12 May 2022

Across the Alliance, migration has moved to the centre of domestic politics. This has largely been driven by growing international migration flows linked to war, civil strife, human security, the structural shortcomings of countries in terms of political participation and civil liberties, low levels of scientific research and technological development, demographic pressure, economic hardship, famine, climate change and water depletion/pollution.

Since 2014, Europe has confronted two massive waves of war-driven migration. The first arose during the conflict in Syria and Iraq and the second is unfolding now in Ukraine. Until Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the MENA region was the source of most migratory flows to Europe. The issue has shaped relations with countries in the region and increasingly has become an element of the security dialogue with it. 

Those fleeing violence generally migrate close to home in the hope that they might be able to return. Syrians fleeing violence, often initially sought refuge within the borders of their own country. But once this became untenable, they moved within the region. The great bulk of Syrian refugees settled in neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. All three countries responded with generosity and did what they could to accommodate this huge influx of traumatised people. But the burdens of this sudden and massive influx of people were great, while the capacities of these countries varied considerably. Eventually, migrants began to make their way to Europe. 

The movement of migrants and refugees from Syria, as well as from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Maghreb, and the Sahel is part of a global phenomenon. The humanitarian crises that have driven millions to leave their homes have also pushed on cleavages within NATO member countries over issues like the capacity of European societies to absorb a significant number of migrants and on broader matters pertaining to national and European identity. Coping with the challenge requires not only measures that deal with the push factors in crisis-ridden societies, but also with how potential host societies prepare to cope with the challenge and the manner in which they cooperate with the countries of emigration. 

NATO itself has had to adapt to the migration challenge. It has recognised important changes in the nature of war, which have compelled it to cope not only with providing security in a period of great power competition, but also with terrorism, intrastate conflict, cyber threats, threats to energy supplies and even the security dimensions of climate change and mass migration. All these phenomena interact in ways that have prompted a shift in thinking about security and created a framework for the concept of human security.  

NATO links the concept of human security to risks and threats to populations where NATO is conducting operations, missions, or activities. It actively works both to reduce and cope with these threats and makes the protection of civilian populations a key priority where it is engaged. The Alliance has adumbrated an array of policies and guiding documents concerning human security as it pertains to combatting trafficking in human beings, children and armed conflict and the protection of civilians. NATO has also made societal resilience a key pillar of its overarching strategic posture. All of these are relevant to the migration challenge.
The war in Ukraine has once again focused attention on the migration challenge. Millions are now moving from Ukraine into NATO member countries. The crisis is also precipitating soaring food prices and inflation that could destabilise fragile countries to the south which have been a traditional source of migration to Europe. This represents a compelling shared challenge for NATO and its key partners in the MENA region. 

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