As the migrant ship tragedy unfolds off the coast of North Africa, immigrants have also been dying at the southern end of the continent. The Wall Street Journal reports that there has been a month of xenophobic attacks in South Africa:
At least five people have been killed this month and thousands of others have been forced to flee their shops and homes, as groups of native South Africans turn their anger over unemployment and poverty against immigrants from Zimbabwe, Somalia and other nations on the continent. As many as six million foreigners live legally and illegally in South Africa, the South African Institute of Race Relations said.
It is not a coincidence that the two ends of the continent—anchored by semi-first-world South Africa on one end and a coast facing Europe on the other—are having trouble with immigration; it reflects an ongoing, continent-spanning problem. In fact, the countries of origin were often the same for the refugees drowned near Libya and those threatened in South Africa:
Many of the 700 people believed to have drowned off the coast of Libya on Sunday were likely fleeing Eritrea and Somalia, two Horn of Africa nations beset by turmoil, according to information gathered by European Union authorities. Laborers and merchants who have come under attack in South Africa this month hail from those countries, too, as well as Malawi and Zimbabwe, southern African nations caught in a morass of slow growth and low investment.
It’s often tempting, living in the West, to think of immigration as a domestic issue, viewed solely in the American or European context. But in fact, we are dealing with a global crisis. With standards of living so high in some areas, and hardship so acute in others, the incentives are heavily weighted in favor of immigration, even at high risk. Not only Europe and America, but also nations like Mexico, Brazil, and even Russia also face their own illegal immigration problems.
The problems this global scope creates are thorny, and much more intractable than many will acknowledge. On the one hand, the humanitarian tragedies cry out for action. On the other, absorbing large numbers of immigrants and refugees is difficult even for wealthy countries when their economies are stagnant, not to mention politically fraught (as Europe has been discovering). Furthermore, many otherwise advanced societies are not well-equipped to assimilate large immigrant populations into their cultures. The violence in South Africa shows that—as do the ongoing assimilation challenges in Europe.
Because of the underlying, structural factors, the global immigration crisis is unlikely to disappear of its own accord anytime soon. Policymakers seeking to get a handle on it might start, though, by considering the truly worldwide scale of the problem.