For most, the decision to leave one’s home country is a difficult one, especially when there are family ties, established careers, and cultural customs attached to a particular place. People and families may decide to emigrate for any number of reasons unique to their economic, familial, or individual circumstances, but when communities of people begin emigrating from a country or region in droves, it signals deeper systemic issues. In 2019, the United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that over 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of war, conflict, persecution, and/or human rights violations. By understanding the reasons for migration, donors can invest in solutions that are targeting the root causes of refugee crises around the world and support more resilient communities at home and abroad. 

War and natural disasters tend to be the most common precipitating factors in migration. If a country does not have the pre-existing infrastructure in place to mitigate the damages inflicted by a crisis, residents will be forced to flee their homes in search of refuge. 

War & Violent Conflict:

Central America has become synonymous with the immigration crisis at the United States’ southern border. The rise in Central American migrants is directly correlated with the intensifying conflict in the region over time. For example, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala have recently endured full scale civil wars lasting decades. Survivors of these wars witnessed brutal terror tactics including public massacres of civilians, death squads, tortures, and mass rape, which produce a collective psychosocial trauma. According to a 2007 study by the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime, children and young adults growing up in conflict have fewer opportunities, if any, for education or job training. As a result, teenagers and young men are more susceptible to gang or militia recruitment. When wars go on for decades, combat skills are sometimes the only skills developed by a generation of young people which perpetuates cycles of violence and hinders sustainable recovery. When violence is rampant and opportunities are scarce, people must make difficult decisions for themselves and their families’ survival which often means leaving their origin countries behind in search of opportunity and safety elsewhere. 

Climate and Natural Disasters:

One of the most crucial conditions for predicting future emigration is a region’s climate and geography. As climate change continues to drastically alter the global climate, the full effects of a hotter Earth will not impact countries equally. Some regions are already experiencing the consequences of climate-related disasters. For example, Somalia has endured a decade-long drought that is worsening each year. An estimated 2.2 million people will be displaced due to food insecurity and water shortages. Those who experienced displacement previously due to conflict and violence within a country are likely to be impacted the most. The UN predicts that as climate change continues to amplify the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and contribute to gradual geographic changes such as rising sea levels and droughts, the world can anticipate an explosion in the number of displaced people in the future. 

What Donors Can Do:

Donors can better utilize philanthropic dollars and effectively target resources to help existing displaced populations while preventing future crises. While mitigating the effects of climate change and promoting a more peaceful and stable world will have the greatest overall impact in limiting the number of future refugees, no one can prevent tragedy from striking. Here’s what donors can do to help refugees now and prevent new refugee crises in the future. 

  • Disaster Resilience (Going Beyond Relief): Developing the adequate infrastructure to be able to withstand and recover from disaster will be paramount in preventing refugee crises in the future. When countries have the capacity to provide equal opportunities at home, fewer people will need to emigrate. To learn more about how building resiliency can help refugees, read more from Global Washington.
  • Education and Skill Development: Children and young adults who have fled conflict or disaster have had to put their personal development on hold. Investing in education and skill training is imperative to breaking the cycle of poverty. For example, Fugees Family is a nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to schooling refugee children in Atlanta, GA. 
  • Supporting Refugees at Home: Refugees often flee traumatic circumstances with little resources. Navigating the immigration system, learning a new language, and seeking employment can be difficult and taxing. Promoting a welcoming environment for refugees at home and supporting services that help refugees get the documentation and skills they need is crucial for setting refugees up for success in their new homes. World Relief Seattle is a great example of a nonprofit working to create a community-based network for refugees by providing services such as English language classes to help support newcomers. 

When disaster strikes, providing unrestricted funding to trusted organizations helps those working directly with displaced communities to quickly respond to needs and challenges as they arise in real time. By understanding the root causes of migration, donors can invest in strategic solutions that save lives now and in the years to come. 

Original contribution by Madeleine Alegria, Philanthropy and Impact Analyst at Giving Compass.