The Global Migration Crisis

The Global Migration Crisis

Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
from Religion and Foreign Policy Webinars

More on:


Immigration and Migration


Susan F. Martin, the Donald G. Herzberg professor of international migration and director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, discusses the response to the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.

Learn more about CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative.


Susan F. Martin

Donald G. Herzberg Professor of International Migration and Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy conference call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here with CFR.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and the audio will be available on our website,

We are delighted to have Susan Martin with us today to discuss the escalating migrant and refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East. Dr. Martin is the Donald G. Herzberg professor of International Migration and the director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University’s Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Dr. Martin formerly served as the executive director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. She has also held positions at the Refugee Policy Group, Brandeis University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent publications include “International Migration: Evolving Trends from the Early 20th Century to the Present” and “Humanitarian Crises and Migration: Causes, Consequences and Responses.”

Susan, thank you very much for being with us. The refugee situation in Europe is of great proportions. And it is not the only region experiencing influx of refugees and migrants but is the one most in the news right now. It would be great if you could give us an overview of the refugee crisis globally and put it all in perspective for us.

MARTIN: Thank you, Irina, for asking me to speak to your big group on the telephone.

As you were saying, the crisis, refugee crisis, today really is a global crisis. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the lead agency in the international system for all forms of displacement from conflict and repression, estimates that there were about 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons as of the end of 2014. That’s the largest number since UNHCR began recording numbers, and very likely the highest since the end of World War II.

The numbers are that high because of two parallel trends that are affecting the situation of refugees and displaced persons worldwide. First, of course, are the major new crises that we’ve seen in the last couple of years; Syria certainly. And I’ll come back to that and talk about the Syrian refugee crisis in more detail. But also the Ukraine, South Sudan, Central African Republic are all major crises that have led to very, very large-scale displacement of people, both internally and across borders.

That’s joined by the second factor, which is that there are a growing number of protracted refugee and displaced-person situations worldwide. We’re seeing that in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia, only to mention a few.

A very disturbing statistic that is often used in the refugee field is that the average duration of stay for people as refugees is now upwards of 17 years. Some estimates put it as high as 25 years. And that doesn’t include Palestinian refugees, who would—have actually pushed that number up even higher. But now the default is to be a refugee from one generation into another, and with very few solutions in sight for the vast majority of the refugees. The Syrian situation will soon pass the five-year mark, and it will be moving from an immediate crisis into also one of these protracted situations.

Complicating the fact is that—this feature is that this past year saw the lowest levels of repatriation since the end of the Cold War, which, of course, makes for these protracted situations. But also the number of admissions slots for refugees to be resettled in third countries has seldom exceeded 100,000 per year worldwide, but the total who are in need of resettlement, according to the U.N., is almost 1 million people. And so we are seeing this global crisis partly because of the new emergencies, but partly because existing emergencies have become so protracted that they never cease to stop being refugee crises even 10, 20, 30, 40 years after they began.

Now, Syria is certainly the most extreme crisis that we have at this particular point. It’s estimated there are 8 million internally displaced persons in Syria. And reaching the IDPs, as they’re referred to, has been fraught with difficulties, largely related to security constraints on gaining access to the population there. And while all of those living in Syria are at risk as fighting shifts, new players like ISIS take to the field, one group is of particular concern, and those are the Palestinian refugees who were already in Syria at the time of the outbreak of the conflict.

The siege of Yarmouk camp this past year is just one example of the difficulties facing the Palestinians. And unlike others who were caught in Syria when the conflict broke out, the Palestinians have no place to go. The neighboring countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, which have their own large Palestinian refugee populations, have been very loathe to open the borders to the Palestinians. So many of them remain trapped there.

But in addition, there are more than 4 million refugees, Syrian refugees, in the neighboring countries. That’s 2 million in Turkey, a little bit plus a million each in Jordan and Lebanon, and more than 250,000 in Iraq. And I’ll use Lebanon as an example here in terms of what the situation is for all of the host countries, only even more so in Lebanon. Fully 25 percent of Lebanon’s population is now composed of refugees, primarily from Syria. Lebanon has not set up refugee camps. And so all of the refugees are living on their own. They’re either—if they’re fortunate, they’re renting apartments or they’re living with friends. But there are all sorts of informal settlements that have crept up in order to be able to provide some level of shelter.

