More than 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, and nearly 390,000 more in 2016, many fleeing conflict in the Mid- dle East and North Africa. European leaders have often accommodated the migrants with admirable generosity, even while facing stiff political opposition. Yet, if developed countries
focus only on immediate domestic impacts of mass migration, they will miss a critical point: When thousands
of people, including many researchers, leave their home
countries, the exodus perpetuates instability in those
countries and damages prospects for future development.
Before the Syrian conflict
began in 2011, the country
had 31,000 doctors. Today,
roughly half are gone, many
scattered to adjacent countries, Europe, and North
America. Uncounted thousands of scientists, engineers,
and advanced students from
across the region have joined
them. How can nations rebuild and progress when
much of their scientific workforce has fled? How can they
hope to raise farm output,
improve public health, or prepare for natural disaster?
This core dilemma of mi-
gration will confront leaders
of the G7 developed nations
when they convene 26 to 27
May. Sustained development in poor countries is essential
to easing migration, but developed countries have an
uneven record in making necessary investments. Today,
the scale of migration is unprecedented and the needs
are more urgent. Mass migration is emerging as a permanent feature of geopolitical stress and global change.
The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees reports that, at the end of 2015, nearly 41 million
people were internally displaced, while almost 25 million
were refugees or asylum-seekers. They are driven from
their homes by conflict, economic insecurity, climate disruption, or a combination of these. Migration can desta-bilize adjacent countries, which are often economically
and politically vulnerable. But political tension and xenophobia also reflect the power of migration to disrupt
countries in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Sub-Saharan Africa illustrates choices confronting
policy-makers. From one perspective, it is a time of opti-
mism: Economic growth is robust. Hunger is in retreat.
Life spans are on the rise. A building boom in new uni-
versities shows that leaders understand the power of
knowledge—especially science and technology—to drive
growth. Still, sub-Saharan Africa remains desperately
poor. Political instability is widespread. Many universi-
ties lack qualified faculty. Population will grow from 1.2
billion today to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050. If Africa
cannot grow and develop fast
enough to provide education
and jobs for its young people,
then millions may see migra-
tion as their best option.
The UN Sustainable Devel-
opment Goals were created in
part to address such issues.
But none of the Least Devel-
oped Countries can achieve
this growth and development
without partners. It is thus an
acutely important moment
for the G7 countries—and
science is more capable than
ever of providing support.
The World Academy of Sci-
ences, and other academies
and organizations that sup-
port at-risk scientists, can of-
fer fellowships, training, and
resources so that refugee sci-
entists can contribute to their
new countries and someday
help to rebuild their home
countries. Social scientists can provide vital research
on migration, from drivers to integration and financial
impact. Science diplomacy, crucially, must help bring
countries together for cooperative efforts. And building
science is a focus of aid programs advanced by the Eu-
ropean Union, and by countries such as Germany, the
United Kingdom, Sweden, and Italy.
But developed countries are not alone in this mission.
Nations of the South share responsibility, and migration
should be taken up more energetically by the G20 countries, including Brazil, China, India, and South Africa,
which convene in July. Researchers in even the poorest
countries have a direct interest in migration, and an increasing capacity to contribute to solutions.
–Mohamed H. A. Hassan
Migration—the choices we face
H. A. Hassan
World Academy of
“How can nations rebuild and
progress when much of their
scientific workforce has fled?”