High levels of international migration have become an inherent feature today’s globalised world where information, capital, goods people flow through borders at a higher rate than ever before. According to the United Nations, the number of international migrants in 2019 is 272 million. This nearly a 180% increase from the 150 million migrants reported in 2000.
Illegal migration, otherwise known as irregular migration, has become a hotly contested issue in many countries today. Governments and societies are reluctant to accommodate large numbers of immigrants as they feel burdened by the economic implications, such as a higher expenditure on public services and the entry of cheap labour which keeps wages low. In many instances, poorer illegal immigrants are blamed for driving up the crime and unemployment rate. It has been difficult to estimate the number of illegal migrants as they are not included in documented records. According to the Pew Research Centre, the number or unauthorised migrants living in Europe was approximately between 3.9 million and 4.8 million.
As governments have established stricter visa controls and tighter border controls to protect state interests, more immigrants have taken to entering the countries illegally, seeking a better life or fleeing from persecution. Consequently, countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and India continue to be the destination for a ceaseless stream of illegal immigrants. Some of the government responses to clamp down on illegal immigration, such as detention centres or deportation back to war torn countries, however have garnered controversy as infringe on their rights of the immigrants.
People leave their home countries and seek better lives in foreign countries due to a variety of push and pull factors. Some people are asylum seekers who have fled their homes to escape violence, persecution and other threats to their lives. Their legal status in the destination countries rests within the government’s decision on whether to grant them refugee status or not. Many also leave for economic reasons, travelling to destination countries with a perceived better economic opportunities and a better standard of living.
Another reinteresting factor that is increasingly driving migration today is climate change. More than ever before, scarcity of resources and extreme weather patterns are causing large-scale human migration, creating climate refugees. These are people who had to abandon their homes and livelihoods due to the adverse effects of climate change. For example, after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, about 2 million people lost their homes, forcing some to migrate to neighbouring Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia.
Furthermore, climate change is usually not the sole push factor in determining a person’s decision to emigrate, but it plays a big role for populations living in the areas worse affected by climate change. Countries in Central America, like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are located in what is known as the dry corridor, an ecologically region that has experienced erratic weather patterns and climate due to global warming. As their living conditions diminish, people are prompted to make the decision to migrate. Some climate refugees end up as illegal as there are no legally binding commitments by states to assist them. They are not seen as refugees, but as immigrants with economical motives. In 2018, the World Bank estimated that by 2050 about 143 million in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will have migrated due to climate change. Governments therefore have to plan now to develop policies that will effectively deal with the large-scale migration.
One important aspect of illegal migration is the vulnerability to human rights violations and exploitation as the undocumented individuals avoid seeking assistance from the authorities due to fear of being detained and deported. Journeys to the destination countries are sometimes rife with risks. In some areas like Central America, smuggling migrants has become a profitable business, and some fall victim to human trafficking, kidnappings for ransom and rape. Some people are even killed.
For many who make it across the border, they become economically marginalised in their destinations, stuck in a cycle of chronic poverty. Undocumented children are especially vulnerable as they sometimes lack access to basic services such as education and healthcare. Many end up employed in the least desirable jobs with the worse working conditions and long working hours. Some common industries in which higher numbers of an immigrant work force include agriculture, construction and hospitality. They are also more likely to get exploited and receive relatively low wages as the cannot seek protection from authorities for fear of being detained and deported for violating immigration laws.
On one end of the spectrum, the plight of illegal immigrants is recognised by those who depart from viewing the issue as a crisis of state security, but as one of human security. This view which has been generally associated with political left, and is considered to be what is politically correct. Those who side with this stance recognise the contributions of the immigrants to the economy, advocate for humane treatment of irregular immigrants and sometime seven seek amnesty for the illegal immigrants. On the other hand of the spectrum lies those who are generally seen as belonging to right-wing politics. They stand against excessive immigration which could burden their countries’ resources. They seek to crack down on illegal immigrants in order to protect the economies. The debates between the two sides is continually magnified by the upward trend in international migration and will not dwindle any time soon. However, the challenge lies in pragmatically addressing the issue by understanding and tackling the underlying root causes that exacerbate illegal migration by the day.
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