But the impacts are huge for the refugees as well as for the host population. I was in Beirut about six months ago, and a lot of the people I spoke to talked about double and triple shifts for students in schools. Lebanon has tried to open its schools as much as possible to Syrian children, but that’s come at a cost to their own students and not nearly filling the need that is out there.

You hear the same thing about the health care facilities. Lebanon is a poor country. It is very, very volatile. There are few work opportunities for the refugees. And as the Syrian conflict moves into its fifth year, hope is really shattering for the refugees. And the patience of Lebanon and the other host countries is definitely starting to dry up.

And complicating and making the situation far worse is the fact that international organizations and NGOs working in these host countries are running low on funding. The World Food Program was forced to cut many of the Syrian refugees off its food rations. And the rations themselves for those still receiving it are now set at $14 per month per individual. And as I said, they’re living on the regular economy. They’re living in cities for the most part. And that money doesn’t go very far.

The U.N. High Commissioner is also receiving only a fraction of what it needs to support this very, very large number of refugees and even less to try to provide assistance to the internally displaced in Syria.

The European Union has pledged new funding largely because of the crisis, which I’ll get to in a minute. But—and the U.S. is the largest donor. But their funding, our funding, and the European funding, Canadian-Australian funding, are nowhere near to meeting the needs. Other donors have stepped forward, but again, it’s very, very inadequate. And countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council and other places also need to be doing a lot more.

Now, with those who are trying to reach Europe, the largest segment are Syrian refugees. It’s about a quarter of the 500,000 who have entered Europe so far this year. And it’s, of course, not surprising that Syrians are leaving the region and trying their luck to get to Europe, given the situation that I just mentioned. But in addition, there are people coming from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Albania, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Serbia, Ukraine, and Nigeria, to name the top 10 source countries.

And arguably, with the exception of perhaps the western Balkan states, the countries of origin are countries that are also highly stabilized, in conflict themselves or with deep-seated political problems, in addition to economic problems. This is what we often refer to in the field as mixed migration. And it’s mixed in two respects. First, they’re mixed in terms of the smugglers they’re using and in terms of the modes of entry. And so you have both people who are likely to be granted refugee status if their cases are adjudicated, but you also have people who are likely to be determined to be economic migrants and not have a strong reason to fear return to their home countries other than the fact that there aren’t sufficient economic opportunities there.

But also amongst the refugees we’re seeing a lot of people with mixed motives. They may have fled their home countries because of conflict and persecution, but they’re also now choosing to come to Europe because they’re seeking greater economic opportunities.

So that really leads to what’s happening in Europe. And I’ll finish my opening remarks with regard to the European situation. I think it would be correct to say that Europe is not experiencing a refugee crisis as much as it’s experiencing a crisis of governance. The numbers coming to Europe, although quite large, are certainly still small in comparison to what’s going on in the Middle East and certainly in parts of Africa, where countries are much poorer. They have kept their doors open. They have received large numbers of refugees, and with a great deal more of an economic burden than one could say of Europe, where the countries are much wealthier and have much more opportunities to offer to people who are coming there in fear for their lives, or even if it’s just for economic opportunities.

And I think that one could say that this need not have become a crisis at all had the European Union been able to agree on a set of policies earlier in the process as it became clear that these irregular movements of people were increasing. They needed a comprehensive plan of action involving the entire EU as well as its neighboring countries within Europe that would become transit countries.

But instead they kept trying to find easy solutions or low-hanging fruit. First they tried increasing enforcement in the Mediterranean and then even military action against the smugglers coming out of Libya. And then the routes changed, and now they’ve been trying a quota system to figure out how to bring at least 120,000 or so of the migrants to other countries. But they’re still not really considering a holistic strategy, although the beginnings of it are starting to take shape.

So the areas that I think that they really need to be focusing on and we in the U.S. need to be helping with them on is first an immediate increase in assistance to the host countries in the region to ensure that their borders remain open, they’re able to provide a decent standard of living to the refugees, and do it without serious reductions in the living standards of their own citizens. There are some positives for the countries, particularly in the form of the aid that comes in that. But as I mentioned before, it’s been much too little, and a lot of it much too late. It can be reversed, though.

