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Shrinking States, Growing Statelessness
World Refugee Day and the Brexit vote highlighted two related and disturbing global trends.
World Refugee Day, observed on June 20, followed three days later by the Brexit vote, highlighted two related and disturbing global trends: Nations and international coalitions are generally shrinking, while displacement and statelessness are rising. The actual effects of Britain’s exit from the European Union have yet to be quantified, but the displacement figures are well documented — the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that an unprecedented 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced globally. First the first time, this year’s Olympics will even feature a team of refugee competitors.
Of the 65.3 million displaced in total, roughly half are displaced in their own countries, 20-plus million qualify as refugees (half of whom are younger than 18), and 10 million are stateless, not a citizen of any country. We can expect this stateless number to grow as children are born in camps and under other precarious circumstances, or as fearful migrants destroy their own citizenship documents. Much like statelessness, lack of birth registration and legal identity in any country makes healthcare, education, and basic services inaccessible to many. Both conditions make people vulnerable to human trafficking, abduction, and recruitment into gangs or terrorist networks. These numbers, and the overlapping complexities of the two situations, put tremendous pressure on international organizations like UNHCR, which rely on voluntary contributions, 86 percent of which come from governments and the EU. These troubling trends are exacerbated by the isolationist tendencies growing in the United States and by Britain becoming Little England, and would be similarly affected if Spain or Denmark were to follow suit, as some predict they will.
Highlighting trends is not the same as suggesting solutions. Any progress in reversing these negative global tendencies will be hard fought and require citizens of one or several nations — working across differences in politics, class, race, faith, gender, and age — to craft creative and workable approaches. While our social media feeds may cause us to despair, there is hope. It rests in the fact that still there are pockets of successful international collaboration, promising technological advances, and young people dreaming of a better world that is more integrated, not less.
One example of international collaboration that is working comes from my politically polarized home state of Wisconsin. I lead a local-to-global anti-human trafficking initiative at our state university, which has joined forces with a government-led, statewide task force and a consortium of NGOs to combat this scourge. We are academics, government officials, service providers, faith-based groups, artists, citizen advocates, and survivors who disagree on many issues but are joining forces around common goals. We hope to take advantage of new technologies to assist in identifying and tracking people affected by trafficking, and to feed into research and principled solutions that could have implications for other displacement and migration issues. The tech world has its own diversity problems, which limit the effectiveness and impact of new developments. However, the kind of diverse collaboration described above, around equality-enhancing, open source tools, could unlock the potential for technology to help us build bridges and assist the most vulnerable. The generation gap in the U.K. Brexit vote — with younger people voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, combined with other demographic and attitudinal trends among youth in Europe, the United States, and around the world — indicate that perhaps a collaborative spirit may be restored. For now, “keep calm and work together” is the only option.
Finding pragmatic solutions in difficult times takes leadership. This brings me to the U.S. presidential election. I am a political independent, unable to fully embrace either party. Until this year, however, I was Republican-leaning, as evidenced by my contributions to Shadow Government. Today, I am unequivocally in the #NeverTrump camp and fully associate with the national security concerns of some of my former colleagues articulated here, along with the growing list of Republicans distancing themselves from the presumptive nominee.
Hillary Clinton has made mistakes. Unlike her presumed opponent, however, who refuses to admit he makes any, Clinton has demonstrated an ability to learn from her mistakes. She also has the intelligence, strength, and compassion needed to guide our country through these tumultuous times, while maintaining the longstanding American commitment to protecting human rights and human dignity at home and abroad. She has my vote, and if elected, I hope she will prioritize protection issues like statelessness, forced displacement, and trafficking — not as a wishy-washy, do-gooder afterthought, but as the critical foreign policy and national security issues that they are.
Photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images