Sixty five million and counting…. That’s the number of people comprising economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who had been displaced around the world by the end of last year.
It’s a growing figure and a growing social, humanitarian and political concern, with its impact evident in the electoral fortunes of those who have used immigration as a central plank in political campaigns during 2016, including Pauline Hanson, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel.
Professor Anthony Elliott, UniSA Dean of External Engagement and Executive Director of the Hawke EU Centre, says the struggle by governments and communities to provide effective solutions for unprecedented numbers of people fleeing war, instability or persecution is a challenge requiring urgent global political responses.
It’s that challenge which informs the work of the Hawke EU Centre for Mobilities, Migrations and Cultural Transformations and which earlier this month saw the Centre launch a special two-day Migration Summit: Global Tipping Points and the Role of Research: European Union and Asia Pacific Migration.
The summit brought together leading world figures in migration studies, academics, policy analysts, community activists and political leaders to examine the role of research and policy-relevant evidence from several European and Asia-Pacific projects on migration and the crisis of asylum.
Those attending shared their ideas through roundtable discussions, with wider understanding of the issues imparted through keynote presentations including one by Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission who discussed ‘Breaking the policy deadlock: Investigating rights-based responses to flight by sea’.
Launching the summit, Baroness Janet Royall of Blaisdon PC, presented the Hawke EU Annual Lecture, titled: Europe, the World and the Challenges of the 21st Century, which considered the causes, consequences and potential solutions to the migration crisis.
"The world is on the move, this is partly due to new technology – people can see how their lives can be better in other countries – but it is mainly due to war, to fragile states, and the effect of climate change and its impact on the land," Baroness Royall says.
“It’s a global growing problem and one that we as a world have to find solutions to. In Europe we have had waves of people coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and increasingly people are coming from countries in central Africa, some of whom are asylum seekers, many of whom are economic migrants.
“You can understand why people wish to try to find better lives for themselves and for their families, but the world as a whole, including Australia, has got to act to try and ensure that fragile states are made less fragile, so people don’t have to flee and also that there’s economic development in countries where economic migrants are fleeing from.
“If there were more jobs and some hope for the future then people would not feel forced to go on leaky boats for days and pay thousands to smugglers to try and find a better life. Some of the solutions are in our own hands.”
Baroness Royall highlighted the dichotomy between moral and current political responses to the asylum and refugee crisis.
"There is a new wave of populist political parties who attract people by fostering fears, providing simple answers to complex problems – vote for us and we will give you back your borders, stop the immigrants coming in to take your jobs. Their policies are dragging us down morally and having a profound effect on older, more established parties."
Citing the issue of immigration as playing a key role in Brexit – the outcome of the UK’s referendum which saw a majority vote for the country to leave the European Union – Baroness Royall said the effect of that decision had contributed to increased levels of xenophobia and racism, with a spike in hate crimes across the country.
The imperative to consider and identify the social impact of mass migration – or globalisation – also falls within the remit of Hawke EU Centre research, says Professor Elliott.
“As a joint venture between UniSA and the European Commission the Hawke EU Centre is contributing to the narrative framework on the issue of migration, developing concepts and bringing to light fresh ideas, through workshops and conferences, to create a repository of EU expertise in migration, diasporas, refugees and reconciliation,” Prof Elliott says.
“Baroness Janet Royall’s presentation and the Migration Summit are adding to that knowledge base with these events showcasing bold ideas expressed by an exceptionally diverse group of key thinkers, advocates and citizens.”
“There has been extensive media interest in Baroness Royall’s visit to the Hawke EU Centre at UniSA, and the Summit, and, given the global challenges, this is ongoing but critical work”.
To read more on this subject, the next edition of enterprise magazine (out later this month) will feature an interview with EU Ambassador to Australia , HE Sem Fabrizi, discussing what approaches the EU is making in response to the global challenge of mass migration.