IT IS THE MOST INTRICATE international relations problem we have had in centuries. The crux of the crisis is that there are 60,000,000 people afoot (or at sea) trying to move from their native nations to other countries--mostly Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Most are on foot, carrying what little possessions they have--across political boundaries and cultures. They largely are moving from dark-skinned countries to lighter-skinned, from poor to rich, from rural to industrial, from states with poor education systems to those with good ones. A large percentage of the migrants are Muslim. Criminal enterprise is the grease on which they move. All the world is waiting for is a match to start the fire.
The focus naturally has been on the huge numbers flooding into Europe, but there are migrants and refugees everywhere. Millions are in camps just outside their own borders--in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, for instance. Tens of thousands--such as the Rohingya, a Muslim people derived from the population in Bangladesh but resident, some for generations, in Burma or Myanmar, a Buddhist country--are moving elsewhere. The fast-growing Rohingya population now is faced up against Buddhists who resent the intrusion in their cultural homeland. Violence against the Rohingya has forced them to begin movement in boats, across the Mediterranean Sea, southward to Malaysia, Indonesia, and, ultimately, Australia. They are facing resistance all along the way.
Millions of central Africans are living in barely survivable conditions elsewhere on the continent. Many are tracking northward, over lengthy stretches of land, to Libya or to Southeast Europe. Population growth in Central Africa means there is an unending source for human smugglers.
Unsettled in the minds of many of us observing these people flows is the difference between refugees and migrants. The news media regularly co-mingles the two, so we tend to think of them all as refugees. Refugees are those classified by the United Nations as escaping from war or persecution. Attempting to escape from poverty is understandable, but does not make one a refugee. These are migrants. There are many tens of thousands who are moving about the European Union. At the doors to the EU today are many more from across the Middle East and Africa. Even though they have gone on foot and braved the criminal world of smugglers and dilapidated boats on the Mediterranean or Aegean seas, they have no right of entry to the EU, Australia, Malaysia, the U.S., or any other destination country.
However, for migrants and refugees around the world, proving why they have come and even who they are is a formidable--and sometimes impossible--task. This is, in part, because the migrants themselves have no papers or have lost their papers or have bought new papers from criminal enterprises. Countries being crossed do not have the personnel either to guard their borders nor process the immigrants as they cross. Electronic fingerprint processing often is unavailable and paper fingerprints disappear into piles as thousands cross national boundaries every day. Even worse than there being a bureaucracy, there is a morass. Even many of the documented actually are undocumented.
Hollywood is at fault, at least partly, for the great attraction that the U.S. poses. Even the most-negative films about life in America show the U.S. as, well, America, "the land of dreams," as Pope Francis recently put it. Take a look at what houses look like in a suburb of Los Angeles, Calif., as compared to...