Anti-migrant rhetoric surging amid flurry of elections: UN


March 22, 2024 12:49 PM

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With 2024 set to see more elections worldwide than any previous year, the United Nations' migration chief says increasing anti-migrant rhetoric from politicians seeking to score points is harming societies.

While the expected rematch between US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump in November has drawn keen attention, numerous other high-stakes ballots are also coming up this year.

Amy Pope, who last year became the first woman to head the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), told AFP in an interview this week that with so many elections looming, anti-migrant rhetoric was ramping up "around the world ... to fuel campaigns".

Politicians, the IOM head said, were taking "what can be a very easy route to lay whatever has gone wrong within society, whether it's crime rates or inflation, unemployment or insecurity ... at the feet of migrants".

With around half the global population due to go to the polls in 2024, migrants were "easy" targets, she said, because "migrants don't vote".

In the United States, where migration has arguably become one of the main focuses of the presidential contest, Trump has claimed there is an "invasion" at the southern border, and suggested recently that some of those entering the country are "not people".

Such comments can have serious consequences, warned Pope, a 50-year-old US lawyer who has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

- 'Dehumanising' -

"When there's dehumanising of any population, there are increasing reports of violence, increasing reports of discrimination," she said.

"Ultimately, that is bad for society."

And, she stressed, the fear-mongering is rarely rooted in what is happening on the ground.

"Rhetoric and reality just don't meet," she said.

Some countries where anti-migrant rhetoric is rampant actually need more migrants to keep their societies thriving, she said, pointing for instance to the significant "labour shortages in countries across Europe".

"In reality, the need for migration is not only existent... but it is going to increase fairly significantly in future years."

In the United States, meanwhile, Pope pointed to a recent report by The Economist magazine indicating that high immigration enabled the US economy to rebound quickly after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Migration meant the country "had enough people to come in and drive the innovation, the labour, the economic demands", she said.

Pope said a more positive narrative around migration was vital, as was creating more safe and legal migration pathways for people to travel.

Recent IOM statistics showed that 8,565 people died on irregular migrant routes across treacherous deserts and seas in 2023, making it the deadliest year since records began a decade ago.

"Certainly the (real) number is much, much, much higher," she acknowledged, adding that the upward trend was likely to continue.

"The number of people on the move is at a historic high and the pressures on them to move are only going to grow," she said.

- 'Needs are urgent' -

Creating more safe and regular migration pathways was the best way to avoid people setting off on dangerous journeys, Pope said, adding that it would also benefit the countries they are trying to reach.

"I am inspired to do this work because the needs are urgent, but also I think there are better ways to respond," she said.

"No-one wants to see large numbers of irregular migrants come across borders or come across the Mediterranean or come across the Channel," she said, acknowledging that that can "create pressures on societies".

Asked about the situation at the US southern border, Pope said her "number-one concern is that people have the right to seek asylum".

At the same time, Pope warned that the huge US backlog of cases indicated that asylum was seen as the only route into the country.

The possibility of coming in through other "safe, legal, regular pathways is just insufficient", she said.

"This points to the real urgency to come up with better ways of dealing with (US) migration needs," she said.

Without finding a "better match between people and opportunity, we will continue to see pressure at the border".

Large group of migrants force way across Texas border

A "large group of migrants" crossing into the United States from Mexico broke through razor wire Thursday and rushed the border wall, the border patrol said, the latest episode in a simmering national immigration crisis.

Illegal immigration is a hugely contentious topic in the United States, and an issue already figuring prominently in the campaign for the November presidential election.

Republicans blame President Joe Biden for the recent record flow of migrants, while the White House accuses Republicans of deliberately sabotaging a bipartisan attempt to find a solution.

Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas and an ally of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, wrote on X shortly after the episode that officers "quickly regained control & are redoubling the razor wire barriers."

On Thursday morning, a crowd of dozens of migrants pushed aside part of a razor wire barricade the Texas National Guard had installed between the Rio Grande river -- the natural boundary between Texas and Mexico -- and the border wall in the west Texas city of El Paso.

Video published in the New York Post showed migrants pushing past the wire and overwhelming soldiers trying to contain them.

After breaching the wire barricade, the migrants reached a tall section of border wall, which was impenetrable.

"At approximately 11 am local (1700 GMT) a large group of migrants breached Texas National Guard concertina wire barricades located between the Rio Grande (river) and the border wall in El Paso," US Customs and Border Protection wrote in a statement.

Border patrol agents then "took custody of the migrants at the adjacent border wall and transported them to the central processing station to be processed," it said.

The law allows migrants to stay in the country while their asylum request advances or their deportation is processed if they do not meet requirements.

The episode occurred as a Texas law winds its way through the courts that would allow state police to arrest and deport migrants who cross illegally into the United States from Mexico.

On Tuesday the law, known as Senate Bill 4, was placed on hold in the latest round of legal wrangling.

The thorny issue of immigration was meanwhile on full display last month when ex-president Trump successfully pressured Republicans to block a bill in Congress that included the toughest border security measures in decades, the type of measures usually championed by the right.


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