A Letter to America about Immigration . . . from the United Kingdom

Happy New Year to you all and let’s hope that 2019 heralds some positive developments for the planet and for our respective economies and societies, although as we saw for the USA and the UK the numbers of ‘would be’ immigrants beating a path to both of our front doors is growing in intensity.

The UK leaves 2018 with a stark reminder of the persistent problem of unwanted illegal migration –  a problem we share (in greater numbers) with our American friends, who have seen over 12 million illegal migrants enter the USA in recent years.

The UK was reminded of this persistent problem when a series of boats came ashore from across the channel in France over the Christmas period, with groups of (mostly males) seeking “asylum” yet despite the United Nations requiring asylum seekers to have had their cases heard by the first “safe” country they land in, these “asylum seekers” managed to trek across Europe and are safely living in France yet still wanting to claim asylum in the UK?

The perplexing problem of migration will not be resolved by trying to deal with the symptoms of why people wish to leave their countries of birth, but the causes are many and various and in many respects have causes which say much about the world we live in, the inequalities, the vast difference in governance and economic activity and the technology which allows peoples from across the globe to see how others live, instilling a wish for them to emulate those lifestyles.

I have spent some years working in Kenya, East Africa and to be honest it was a shock to the system to drive through large parts of the country to see people still largely living in mud huts and simple dwellings scraping a living from tourism and menial tasks.  Kenya is (oddly) regarded as a shining light in Africa, with regular significant economic growth and an ambition to become a medium waged economy (by world levels) by 2030.   However, Kenya is symbolic of why so many Africans wish to leave the continent – crippling unemployment amongst the young and a complete lack of opportunity for educated people to land a decent “paying” job and (in Kenya’s case) a 11.5% unemployment rate fosters a form of hopelessness amongst the population and Kenya is more developed than most.  Nearly next door to Kenya, is the Congo (DRC), where unemployment is over 60% with a raging civil war which has been in full swing since 1998.  To the north of Kenya is Somalia, youth unemployment is 67% and their clan wars have been raging since the 1990s –  it is amazing Kenya can grow its economy with such violence on its doorstep.

Added to the lack of opportunity for African peoples, you also need to be aware that although Africa’s continental population is over 1.3 Billion it is predicted this number could rise by a further 2 billion by 2050, with the median age of this population currently being 19.4 years of age, which if nothing changes, will exacerbate the problems Africa already has.

Governance in African countries is plagued by corruption and incompetence, with jobs often being awarded on a tribal or patronage basis and the endless scandals across Africa regarding issues of “State Capture” for example in South Africa where powerful private interests effectively run the economy or dictators or certain families like those in Angola and Zimbabwe have pillaged and run those economies into the ground are a common story right across the continent, even up to the middle east, where as we have seen the Saudi Royal family imposes its will on that society with no democratic mandate and the Assad Regime in Syria has even destroyed its own country and still continues with impunity!   Sadly, the story of Africa is as hopeless as it is depressing, but the same could be said of South America – we have two continents on the doorstep of the developed world who have lost their way and their problems have become our problems and there is no getting away from that.

For the young of these countries, who have access to the internet and see how others live and who could never dream of owning a car, living in a smart house in a leafy community, having a well paying job, sending their children to good schools and making a success of their lives these reasonable hopes seem like an unattainable goal, which for millions it will be, so for those who are hopeless and homeless do what most of us would do given the same circumstances and move to countries where a decent life and a good lifestyle is more possible, legally or illegally.

Sadly, the UN has appeared to be increasingly ineffective in recent years in addressing development and over population in Africa and South America – riven by political clashes between “the West” and China and Russia.  Perhaps it is now time for the countries who believe in democracy and have large aid budgets to come together under a new banner to provide aid as a reward for positive change in developing countries and to leave the UN to focus on maintaining peace and security, with a new organisation dealing with the causes of mass migration and targeting aid to eradicate the push and pull factors so people are content to build their lives at home, wherever they live.

In 2019, we need new ideas and fresh solutions to deal with the many and various problems facing the world, but much can be addressed through education and better governance and economic management  and the USA with the UK alongside, can provide a powerful partnership to challenge the hopelessness and despair in South America and Africa – the creation of a new organisation focussing specifically on South America and Africa, spearheaded by the USA and the UK and directing investment and aid to these targeted regions,  could help to transform the lives of millions of people into positive futures, let’s encourage our politicians to think creatively and in so doing turn our migration problem into a positive solution for the world.

Constable Christine BSc MBA is a political journalist and Associate member of the Board of the Susquehanna Valley Center.