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Involuntary Immigration and Its Implications


Involuntary immigration has become a major global concern, especially in developed nations. According to the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, involuntary immigration caused by climate change has become common in numerous countries (World Economic Forum 2018). In short, people are emigrating from undeveloped nations worst affected by climate change to developed countries in search of job opportunities to escape famine and extreme poverty in their countries of birth. While migration from developing to developed nations continues unchecked, a report by Takei, Tan and Lin (2016) shows that nationalistic political views in developed countries are creating anti-immigrant sentiment.

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Although West Africa along with parts of East, North and Central Africa are some of the regions worst affected by climate change, the problem has also been witnessed in the Middle East and parts of Asia. According to Blix (2017), one of the biggest concerns is that politicians are using these sensitive issues to achieve personal interests. The nationalistic views and anti-immigrant sentiment is affected by developed countries are contributing to social breakdown and crime-related concerns in their societies. In this paper, the researcher will focus on discussing the implications of involuntary immigration as they relate to the potential for social breakdown and increased criminal justice issues.

Social Breakdown

Social breakdown is a significant concern directly related to involuntary immigration. The United States and the United Kingdom rank among the most highly diversified countries in the world, in large part due to continued immigration and integration. According to McKee, Greer and Stuckler (2017), diversity in a country and work environment should always be considered a strength as it allows members of society to identify and cherish differences in people committed to achieving the common goal of socio-economic and political progress of the country. In societies where people view gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and levels of education as factors making it possible to achieve various societal goals, the results will be peaceful and supportive. Alternatively, when one segment of society develops resentment towards another, social breakdown may be unavoidable.

Social breakdown theory holds that members of society who feel socially isolated are likely to support right-wing populist parties (Greenfield & Cocking 2014). These people yearn for some form of protection, feeling rejected by the majority of other members of society. They tend to focus on what they consider can assure them of the protection they feel they need in the socio-political arena. Thus, they lose a national focus regarding universal economic progress and start prioritising actions and ideas that promote only the welfare of the group they feel a part of. On a related note, Rodríguez (2013) states that the desire to be secure may push some of these people into acts that may promote crime in society. For example, individuals who constantly feel that they are targeted become paranoid, in which case a small provocation can make them act out violently, even when violence is unnecessary. An illustration of this point, Chacón (2017) notes that cases, where African Americans attack and sometimes even kill police officers, are increasing because this community feels targeted and its members are convinced that they must protect themselves. However, their actions only serve to worsen the situation; law enforcement officers are also responding to such incidences by opening fire on African Americans at the slightest provocation because they also fear for their lives. Instead of finding a lasting solution for the problem, the participants are only making it worse.

Increased Criminal Justice Issues

Involuntary immigration motivated by climate change has had a massive impact on the criminal justice system in various host countries. While the government has a responsibility to protect locals while at the same time offering security to immigrants, Glyn (2015) maintains that it is not easy to use police officers to promote security to residents. Instead, security comes through those who believe they have a responsibility to respect and refrain from any criminal acts that may affect other members of society. However, when people have strong sentiments towards a segment of their society, criminal justice issues arise. In fact, even law enforcement agents will take sides when called upon to address such problems, further complicating the situation. In this section, the researcher will look at xenophobic attacks, acts of terror and general criminal activities as major concerns related to involuntary immigration.

Xenophobic Attacks

The xenophobic attack has become a significant problem directly linked to involuntary immigration. Individuals who are forced out of their drought- and hunger-stricken countries will often consider moving to places where they will be assured of material support. Martin and Davis (2017) note that most do not expect to receive direct government benefits in the countries they adopt, but their primary aim is rather to have access to job opportunities and to obtain work as a way to earn a living. In fact, some of these immigrants are highly educated but cannot find employment in their home countries. Xenophobic attacks in some host countries are caused by a number of reasons such as the feeling that immigrants are taking jobs meant for the locals at a significantly lower wage rate. In other countries, locals are uncomfortable in the presence of an elevated number of people having different socio-cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The following represent some countries that are currently struggling with the problem of xenophobia.

