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Globalisation and the shadow of xenophobia: The plight of migrants in a connected world

By Akansha Chand | OMC 2024

The 19th century brought the dawn of the modern international order, epitomised by the advent of globalisation. Globalisation has broadened, deepened, and accelerated global interconnectedness, reshaping the dynamics of human society. According to UNHCR, globalisation has exacerbated the unevenness of development among countries; in part because of unfair practices and economic exploitation, some countries have gotten wealthier, while others have gotten poorer. In addition, globalisation has exacerbated the digital divide between nations by concentrating technological advancement in wealthier regions, leaving marginalised regions lagging behind in access and opportunity. Hence, developed countries, with their advanced infrastructure and access to technology, generate more opportunities for people. This has created substantial pressure on the workers of less developed countries to migrate to wealthier nations in the hope of making money that they can send back to their families. Along with this, globalisation has eased global communication and transportation between nations, enabling greater migration. 

Countries around the world are turning against migrants as xenophobia rises. Image by Jeff Balbalosa from Pixabay.

This increase in global migration has led to increased backlash against migrants. Xenophobia is the fear of or animosity towards anyone or anything perceived as foreign or alien and stands out as a prominent manifestation of the insecurities that many people have when it comes to migration. It can take various forms, including discrimination, stereotypes, violence, and the imposition of restrictive immigration policies. Historical records abound with instances of xenophobia, from the Ancient Greeks' portrayal of foreigners as "barbarians" to the 19th-century American "Yellow Peril" apprehension towards Asian Immigrants. 

In the United States, xenophobic rhetoric and policies have had tangible repercussions for immigrant populations, exemplified by former President Trump's pledge to exclude Muslims from the country. Early in his term, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA. This has deeply impacted not just the lives of Muslim migrants from outside but also the experience of American Muslims directly or indirectly, as the ban separated families and hindered opportunities for education and employment as well as creating a climate of marginalisation and fear for the Muslim community in the US. As this shows, xenophobia can harm not just migrants but also non-immigrants when they are perceived as “different.” For instance, the tweets of President Donald Trump fetched global attention when despite the WHO (2015) nomenclature, he repeatedly used “Chinese virus” or “China virus” for COVID-19. Following this rhetoric, several incidents of violence and harassment targeting Asian Americans were reported across the nation. 

Beyond the borders of the United States, xenophobic attitudes have also fueled conflicts and tensions in other regions, notably in South Africa. In 1994, during "Operation Buyelekhaya,” the Xhosa community clashed with Namibian immigrants in the Eastern Cape province. Accusations of job undercutting and economic competition ignited tensions, resulting in xenophobic violence and animosity towards foreign nationals. Several instances, including the xenophobic attacks witnessed in 2000, 2008, 2009, 2013 and a subsequent rise in 2015 when the shop of foreigners were allegedly looted by locals in Durban, as well as the recent launch of Operation Dudula in 2021, underscore the persistent threat posed by xenophobia in South Africa.

The various incidents of xenophobia across the world highlight that the menace of xenophobia transcends geographical boundaries, affecting migrants and non-nationals across the globe, irrespective of their destination or origin. Mistreatment and discrimination against migrants, refugees, and other non-nationals is widespread and detrimental. In confronting xenophobia, it is imperative to adopt a holistic approach that addresses both its root causes and its symptoms. This includes not only promoting tolerance, diversity, and understanding but also addressing the structural inequalities and power dynamics underpinning xenophobic attitudes and behaviour towards the migrants as well as the non-nationals. Government, civil society organisations, and international bodies must work together to uphold the rights and dignity of migrants, ensure their inclusion and integration into host societies, and combat xenophobia in all its forms. By fostering a culture of inclusivity, empathy, and solidarity, encompassing education, advocacy, policy reform, and community engagement, we can strive towards a world where migration is viewed not as a source of fear or division but as a testament to the richness of human diversity.

Akansha Chand is an independent research scholar. She completed her Master’s degree in Political Science at University of Hyderabad in 2023 and qualified UGC-NET and JRF in the same subject. She has worked as a research intern for two of India's prominent political consultancies, I-PAC and Leadtech. Her areas of interest are Indian foreign policy, Feminism, Migration, and International Relations


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