afghans and Syrians reported that sustained conflict had destroyed employment opportunities and access to markets, leading to a depletion of assets, the study added. “Food insecurity is a consequential factor for migration from Afghanistan and Syria.”

For its part, the FAO stated that migration should be a choice, not a necessity.

“International cooperation should address the structural drivers of large movements of people and create conditions that allow communities to live in peace and prosperity in their homelands.”

The FAO underlined that agriculture and rural development can address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, lack of social protection and natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Therefore, the report stressed that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient rural livelihoods is an important part of the global response to the current migration challenge.

Working with governments, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and local communities, the FAO has played an important role in addressing the root causes of internal and international migration and displacement and in harnessing the developmental potential of migration, especially in terms of food security and poverty reduction.

The UN specialised agency has also underlined that agricultural and rural development can contribute to addressing the root causes of migration and can build the resilience of both displaced and host communities, laying the ground for long-term recovery.

For this, it works with relevant stakeholders to strengthen their capacities to provide viable livelihood opportunities in agriculture and rural areas in countries in protracted crises.

It also protects the right to food of all people on the move, while fostering their integration and strengthening the social and economic resilience of host communities.

In short: the causes of the growing massive displacement of human beings are well known. People are forced to leave their homes and families due to the flagrant lack of political wisdom and the capacity of decision-makers to address the roots instead of just complaining and alarming their societies. Do they really think that building walls and wire fences can stop climate change, food insecurity, poverty and conflicts?

Courtesy of Inter Press Service /







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