South Africa

South Africa has been known for xenophobic attacks against immigrants from other parts of the continent. Although the country gained independence less than three decades ago, it enjoys one of the strongest economies in Africa. As such, it has remained an attractive destination for economic migrants coming from Nigeria, neighbouring Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola and many other African countries (Dettlaff & Fong 2016). A common goal of those coming to this country is to obtain employment or start small businesses that can enable them to earn a living and support their families back home. Xenophobic attacks began about a decade ago when a section of South African society started complaining that immigrants were taking over jobs meant for the locals. This narrative prompted locals to attack foreigners, especially those living or doing businesses in slums where security is compromised. Keithly (2018) notes that in most of these attacks, the victims are stoned to death or set on fire as a warning to others to leave and go back to their former country.

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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a popular destination for both economic immigrants and asylum seekers. Most immigrants to this country come from parts of Africa and the Middle East. The nation’s strong economy and socio-cultural diversity are among the factors that attract people to emigrate there. Heavilin (2017) explains that, like in many other developed countries in Europe and North America, locals in the United Kingdom are starting to express displeasure towards immigrants. Attacks using crude weapons such as knives have become common in major cities around the country, especially in London. Crush and Ramachandran (2014) believe that the number of deaths due to extremism would be high if not for the nation’s tough gun laws. Unlike the United States where private citizens can own assault rifles, the United Kingdom permits only a few private citizens who meet specific qualifications to own guns, thus limiting the ability of some extremists to launch serious attacks on foreigners they feel are negatively affecting the economy of the country.

United States

The United States remains the preferred destination for economic migrants from all over the world. The strength of the country’s economy, low rate of unemployment and socio-cultural diversity are among the factors that attract individuals who have been forced out of their countries of origin because of problems related to climate change (Winslow & de Gruyter 2017). However, American society is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the issue of immigration. Over the past five decades, successive regimes have tried to tighten immigration laws as a way of responding to the concerns of the public. However, these laws have failed to restrict both legal and illegal immigrants from coming to the country. According to Orrenius and Zavodny (2016), the Ku Klux Klan and other far-right extremist organisations are becoming popular once again due to societal concerns that a large number of immigrants compromises the socio-economic stability of the country. Some extremist organisations are openly attacking some of the immigrants, associating them with terrorism, increased cases of crime and lowered wages.


According to Vargas, Sanchez and Valdez (2017), Germany has remained a relatively peaceful country since the end of the Second World War. The country has been receiving a moderate number of economic migrants from parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. However, the 2009 Arab Spring saw a sudden surge in the number of immigrants from countries such as Syria and Yemen (George & Kwansah-Aidoo 2017). Although these refugees were fleeing from the conflict in their countries of origin, many considered immigrating to Germany as an economic opportunity to re-establish their lives. In contrast, the local population considered a high number of mosques in a predominantly Christian country to be a major concern. Bishop (2016) explains that cases have been reported where locals attack these immigrants with crude weapons as a way of expressing their discomfort towards them. As a country known for genocide during the Second World War, the locals’ strong resentment towards immigrants is a major concern that the global society cannot ignore (Crush et al. 2017). These foreigners are facing serious threat if the problem is not managed effectively.

New Zealand

New Zealand is often considered one of the safest countries in the world in terms of welcoming immigrants to take part in the country’s socio-economic development (Crush, Chikanda & Skinner 2015). However, that impression changed on March 15, 2019, when a lone gunman attacked worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50 people in the process (Regan & Sidhu 2019). The disgruntled gunman expressed his resentment towards immigrants to the country, especially those from the Muslim community that he believes is ‘contaminating’ the socio-cultural practices of the part of New Zealand society defined by Christian principles. Although the government moved speedily to identify and arrest this criminal, his actions served as a clear demonstration that the country is increasingly becoming unsafe for economic migrants. People who cannot identify with the local population in New Zealand are no longer assured of safety, unlike in the past.

Acts of Terror

According to Zacharasiewicz and Kirsch (2014), hate breeds only hate. When a segment of society feels targeted and devalued by others, the most likely response will be a desire to strike back. This fact explains why some people would opt to target innocent people as a way to express anger and frustration. In the case of economic immigrants, some may turn against locals when they feel that systems and structures in the country have been designed to frustrate them. On March 11, 2004, a group of Islamist Jihadists planted bombs on a Madrid train during rush hour (Bishop 2016). The explosives detonated as planned, killing 193 people and injuring more than 2000 others. Although it was established that the terrorists had links to Al-Qaeda, they had immigrated to Spain as economic migrants who were fleeing their home country because of drought and famine. About a year later on July 7, 2005, another terror outfit planned and executed a coordinated bomb attack in London during rush hour (Suarez-Orozco 2018). This group targeted an underground train, using four suicide bombers to execute their evil plans. It is reported that 52 innocent civilians lost their lives during the attack.