A second thing that can happen is a realistic burden-sharing plan within the European space, likely using the European Union’s directives on temporary protection, which would facilitate the entry of those who are trying to reach its shores, hold off somewhat on making determinations as to whether or not individuals from certain countries meet the asylum standard, but rather think in terms of safety for all of those trying to make these very dangerous trips to Europe.

The European countries did something similar during the Balkan crisis, where they used temporary protection as a way of handling large numbers while they got a handle on what was happening and able to take reasonable actions.

A third is that Europe needs to implement programs to provide safe and orderly means by which a select number of refugees can reach Europe through legal means. So far the European countries have not been using resettlement programs very extensively, ones which allow for the movement of people from host countries, immediate host countries, into countries that can provide more permanent options for refugees. This is the time for Europe, even while it’s addressing and trying to deal with such large inflows, to begin to take steps to have an orderly process for admissions. The demographics in Europe are such that they will really need to have more options available for legal admissions. And this is the time to start putting those in place.

And then, finally, I think the—I’m sorry. The fourth thing that we could be doing to help is for us to ratchet up our resettlement programs as well. The president has announced that the U.S. will take 15,000 additional refugees in this coming year, moving from what has been a recent trend of admitting 70,000 refugees, to move it up to 85,000. And that would include an additional 10,000 Syrians. And then there’s been discussion of increasing that still further to 100,000.

Previously when we’ve seen crises of this magnitude and the kinds of pressures on neighboring countries that we’re seeing, the U.S. has done far more to resettle. And we have largely done it through public-private partnerships, and particularly where the private component of it has involved churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, throughout the country. And this is a time that I would hope that the president would go out to the religious community with a request for help in financing and hosting, sponsoring refugees so we can increase our numbers significantly beyond where they are at present.

And then fifth, and most difficult, the countries of Europe, but also the U.S. and others, need to reengage on finding solutions to the causes of the refugee flows; certainly Syria, but the other countries as well. This is the most difficult to accomplish, but it—as a former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata said, there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. There are only political solutions to those problems. Otherwise the humanitarian community can provide better band-aids but really can’t provide solutions.

And so this is where the religious community comes in, using the pulpit to inform the public about refugee crises to date and the ways that you can help through opening your congregations, as well as in communities, to refugees so more can find their own solutions and not just the refugees who gain the attention of the world press, as we’re seeing today in Europe and a little bit in the Middle East, but the millions of refugees throughout the globe that have been sitting in camps and settlements for many decades with no solutions in sight. And we can help provide those solutions.

So why don’t I end there and open it up to questions?

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you, Susan.

Let’s open it up to the group for questions or comments.

OPERATOR: At this time we’ll open the floor for questions.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

The first question will come from Mehnaz Afridi with Manhattan College. Please go ahead.

Q: Yeah. Hi. Thank you so much, Susan, for a wonderful report. I just—I teach at Manhattan College, which is a Lasallian Catholic school. And we are working really hard to actually do something very active. And we’re thinking of bringing in students to the school and also housing a family. What’s the best way of doing that, in your estimation?

MARTIN: OK. The International Institute for Education, IIE, is actually developing a program to help universities bring refugee students in. So I definitely suggest being in touch with them. There’s another way you could be helping also is that there are a lot of refugee scholars who also don’t have any place to go or way in which they can continue to follow their professions, their academic professions. And there are a number of programs that have been developed to try to rescue scholars and find solutions. I think IIE probably has information about that as well.

And for your students who want to do something, I certainly would encourage them to do fundraising and to identify a number of organizations. If you want to stay with the Catholic network, certainly Catholic Relief Service or Jesuit Refugee Service is doing—you know, both are doing very, very good work in the region and globally. And if you—you know, others are interested in other possible places to donate to, Interaction is the umbrella group for almost all of the major—some of the smaller nongovernmental organizations that work in the development and humanitarian field. And if you go to their website on Syria, for example, it’ll have a little description of what each of the organizations is doing. And then you can go from there to, you know, checking out more fully the work of the different organizations.

