What factors have compelled the largest mass migration of people since World War II?

That is the focus of a new report from the United Nations’ World Food Programme, which seeks to better understand “the complex relationships between food insecurity, conflict and migration.”

Food insecurity and conflict must be considered together because protracted conflicts with intermittent peace agreements and short-term ceasefires are a primary cause of food insecurity.

“Modern conflicts are typically characterized by phases of repeated violence, weak governance and instability,” the report explained. “One-off episodes of civil war are now mostly historical occurrences; the most likely legacy of a civil war is a further civil war. … Countries in protracted crises are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.”

Food insecurity is a complex reality, as it both contributes to and results from conflict. It “increases the likelihood and intensity of armed conflicts” and is “one of the most important and significant determinants of the incidences of armed conflict.”

Further, when refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) arrive in new locations, community resources to meet basic needs are strained and tensions eventually rise.

For example, in Syria, “it was reported that host communities were welcoming at the beginning, but when the situation deteriorated and food started to become an issue in the new locations, the internally displaced were treated as ‘second-class citizens.'”

Often this compels IDPs to become refugees by seeking aid in neighboring nations, where the cycle might repeat itself – compelling refugees to move yet again, and, ultimately, resulting in some host nations closing their borders to additional refugees.

The complexity deepens when people seek to address food insecurity through military service.

“As many families are internally displaced for long periods, some are reportedly forced to join armed groups and others may choose to join armed groups as the only option to feed their family,” the report explained. “Thus … the migration and resulting food insecurity partially fuel the conflict.”

Given the significant influence of food insecurity on global migration and its complex relationship to armed conflicts, six recommendations were set forth:

1. Work to end conflicts so that refugees can return home and rebuild their lives.

2. Deliver food assistance and other humanitarian aid “in safe locations closer to [refugees’] places of origin … [in order to] reduce onward migration flows as a survival strategy.”

3. Provide support to refugees’ host communities – predominantly low- to middle-income nations – whose resources are strained by the influx of people.

4. Establish “a cohesive and uniform refugee policy among host and transit countries with consistent refugee processing criteria, benefits, duration of assistance and general treatment principles.”

5. Educate the public and political leaders about the reality that “migrant trajectories are highly diverse” and challenge “assumptions classifying certain nationalities as economic migrants.”

6. Conduct further research on “the interplay between food insecurity, conflict and other factors that compel people to leave their homes” in order to inform and improve humanitarian responses.

The full report is available here.

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