Valdai Club Experts Discuss Inequality and Migration Issues
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On Wednesday, January 22, the Valdai Club hosted the presentation of a report titled “The Social Global Commons: Is Global Inequality Solvable?” According to the authors of the report, the term “global commons” is used not only in a narrow environmental sense, but also in a broader social sense – as a basis shared by all for the harmonious functioning of a global society in the coming decades. 

A significant component of the world’s problems is associated with access to resources, which is fundamentally unequal. While, if one accepts popular norms with respect to global ethics, everyone has an equal right to benefits, the real situation seems more complicated. 

The report addresses several aspects of equal access to the “global commons”, but migration as a spontaneous solution to the problem of inequality was the central topic of discussion at the Valdai Club. Indeed, in conditions where the right to equal access to resources remains unobtainable, migration becomes the only way to realize it. According to this logic, relocation is not merely a rational step to escape hopelessness, but a necessity. But migration becomes both a means of solving problems and a source of new ones, both for countries supplying migrants and for states that accept them. 

According to Vasily Koltashov, one of the authors of the report, today’s problems with migrants in Western societies are partly a legacy of the globalisation era. Freedom of movement of goods and capital, but not of people, was presumed and that is why migration was largely illegal. Anatol Lieven, Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, who joined the participants via video link from Doha, noted that illegal migration is beneficial to the elites, as it is a means of putting pressure on trade unions: the threat of deportation is a powerful means of exerting pressure on migrant workers trying to fight for their rights. 

The problem of differentiating between economic migrants and refugees has not lost its relevance. According to Wellington Pereira Carneiro, Deputy Head of the UNHCR Office in Russia, refugees make up 1% of the world’s population, and this is an unprecedented level. He pointed to large-scale initiatives by various states to harmonise measures related to the large-scale reception of refugees, and emphasised that the principle of solidarity and distribution of responsibility applies to all states, although only 150 countries have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

Given the changing global climate, where droughts continue to plague some regions while islands are threatened by rising sea levels, a new category, “climate migrants”, has appeared. Solving this problem is only possible only through the efforts of the entire international community, like the problem of climate change itself. 

According to Maria Apanovich, an associate professor at the Department of Demographic and Migration Policy at MGIMO University, while there are no mechanisms for resolving related problems, the creation of a supranational organisation that would regulate migration flows is currently unlikely. An example is the European Union, which in 2015 faced an influx of refugees. Attempts to share responsibility for their admission among the member states have led to a serious crisis, where attitudes differ markedly between the “old” and the “new” Europe. 

“Even in the Western discourse, there is no unambiguous decision on the hypothetical possibility of creating a migration regime at the level of international organisations as a supranational tool that would allow for the rational regulation of migration processes in order to proportionally distribute resources and give everyone what he needs,” she noted. “Rather, the question about the possibility of creating such a regime so far has met with answers like ‘maybe, but the probability is low’ due to the complexity of the system itself,” Apanovich said. 

Currently, the leading role in regulating migration is played by nation states, which are guided by their interests in either attracting migrants or introducing barriers to entry, based on their respective resource bases, she added.