Q: OK. All right, great.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question or comment?

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

The next question will come from Frances Flannery with Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism. And please go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Thank you so much for this very important talk and discussion. I appreciated your quote so much. I believe you said there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems, only political solutions to humanitarian problems. Did I have that quote right?

MARTIN: Yes. That was Sadako Ogata’s quote.

Q: Ah. Thank you. And I was wondering if you could say more about a political solution that you might envision, providing support for or structure for outreach to religious communities.

MARTIN: Well, certainly the religious tensions are very high in many of the situations which are producing refugees, and, you know, as well as ethnic tensions, but certainly religious ones are very, very clear in places like Central African Republic; certainly Syria, Iraq, et cetera, on that. And I think the interfaith dialogues that have been taking place in various different forums, including the U.N., can be important in terms of trying to educate people with regard to what the value of religious diversity and tolerance for other faiths will be. I think it’s an important part. Of course, it’s a very, very long-term solution, not something which is going to happen overnight.

I think also the religious community can play, as I was mentioning, a very, very important role in finding the solution for the individual households, families, in terms of particularly resettlement, but also in terms of providing the opportunities in neighboring countries for people to be able to live decent lives while they’re refugees.

There’s a lot of attention being put now in the refugee system to getting away from the ideas of the perfect being the enemy of the good, you know, that’s sometimes looking for such massive solutions but not taking the one small step that can be helpful for that one family that has no alternatives. And that can be in terms of being able to get a decent job in the country in which you are living as a refugee and being able to feel that sense of well-being that comes from being able to earn your own living and not be dependent on international aid. It’s an important way of helping women, for example, get greater protection against exploitation and attacks if they can have some control over their own livelihoods.

So those are not going to solve the Syrian conflict. And I don’t pretend to know how to solve the Syrian conflict. But having the political will to work with host governments to help them be able to help the refugees can also be a political act that finds solutions for some.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question will come from Richard Morrison with Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. Please go ahead.

Q: So my question is a little bold. Do you think there’s any place in the world where the United Nations might work with sovereign states to secure new areas, new geographic areas, that might be ceded by cooperating states for the establishment of new countries where refugees could go and actually participate in creating their own political system, their own sovereign state, with perhaps preferred trading relations associated with neighbors? I fully recognize that probably every refugee would be better served by access to an existing economic system, but I am primarily concerned first with physical safety and then, of course, for meeting all other human needs. I’m just wondering about the possibility of finding a place where a new exodus could occur.

MARTIN: That idea keeps coming up. And frankly, I not only don’t think it’s a feasible idea; I’m not sure that it’s a good idea either, and largely—take aside whether there is a place that is uninhabitable that anyone would want to inhabit. But, you know, for argument’s sake say that some place of that sort exists on that.

In a way, that becomes almost a statement that ethnic cleansing, pushing people out, creating the environment in which they can ever go back, is acceptable. Part of the reason that I was proposing something more similar to the Balkans response was that the international community at that point said, you know, for now let’s not say this is permanent, because in effect what it’s doing is, you know, ratifying the genocide that was taking place in places like Srebrenica, saying that we’re going to just create a totally new country for refugees, but also I think, in terms of the feasibility, creating a totally new economy where there is nothing at all in place, new systems of governance. I just don’t think that that necessarily is the best way of approaching as a solution to refugees.

Now, short of that, though, governments have not so much ceded territory but have accepted that there need to be places that can act as interim places of safety for refugees. During the Indochina crisis in the late `70s and into the 1980s, when it became apparent that the U.S. and other resettlement countries couldn’t resettle people fast enough to keep up with the demand for resettlement—and that is a permanent solution—but into a country that al ready exists, the Philippines offered territory on its territory—an area on its territory for a processing center.

And Vietnamese refugees were taken out of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, which were quite concerned about the impact on their countries, and brought to the processing center in the Philippines, where they were able to go through the full series of interviews that they needed to go through, but also, at the same time, had English language classes, cultural orientation, a chance to get health screenings and health services. And I think that type of process could be extremely useful.

