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A pair of Guatemalan asylum-seekers sit outside the San Ysidro crossing port at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

The Afghanistan situation — hundreds of thousands of people desperate to flee their country with few safe and accepting places to go — is just one sign of a future that will be shaped by a growing migration crisis.

Why it matters: Whether because of violence, persecution, climate change or economic distress, rising numbers of people will leave the only homes they've known in search of a safer and better life abroad — even as the politics in destination countries sours on accepting them.

By the numbers: Even before their government collapsed in the face of American military withdrawal — prompting a mad dash for safety by people who'd worked with the U.S. and feared Taliban persecution — Afghans were fleeing their country in huge numbers.

  • According to UN data, 1.5 million Afghans fled to Pakistan in 2020, while another 780,000 escaped to neighboring Iran.
  • That's just one part of a growing migration crisis around the world — on the U.S. southern border, officials reported nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants in July, the highest monthly total in nearly two decades.
  • Dangerous migrant boat departures from northern Africa to southern Europe have been increasing in recent months, and more than 1,100 people have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year.

The big picture: 82.4 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced from their homes as of the end of 2020, more than twice the total in 2011.

  • Nearly half of them had been forced to leave their countries of origin, with the rest displaced internally.
  • Those numbers are only likely to grow. According to a study from last year, more than 1 billion people globally could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change and its destabilizing effects.

Between the lines: Growing numbers of migrants and refugees are escaping their homes at the very moment when international politics toward migration have turned sharply negative.

  • According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, last year fewer than 35,000 refugees out of 20.7 million were actually resettled in a new country — a fraction of 1%.
  • Greece — which saw nearly 1 million refugees enter its territory after the 2015 Syrian crisis — is erecting a 25-mile-long, heavily surveilled fence along its border with Turkey to stop asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
  • In the U.S., the Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Biden administration's efforts to roll back former President Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum-seekers coming to the southern border.

Context: What's unfolding is one of the mega-trends of the 21st century: more people willing and often forced to leave their homes, and a colder welcome in destination countries, including the U.S.

  • A recent Harvard/Harris poll found that 80% of Americans think undocumented immigration is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem, while 64% think the government should institute stricter border policies to reduce the border flow, leaving the political landscape on immigration "incredibly polarized," notes Dick Burke, the CEO of the immigration services company Envoy Global.
  • European leaders — fearful of another populist backlash — are resistant to taking on Afghan refugees, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles saying recently that member states want “to ensure no wide-scale migratory move toward Europe.”
  • The pandemic led to unprecedented border closures around the world, which choked off both documented and undocumented migration while possibly setting a template for future restrictions.

What they're saying: "If the principal political and economic binary of the world 20 years ago was left versus right, today it's open versus closed," says Alec Ross, a former U.S. diplomat and the author of the forthcoming book "The Raging 2020s."

What's next: While politics and public opinion are trending in the direction of a closed world, other factors point toward the need for more migration, not less.

  • Low fertility rates mean that aging rich countries will need more people even as population growth continues in many of the countries that are already generating migrants and asylum-seekers.
  • The economic benefits of immigrants — including asylum-seekers — are real, and the U.S. will "definitely need them if we’re going to economically compete with China," writes economist Noah Smith.

The bottom line: A more open world may be the right one for both altruistic and self-interested reasons, but getting there requires dismantling both physical and political barriers.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 20, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on immigration reform and refugee resettlement

On Wednesday, October 20th, Axios politics reporter Stef Kight explored the status of bipartisan immigration reform and refugee resettlement policy, featuring Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Welcome.US CEO Nazanin Ash and Welcome.US co-founder and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama Cecilia Muñoz.

Robert Menendez spoke on the current compromises being discussed surrounding immigration reform in the latest reconciliation package, and the most viable ways to pass bipartisan immigration legislation moving forward.

  • On the obstacles to passing bipartisan immigration reform: “I truly believe that reconciliation is the only pathway...toward some type of status for undocumented immigrants in the country, and without reconciliation and without Republican support in an evenly divided Senate, I don’t see how that pathway would be possible.”
  • On disparities in how the US is receiving Afghan versus Haitian refugees: “I have taken a very clear position that a refugee is a refugee and you need to give them the opportunity to make their case under our asylum laws. It should not differentiate between an Afghan or a Haitian.”

Nazanin Ash and Cecilia Muñoz described how Americans are helping refugees from Afghanistan settle into new lives and outlined the challenges that many refugees face upon their arrival.

  • Nazanin Ash on the challenges for refugees coming to America: “I think the two biggest challenges are housing and staffing, everything from making sure that refugees get a warm welcome at the airport, making sure that their apartments are set up...making sure that there is someone to help them navigate a very new environment.”
  • Cecilia Muñoz on the importance of refugee resettlement efforts: “This is who we are as Americans. This is what we do when we’re at our best, and we benefit enormously from these kinds of acts of generosity.”

Thank you Carnegie Corporation of New York for sponsoring this event.

What to know about COP26 in Glasgow

A banner advertising the upcoming COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, U.K., on Oct. 20. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 100 world leaders — as well as thousands of diplomats and business leaders — are set to converge on Glasgow, Scotland, starting Oct. 31 to try to set new emissions reduction goals at the COP26 climate summit.

Why it matters: It's an annual meeting, but this year's assembly is viewed as crucial, since climate scientists warn that time is running out to secure necessary greenhouse gas emissions cuts to avoid potentially devastating climate change impacts during the next several decades.

16 mins ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.