A World of Forced Migration Caused by the Capitalist System

Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, home to 80,000 Syrian refugees. Image source: UN Photo/Sahem Rababah via Flickr.

Today, according to the United Nations, there are 110 million people in the world displaced from their homes. More than half of those people are internally displaced within their countries. The rest are refugees fleeing their home countries, or asylum seekers or people seeking other legal protections in other countries. This number only counts those who have been forcibly driven out of their countries by events such as disasters, war, or repression. Another roughly 280 million people live permanently outside their country of birth, primarily for economic reasons, desperately looking for work. These numbers have nearly doubled in the last decade, and with economic crisis, war, and ecological devastation, the trend is set to continue as long as the capitalist political-economic system holds humanity in its grip.

By far the greatest cause of migration is economic. The big capitalist countries, especially in Europe and the United States, have built a world economy that causes massive economic misery in much of the world, and then takes advantage of those who try to escape those conditions. Immigrants in the United States, for example, are one in every six workers in the workforce and do 19 percent of manufacturing jobs, 20 percent of transportation jobs, and 28 percent of construction jobs. One quarter of U.S. immigrants are undocumented, and are restricted to low-paid, precarious work. The U.S. runs on immigrant labor. A similar situation is faced by immigrants in wealthier countries around the world. They are exploited, with the wealth they produce going to big companies as politicians – not just those of the right wing – blame the super-exploited immigrants for all sorts of economic and social problems caused by the system itself. 

War is shredding populations around the planet, and always threatening to grow into larger conflicts. The war in Syria has caused the largest refugee crisis, with 6.8 million Syrians forced to flee the country since 2011, and another 6.8 internally displaced from within. Likewise, the war in Ukraine has led to 6.2 million refugees fleeing the country and another 5.1 million internally displaced. Afghanistan, which recently saw the withdrawal of U.S. troops after 21 years of war and occupation, has seen 3.2 million people internally displaced while another 8.2 million have fled to neighboring countries or abroad. In Sudan, 2.2 million people are internally displaced and 2.3 million are refugees outside the country. The list goes on and on and the numbers are skyrocketing. The wars and conflicts across the globe always involve the direct or indirect intervention of the most powerful capitalist countries, in North America and Europe, or investment or support from their competitors in Russia and China.

The most horrifying threat facing humanity is that of climate disruption due to global climate change. Every year since 2010, an average of 21.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes, permanently, by weather-related disasters. By 2050, the number of people displaced by climate disruption could be as high as a billion, or one-eighth of the world’s population. Already, millions have been driven from their homes by massive climate disasters. In Afghanistan, a drought in 2021 destroyed 40 percent of the country’s crops at the same time that U.S. troops were withdrawing and the Taliban were retaking the country. The collapse of food production led to a huge spike in emigration. In Bangladesh, sea level rise is forcing millions out of their homes and an estimated 18 million will be displaced by 2050. In 2020 in the Philippines, typhoons and storms caused by climate change drove 4.4 million people from their homes. Just last year, three million people in the U.S. were also forced to move due to climate-related disasters. Climate-related disasters threaten everyone around the world, sparing no region and no country, no matter how poor or wealthy.

The system of capitalism, with its international competition, both economic and military, is driving humanity forward towards the edge of a cliff. As the danger grows, the disasters increase, and the result is forced migration. More economic disasters, wars, and climate disruption will only increase the level of forced migration. What is the system’s response? To profit, economically and politically. For example, the International Monetary Fund, an international investment fund that specializes in squeezing poor countries dry with aggressive loans, wrote that economic migration would be an opportunity for corporations. Meanwhile the human suffering continues. This last year, 2,500 migrants died, lost in the Mediterranean while trying to migrate.

The system of capitalism is inhuman, and forced migration is one of its cruelest features.