You know, the U.S. has offered to resettle an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, but it’s now taking longer than a year to get through the screening process because of all of the security checks that are done, which involves, you know, six, seven different agencies within the U.S. government. They each have to certify that the person will not be a security risk. And this takes an extremely long period of time. It means that Americans can feel fairly sure that the people being resettled are not going to cause—be any threats to their lives. But in the meantime there are an awful lot of people in very, very insecure situations themselves who need to be brought to safety and go through that screening in that way. And we just need more of those types of opportunities.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

The next question will come from Dr. Shaik Ubaid with Muslim Peace Coalition. Please go ahead.

Q: Thank you for taking my question. The last part of your presentation, it was so important about the religious community doing more. But in the Republican primaries, you know, they’re coming from—they’re increasing xenophobia in the U.S. I think the U.S. religious community will have to do more than just helping with the resettlement, but we’ll have to do a lot more to change the policy so that the U.S. can take in more refugees. I mean, more than 4 million refugees live in Turkey and the Arab countries, and not even half of them have moved to Europe. So, you know, I mean, there’s a lot more that the West can do in taking refugees from Syria.

And also, when you mentioned about other countries, Burma, which has the longest-running genocide going on since 1960s—(inaudible)—so it plays up. And there people are dying in the thousands in Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, and they have disappeared from the world media’s attention.

So there’s a lot that needs to be done, and the religious community can do a lot more. And so how do you propose that we try to put pressure on the politicians to make some policy changes?

MARTIN: Well, it’s a complex—I mean, I agree with everything you’ve said, and it’s certainly a complex issue. Part of the reason that I ended saying that, you know, more can be done from the pulpit, you know, really was to try to get across that in an era, not here but certainly in many of the European countries, when it’s mostly emotion that drives decisions, and so it can be very xenophobic emotions. And we see that festering in so many places.

But it can also be, you know, the kindliness of people. You know, seeing the one photo of the three-year-old Syrian refugee who was washed ashore, you know, provoked an outpouring of support. But what we don’t have is the ability to really sustain the interest. And I think that that’s where the religious community could be doing more to educate its membership and the members of the congregations, the temples, the mosques, et cetera, in terms of what the facts are.

I’ll give you an example of a problem in terms of just misunderstanding. There was a public opinion poll done a couple of years ago—it sequenced for about four or five years—that asked people in about 14 different countries, including the United States, what proportion of the total population in your country are immigrants? In the U.S., the average period of time—the average percentage that the public came up with was 39 percent. The reality was 13 to 14 percent.

You know, and then they were asked, you know, are there too many or not too many, you know, immigrants in the country? And, of course, if you think that almost 40 percent of your population are immigrants, you’re much more likely to think that that’s too much than if you—and we did this as an experiment. I was part of the team working on the public opinion survey. We gave half of the respondents the actual percentage of the population, and all of a sudden the attitude started changing.

And so just basic information of that sort, that needs to get out to people, just isn’t. And instead they have things that affect their emotions, not their logic. So I think the religious community could do a lot more in the way of education of the public. And it’s the public who puts the pressure. I mean, we’re seeing the change in Europe, not because of politicians, you know, as countries are opening up more. It’s because of public opinion and the public moving toward saying we’ve got to do something about these refugees and we can’t just send them home. We have to figure out something more humane.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Susan, we just saw the pope here in the U.S., his historic tour of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. And he talked throughout of the migration crisis and urged Americans and Europeans to welcome the migrants and the refugees. Do you see that as effecting change?

MARTIN: Yes, of course. I mean, I think the pope’s comments are really important. I think he has taken leadership that many political figures have not on this issue. And from his very first visit was to Lampedusa in Italy, where the migrants were coming in. So it’s really a testament to how deeply he cares. But it can’t be one figure and it can’t be one time and not—you know, and it can’t just be when the cameras are on and you’ve got the big audience. It has to be, you know, every day, certainly every, you know, week when people are coming into congregations, you know, to hear about, and then to also be told what can be done and have a way of judging the options in a much more logical fashion than is the case today. Now the sound bites really determine what most people know about the crisis.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

The next question will come from Cindy Halverson with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Please go ahead.

Q: Hello. I have two unrelated questions. I’ll ask them both and see if you can answer them both.

