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Women being carried on person's back

Brian Sokol

Why people need to leave

In the past two decades, since 2011, the number of people forced to leave home has increased dramatically, with a 75% increase between 1996 and 2015) .

There are many reasons why people may need to leave, and often these reasons are linked and reinforce each other. It can be useful to distinguish between reasons that trigger someone to leave immediately – such as conflict or a natural disaster – and the underlying reasons that can create those situations, such as climate change or poor governance.

The first can be thought of as ‘triggers’, while the second (sometimes referred to as ‘root causes’ can be thought of as ‘drivers’. For example, ‘drivers’ of forced migration include:

  •  environmental drivers: including desertification and damming of tributaries
  • social drivers: such as limited education opportunities and tensions between communities
  • political drivers: such as poor urban planning and corruption, and
  • economic drivers: such as poverty and lack of access to markets.

For example, drought forced 1.5 million Syrians to move from rural to urban areas between 2007-2010, which contributed to the current conflict.

The most common drivers, however, are political . Not surprisingly, people often feel forced to leave countries where they do not enjoy political, civil and social rights.

Conflict and violence

Conflict and violence are the most common cause today of people being forced to leave home. Many of the largest and most dramatic movements of people, such as the current crisis in Syria and Iraq and the movements following World War II, are caused by widespread conflict.

There are less well-known, but very significant, conflicts that are also causing large numbers of people to move. In 2015, there were new or revived conflicts in Burundi, Iraq, Libya, Niger, and Nigeria. There were also older conflicts in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Yemen. In 2015, there were 8.6 million people newly displaced in their own country due to conflict and violence, although this was less than the 11 million (a record) in 2014.

Persecution and vulnerable groups

Persecution can be both a cause and result of conflict. For example, persecution of minorities or political tensions often result in conflict, which may also create further victims of persecution. Women and girls, for example, often suffer from gender-based violence during conflict.

Persecution is also the reason why many people leave, even if there is no conflict. For example, there are estimated to be at least 10 million people who do not have a nationality (‘stateless’) . [[Statelessness]] generally restricts a person’s ability to enjoy who fundamental human, social, and political rights.

For example, the Rohingya are a group of people who cannot claim nationality in Myanmar, where about 1.1 million of them live. The Rohingya suffer terrible conditions and are at risk of genocide. This has forced many thousands of them to try to reach safety by taking dangerous boat journeys to other countries in Asia.

Other commonly persecuted groups include:

The Refugee Convention defines a refugee in terms of having a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’. However, it is important to recognise that ‘persecution’ in the Convention will commonly apply to people who are fleeing conflict and violence.

Disasters and the environment

Another major reason for people to leave home is because of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones. This is likely to become more frequent with the impacts of climate change.

‘Disaster displacement’, as it is often called, will be one of the major challenges of the 21st century.

People forced to leave for these reasons are not considered ‘refugees’ under international law, although sometimes the term ‘climate refugees’ is used. International refugee law is not well-suited to address this form of displacement.

Instead, new initiatives have been developed for these risks, such as-the Nansen Initiative and its successor, the Platform on Disaster Displacement. These focus on providing practical tools to better prevent and prepare for situations of displacement.

Development-induced displacement

Another reason many people are forced to leave home is because of development projects. For example, the building of the Three Gorges dam in China meant many people lost their homes and were forced to move. About 3.4 million people were ‘physically and economically’ displaced between 2004 and 2013 by World Bank projects.

Development-induced displacement has its own challenges. People need to be adequately consulted. There needs to be a proper assessment of the impact of development. People need to be adequately compensated for moving. . However, as with environmental displacement, people displaced by development are not usually refugees.

However, movements of refugees do have significant effects on the development of countries (sometimes referred to as the ‘migration-development nexus’. Large numbers of people moving from one country to another obviously affects the development of both countries, as skills and talent leave one country and large numbers of people coming into a country change the local markets and society.