Skip to content
Güzin Karagöz

U.S. Leadership Can Help Address Global Displacement

The world is facing a growing global displacement challenge that, if left unaddressed, could snowball into a major geopolitical crisis. For both political and economic reasons, Western countries can absorb only a limited number of migrants, leading to management crises that rarely address root causes of migration and emphasize human security. That said, the United States, along with its allies and partners, has a unique opportunity to lead efforts toward establishing an international mechanism to address global migrant flows.  

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 100 million people were displaced worldwide at the end of 2021. The main factors in such mass displacement are violenceextreme weather, and food insecurity, along with other drivers. The U.S. and the European Union are among the most resourced actors to address this crisis. In Washington and Brussels, this issue is largely seen from a humanitarian perspective and thus does not get the attention it deserves, as do issues that are treated as national and international security threats. It is imperative that the U.S. and the EU seek to further coordinate policies when confronting the global displacement challenge, shifting toward a strategy that values migrant human security. 

The European Union’s Approach 

Given the geography of the Eurasian landmass and its proximity to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Europe is the destination for most migrants trying to escape conflict, social upheaval, political uncertainty, harsh economic conditions, and environmental degradation. However, the European Union can only accept so many refugees, for a variety of reasons.  

The most important factor is that the bloc can only act if there is a consensus among its member states. In addition, during the past decade and a half, many of its member states faced dire economic crises and have leaned on the more prosperous states, such as Germany and France, to bail them out. The more recent exit of the United Kingdom from the EU further undermined the bloc. The EU project has also been hampered by the rise of right-wing parties across the continent. 

In addition, the continent has been looking at energy shortages since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Europe is mired in internal problems to the point that the global displacement and migration problem is a low priority for its capitals. Even when the situation was not as bad as it is today, the EU’s approach to mitigating migration was to partner with non-EU countries to limit migration to EU countries.  

The overall concept behind such arrangements has been for the EU to provide funding to these countries in exchange for them minimizing migration through their borders — a concept that was put to the test following major migrant influxes from 2015 onward. In the EU-Turkey deal of 2016, the EU and Turkey sought to create a mechanism for burden sharing amid the 2015-2016 migrant crisis. The deal outlined that the EU would take back a Syrian citizen from Turkey for every asylum seeker Turkey admitted from the Greek islands, with the EU committing 6 billion euros in monetary support as well as political compromises to Turkey. Similarly, the EU deal with Libya in 2017 was made after an increase in crossings via the Central Mediterranean Route, placing Morocco at the top of the EU’s agenda for managing migration. Soon after in 2019, the Spain-Morocco deal had similar motives, wherein loosened Moroccan border controls incentivized Brussels to forge an arrangement with Rabat that committed 30 million euros to curb migration flows.  

As a result of the deals made with countries outside the EU, member states formalized their dependence on economic compensation as a management strategy for migration. However, this approach only temporarily redirected migrant flows and put migrants at risk, rather than directly addressing the problem at hand. With stricter border controls, EU policies raised the risk of irregular migration, human trafficking, and circumvention.  

Member states and the EU at large primarily focus on border control as it pertains to the security of the region. But such an approach to security is shortsighted because it is akin to kicking the proverbial can down the road. It may help address an immediate security issue, but the underlying problem does not get addressed; over time, the original problem has a snowball effect. When approaching a solution to an intensifying global displacement crisis, the EU should seek a new proactive approach that places human security at its core, rather than a management strategy, and closely coordinate this policy with its key partner: the U.S. 

The United States’ Approach 

Focus on border control at the expense of human security is not a policy approach exclusive to the EU. Similar policy applications can be seen in the U.S., such as Title 42 and the “Remain in Mexico” policy that continue to block migration pathways . The goal of Title 42 is to prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as the COVID-19 virus by prohibiting “‘the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places’ for as long as health officials determine the action is necessary.” Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that there was no evidence that the enactment of Title 42 at the borders would slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S., 22 states filed a lawsuit after the CDC announced that it was letting Title 42 expire. 

Another example is the Remain in Mexico policy, under which the U.S. government can return asylum seekers to Mexico until their asylum status is approved, forcing migrants to remain in dangerous conditions where they may not have access to basic services and may face deportation. As a result of Title 42, the U.S. has observed increased instances of . For example, in June 2022, 53  migrants were found dead  in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio. Here again, the responses are stopgap measures, which only offer temporary insulation from the problem of recurring migrant flows. This approach not only offers short-term respite from the problem, but also means that the magnitude of the problem continues to grow. Over time, the conditions that lead to migration will worsen, and eventually the migrant problem will likely grow to where these makeshift initiatives will not suffice.  

Human Security and Policy Implications 

This is not to suggest loosening all security measures, but rather allocating resources more effectively in order to address mutual concerns on the parts of the migrant and the host country. When security measures are too loose, the responsibility becomes too much to handle, and it becomes impossible to mitigate the needs of the migrant community due to a lacking bureaucracy. However, when security measures are too tight, a sole focus on border control leads to a feedback loop, and illegal and dangerous immigration cases rise.  

Addressing migration by re-imagining the security perspective is the need of the hour. Short-term measures may help placate voters for whom immigration is a major issue that the political party in government or aspiring for office is working to fix. These measures do not deal with the problem, however, which then comes back to electorally haunt the faction in power. As a result, opposing parties in Western countries will need to reach a consensus on the way forward. The new framework of the European Commission in the Pact on Migration and Asylum proves that the argument discussed here for long-term policy change is feasible within the EU. Similar initiatives can be taken on by the U.S. to address domestic concerns. Washington and Brussels should take advantage of the current momentum they have as a result of the cooperation in lieu of the war in Russia and coordinate a global initiative that improves conditions in the home countries of migrants, along with establishing effective immigration policies in their own countries. If they don’t, global displacement will continue to worsen.  

Güzin Karagöz is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Political Science and Contemporary European Studies with a minor in Data Science. Focusing on the politics of migration, she has taken classes in Contemporary European Politics, Migration into Western Europe, and Democratization and International Organizations after Communism. Karagöz has studied abroad in Germany and Austria to further her language skills and gain exposure to the European perspective on migration, as well as learn about the structure and workings of the European Union. After her own experiences as a student with immigration in her background, she has made it her goal to become an immigration attorney and help others going through the struggles that she did.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not an official policy or position of the New Lines Institute.