The first, your comment about the U.S. poll about how many refugees does the U.S. public think they have was interesting. And that’s—my question is that Latin America or Central America and the U.S., that migration that’s happening across that border attempted, you don’t count that in the crisis. I wonder where you see that in light of global migration.

The second question is very different. I hear some people talking about climate migration, that climate change is a factor in the economic realities that are causing people to feel the need to move on. How do you see climate change playing a part in the future migration of people?

MARTIN: Thanks for both questions.

You know, if we had had this telephone call a year ago we’d be talking about the humanitarian emergency posed by the Central American unaccompanied children and families that were coming in. That was what was in the headlines and the type of movements that were referred to as humanitarian crises. And then, you know, it was significant—about 60,000 unaccompanied children and about another 60,000 in family units; a very different pattern of migration from the Central American countries than we had previously had, well, at least since the civil wars stopped there.

And so I would certainly include them. Fortunately they weren’t part of my remarks, because the numbers this year have been lower. And it seems that there has been more effort to try to bring the—find legal avenues by which Central Americans, who might otherwise think of taking a dangerous route to the U.S., can come in legally. And I think that that, you know, is not fully tested yet, and we’ll need to see what happens in the future. But my hope is that it’s not going to be a crisis again on that, but, you know, it still always holds that possibility.

In terms of climate and migration, that’s an area I work on a lot. I think the conventional wisdom of the field is that the environmental factors are one amongst a number of others that cause people to move. They have an effect when there are also political, economic, demographic, social reasons that people need to move. It’s seldom the only cause.

But what we are seeing now are recurrent acute natural hazards like hurricanes, cyclones, flooding, that’s displacing millions of people each year. And most of that displacement is inside their own countries. But we’re also seeing the prospect in the years ahead of more people who may need to be relocated across international borders because there won’t be any place within their own countries that they can go safely or have any chance of a livelihood.

We’re working right now with the U.N. on a project that’s trying to develop guidelines for states on how to undertake planned relocation in these contexts in a way that better respects the rights of those who are being relocated, as well as the rights of the people into whose communities they’re coming.

And we’re also—I’m chairing a working group at the World Bank that’s also looking at trying to understand better what type of resilience is needed for people to better adapt to environmental changes, particularly in the context of climate factors, but also in what ways migration can be an effective adaptation strategy for people affected by changing climate, and so—and to think about how we can enable people to move when they need to in a way that doesn’t get them on the small boats trying to make their own but does it through legal, orderly means. And that’s a challenge for the future, and I think that it’s one that’s only just starting to get serious attention but I think needs a lot more in the future.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question will come from Majed Ashy with Merrimack College. Please go ahead.

Q: Yes. Hi. Sorry. Thank you very much for your presentation.

There is a long history of Lebanese and Syrian immigration to Africa and to Latin America. And there are large, like, communities from Syria in Nigeria, in Niger, and also in Brazil, in Mexico, and other countries. I’m not sure why the pope focused so much on Europe while a lot of Syrians actually can go to these other countries, like in Africa, Latin America, and they also can contribute also there to the development of these countries in various ways. There’s a history of the Syrian immigration to Nigeria, Niger, and to Latin America. They contributed a lot, actually, to the development of these countries.

So I just wonder if these things are taken into account while thinking about solving the problem. Thank you.

MARTIN: Yes. That’s an excellent question. And part of the—one of the focuses right now in the refugee system has been to try to open up both resettlement opportunities but also donations from a much wider array of countries. And I think that some of the countries that you mentioned may have sizable populations from the Middle East, but they don’t necessarily have the political security right now to be able to take on new challenges. I’m thinking of Niger, Nigeria, places of that sort.

But others do have strong economies and communities that could take on much of the responsibility for newcomers. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is continually reaching out to countries and certainly has been reaching out as well to countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council in North Africa, elsewhere, to see what can be done in a more holistic manner involving a lot more actors in this process. So the point you make is a very good one.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

The next question is a follow-up from Dr. Shaik Ubaid with Muslim Peace Coalition. Please go ahead.

