By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*

The world’s poor are fleeing their countries to the West in large numbers. Anti-immigration politics is on the rise in the United States and Europe. For instance, Brexit’s success was built on anti-immigration propaganda.

In the United States, supporters of President Donald J. Trump would like to see immigration drastically reduced. The President is working on building a wall on the southern border with Mexico.

However, no Brexit, no border wall can resolve the immigration crisis.  The problem has to be addressed at its source. The real issue is the unequal development that exists between the haves and the have nots of the world.

The vast majority of the world is still poor. People are being pushed out of their countries by unending civil wars, political repressions, recurrent famines, population explosion and limited opportunities.

One could blame these problems on the poor countries themselves. Yet, the problems could also be linked to the involvement of the West.

Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy stated candidly the responsibility of the United States to the poor countries of the world. He said,

“To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.  If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of foreign aid, development programs and humanitarian assistances. Furthermore, the international organizations have made twice as much, if not more, development loans to the poor countries.

However, the poor countries, most of them in Africa, have not been able to help themselves with all this money. Some of them are poorer now than they were fifty years ago. For instance, Ethiopia, an endowed country, has turned into a humanitarian basket case.              

There is mutual benefit in economic development.  For example, the coordinated effort by the United States under the Marshall Plan ensured lasting peace and prosperity in Western Europe.

American direct involvement in Southeast Asia helped transform backward economies.  All these countries today are major trading partners of the United States.

The United States and its Western allies can still help the poor countries help themselves. But they have to leverage their resources to force economic development in these countries rather than being content to doing business with them as usual.

Only economic development can provide stability in poor countries and limit the influx of immigrants to the industrialized societies.

*Emeritus Professor of Economics.