Such major acts of terror are important to this study because they happened before the Arab Spring that forced people to leave their countries of origin primarily because of political instability. Investigations into these cases showed that most of the terrorists involved originally came to Europe because of socio-economic problems in their home countries with the understanding that countries such as the United Kingdom and Spain would offer new job opportunities. However, their reception upon arrival, especially in terms of racism and social rejection, made it easy for terror organisations to recruit them. Once these terror outfits promised to solve the immigrants’ economic problems, the latter had no reason to be law-abiding residents of their adopted countries. On the contrary, pursuing this course offered the perfect opportunity for them to exert revenge on people they believed despised them.

Other Forms of Crime

Economic migrants often engage in various other crimes in the societies that receive them. According to Creet and Kitzmann (2014), a significant number of drug dealers in the United States are illegal immigrants from Central and South America. The fact that their data has not been captured in the government’s repositories makes it difficult for law enforcement to identify and arrest them. Some become goons for hire because even if their fingerprints are collected at the scene of a murder, it is almost impossible to trace them. Law enforcement agencies often struggle to address crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Common criminal activities include armed robbery, burglary, murder for hire (hitmen), drug peddling and any other activity that can earn the perpetrator income. The United Kingdom is experiencing a similar problem as the number of that country’s undocumented immigrants continues to increase.

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Key Risks and Potential Developments in Future

Involuntary immigration is likely to continue in the coming years as the problem of climate change worsens. Although developed nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States will continue to have a moral responsibility to assist those in need, should people in those countries maintain nationalistic views, attacks against foreigners may worsen. In the United States, the current President Donald Trump has been accused of making statements that create hatred towards economic immigrants. For example, during his campaign, he promised Americans that his administration would fight illegal Mexican immigrants – who he described as drug dealers, rapists and criminals.

Such strong words against a segment of society have the result of vilifying those who are under verbal attack, making it easy for members of society to assault immigrants who have been labelled criminals. In South Africa, citizens attacked immigrants a day after President Cyril Ramaphosa described them as illegal immigrants who were taking jobs meant for the locals (Kleist & Thorsen 2017). When the government encourages nationalistic statements of this sort, a peaceful society might not be possible to achieve. The security risks associated with the political instability that such an environment creates could all too well impede the future development of these countries.

Key Methodological Problems Faced by Foresight Studies

In this foresight study, the researcher relied on secondary data to inform the conclusion made at the end of the report. Secondary data was obtained mainly from books and online journal articles. Using keywords such as involuntary immigration, climate change, social breakdown, criminal justice issues and terrorism, the researcher was able to gather information from reliable online sources. Newspaper articles also proved helpful in providing current information on issues related to illegal immigration, xenophobic attacks and criminal activities attributed to increased immigration in some of the developed economies around the world. The main problem faced was the inability to collect primary data from respondents because of time limitations. It would have been advisable to collect data from individuals who have been directly affected by the issue. However, the study had to rely wholly on secondary information.

Despite these challenges, the researcher was interested in assessing the methodological adequacy of the literature that the study relied on. Before any secondary data source was used, it was important to determine its credibility. Most of the secondary sources included were books and peer-reviewed journals. News reports from leading media houses were also considered critical for providing reliable current information about societal problems associated with economic migrants. Appropriate steps were taken to ensure that the information provided in this report is credible and reliable. For this document to be useful to policymakers who are seeking to address the immigration problem, it was necessary to ensure that it relied on credible sources.


Involuntary immigration caused by climate change factors such as drought and famine is on the rise. In the past, developed nations would help affected individuals through direct donations to their governments. However, corruption and misappropriation of funds have continued to make it impossible for deserving families to obtain needed help. Such challenges have forced some of these people to travel from their home country to foreign nations in search of job opportunities. In light of this fact, the study shows that involuntary immigration has the potential to cause social breakdown and increased criminal justice issues. The problem can only be solved through policy formulations and close coordination between the immigrants’ host government and the country of origin.

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