Q: Yes. You know, the important topic of climate change—I mean, there are certain things that we can act proactively. You know the areas which are going to be submerged and be affected by the climate change, and also same thing for political violence. For example, the Buddhist extremist movement leaders from Burma, 969 movement, leaders have gone to Sri Lanka and they’re inciting violence there. So we know that there can be, you know, mass violence and mass migration from Sri Lanka.

So how do you propose that the religious community, first, is educated about, you know, what are the issues that might be coming next? And how do we act to preempt those crises from happening?

MARTIN: You’re—I mean, I can’t get into all of the kind of political what to do next on that. But what you’re raising is an important issue with regard to the early warning of future displacement and changes in the patterns of displacement.

We have early-warning systems for a lot of the causes of displacement, whether they’re natural hazards like tsunami early warning, hurricanes, drought, as well as some of the more human-made things like conflict or famine. But we actually don’t have an early-warning system for displacement—you know, under what circumstances will the events in a particular place lead to mass movements of people? And we certainly don’t have very good understanding of where people are going to move and when they’re going to go and how they’re going to get there.

And this is something which I’ve actually had discussions with the Jesuit Refugee Service about—(off mic). We’re trying to develop such an early-warning system at Georgetown, in collaboration with a few other universities. And one of the things we’ve been talking about is how to tap into the networks that the Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic Relief Service and the Caritas network around the world has to get earlier warnings of what’s happening, not just at the country level but at the village level, where—and I think that’s something where, you know, we know that there are a lot of barriers to that type of interaction between the academic community, the practitioner community, the religious communities.

But if we can find ways of establishing the lines of communication and the trust to be able to reach out at a very, very localized level to get early-warning signs, that things are happening that may very well lead, under certain circumstances, to mass displacement. We could do a lot more to prepare for the people’s moving, hopefully not to try to stop them from moving, but to make sure that they’re—we’re prepared for it and that the movements occur in a safer manner than might happen otherwise.

So that’s something I think that the religious community can certainly be much more involved in in developing that type of early-warning system.

Q: Great idea.

FASKIANOS: Any—thank you. Any last questions?

OPERATOR: I’m showing no further questions at this time.

FASKIANOS: Susan, you have been working on these issues for much of your career. Is there any trends that you can say—are there any trends that have given you hope? Or do you feel that this crisis is worse than ever before?

MARTIN: No, there are actually things that are giving me hope. And, yes, while this crisis is awful, we’ve actually seen worse, though not in the last 50 or 60 years, but we certainly did in World War II. In World War II the displacement was much more massive, and many fewer resources.

But the thing that gives me the most hope is that I am seeing increasing recognition from governments that they need to cooperate more amongst themselves and more with civil society in order to be able to address these problems. There are things now like the Global Forum on Migration and Development in which governments are coming together to exchange best practice and things like support for the rights of migrants. And, you know, unilateral policies are not going to cut it when you have issues of this magnitude. And I think governments are starting to recognize that.

There’s a new initiative that the U.S. government is leading with the Philippines. It’s called the Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative. It came about after the mass displacement of migrant workers in Libya, but then also followed by, you know, Cote d’Ivoire and then the floods in Thailand, which affected about a million Burmese workers, and then Hurricane Sandy here, of recognizing that migrants are particularly vulnerable in these situations, and we need to come up with guidelines to help governments but also employers and religious groups and NGOs and others to be able to have better responses.

And so that I find very encouraging. And I think it’s really the way of the future is that no one institution, no one government, no one sector, has the answers. But if they’re willing to work with each other, it’s much more likely that we will start to find some solutions that work.

FASKIANOS: Well, thank you very much for leaving us on that hopeful note and for your insights today. It has been a terrific hour. We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us, and to all of the group for excellent questions and comments.

MARTIN: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for asking.

FASKIANOS: We encourage you to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter @CFR_Religion for announcements about upcoming events calls and information about our latest resources that will be of interest to you and hopefully relevant to your work.

Thank you all again. And we look forward to your continued participation.

Top Stories on CFR


The closely watched elections on July 28 will determine whether incumbent President Nicolás Maduro wins a third term or allows a democratic transition.

International Law

The high court’s decision could allow future U.S. presidents to commit grave abuses of power with impunity, with serious implications for U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Election 2024

The Ohio senator is Donald Trump’s choice as his running mate for the 2024 presidential election.