The growing frequency of natural disasters and environmental degradation brought on by climate change will likely increase the number of displaced persons in the coming years, creating a new class of migrants currently unprotected under international law. Moreover, the world’s poor are increasingly concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected states—by some estimates 80 percent by 2030—which will likely further blur the line between refugee and economic migrants.
The rhetoric surrounding refugees and migrants has become increasingly polarized over the last decade. The global recession exacerbated feelings of economic and social dislocation for the working and middle class in many countries, caused by rapid globalization, the changing nature of work, shifting demographics, and increased strain on post–World War II era social welfare systems. Tapping into these real and perceived feelings of loss, politicians on the far right in many countries have combined populist economic policies with nativist worldviews, using immigrants and refugees as scapegoats for changing economic realities. Refugees—and migrants, more broadly—are painted as a drain on national resources; they place increased pressure on public services, are dependent on welfare programs, and compete for increasingly scarce jobs.
Taking a nuanced view—holding the real and perceived political costs of integration in tension with the gains—is an important first step in reshaping the global policy debate around refugee and migrant integration.