How is migration changing?
In most discussions on migration, the starting point is usually numbers. The current global estimate is that there were around 244 million international migrants in the world in 2015, which equates to 3.3 per cent of the global population. A first important point to note is that this is a very small minority of the global population, meaning that remaining within one’s country of birth overwhelmingly remains the norm. The great majority of people in the world do not migrate across borders; much larger numbers migrate within countries (an estimated 740 million internal migrants in 2009. That said, the increase in international migrants has been evident over time – both numerically and proportionally – and at a greater rate than had been anticipated by some. For example, a 2003 projection was that by 2050 international migrants would account for 2.6 per cent of the global population or 230 million (a figure that has already been surpassed).
In contrast, in 2010, a revised projection for 2050 was 405 million international migrants globally.
However, in formulating global population projections of which international migration is one part) demographers note that “international migration was the variable that had shown the greatest volatility in the past and was therefore most difficult to project with some accuracy”.
Notwithstanding this uncertainty, which is in part related to significant economic and geopolitical events (such as the global financial crisis in 2008 and the current conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic), it is likely that the underlying fundamentals related to increasing connectivity will see the trend continue. Given the considerable rise in migration in certain parts of the world over the past few years, it is likely that the next estimate of the global number of international migrants produced by UN DESA will show a further rise in the scale of international migration and perhaps also in the proportion of migrants in the global population.
In recent years we have also seen a significant increase in displacement, both internal and across borders, which has largely stemmed from civil and transnational conflict, including acts of violent extremism outside actual war zones. Current data indicate that in 2016 there were 40.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide and 22.5 million refugees.
Further, the total number of people estimated to have been displaced globally is thehighest on record. At the time of writing, more than half a million Rohingya refugees had fled from Myanmar
to Bangladesh since late August 2017, adding further to the world’s displaced population. It is likely that 2017 estimates of displacement will remain as high as the 2016 global figure, if not reaching higher.
When considered together, these numbers paint a concerning picture of migration and displacement globally, and more pointedly, they indicate that such large numbers of people moving (including under duress) are related in part to significant events, such as conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. The global migration picture must, therefore, be seen as a sum of many parts and it is important to put recent developments in specific regions into global and historical contexts. Migration corridors that have developed over time often have a foundation in geographic proximity, but they are also shaped by trade and economic factors, conflict and human (in)security, and community and ethnic ties, as well as smuggling and trafficking. Further chapters in this report examine these aspects, including by geographic
region (see chapter 3); a global overview of migration and migrants is presented in chapter .
Notwithstanding a natural tendency to focus on the challenges that migration presents, so that they can be better understood and therefore managed, it is well worth revisiting briefly what we know about some of the considerable benefits of migration. In a period of heightened internal and international displacement (and related irregular migration), the enormous benefits of migration can become somewhat lost in the debate. The need to rebalance considerations of migration has been recognized by many international organizations, and there has been a recent resurgence in critical examinations of the relationship between human development, economic growth and migration at the global level. Recent work by the IMF, McKinsey Global Institute and the OECD, as well as the ongoing work of the World Bank and regional development banks, highlight the importance of ensuring that we remain focused on the successes of migration as well as the challenges.