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THE ISSUES

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The Day of 6 Billion
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People on the Move:
Urbanization &
International Migration

People leave their native lands for many reasons: to find better work, escape political conflict or personal danger, and to find a better environment to live in. They may migrate again or return home when conditions change or their purposes are accomplished. These factors are often related to population pressures. Both the communities gaining population and those losing it may view the change either as threat or benefit.

Reliable statistics on the movement of people from country to country do not exist. The best current "guesstimate" from the United Nations Population Fund, however, is that more than 100 million people were living outside their countries of birth or citizenship in 1998. The number is thought to be rising for a number of reasons; one is that the native labor pool in the industrialized world is shrinking while the developing world's workforce will soon double. (1)

Migration Affects Urbanization Patterns

  • Cities are growing faster than ever. The world was 45% urban in 1995 (2), and cities are expected to hold most of the projected increase in humanity for the next 25 years.
  • The number of cities with more than 1 million people rose from 111 in 1960 to 280 in 1995, and two-thirds of those are in developing nations.(3)
  • By 2010, the developing-world total will be 368 such cities, up from 173 in 1990. This will further strain those nations' capacity to provide services such as energy, education, health care, transportation, sanitation and physical security.

Violence Attends Much Migration

  • The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that most of the 22 million people who came under its wing in 1997 were fleeing from conflict, both domestic and international. Most of them fled to poor countries - only 406,000 sought asylum in Western nations, up from 318,300 in 1988.(4)
  • Refugees, especially women, often suffer beatings, rape and other abuses of their human rights while losing access to systems of justice and medical care. The lack of reproductive health care for refugee women is especially acute.

Migrants Do Not Fit Stereotypes

  • Immigrants to industrialized nations from developing ones tend to have higher fertility rates for the first generation (25 years). Thereafter their fertility rates equal those of the host country. (5)
  • For the most part, voluntary immigrants are not the world's poorest and most destitute people but those with the energy, intelligence, courage and resources to seek a better life.

The ICPD Programme of Action commits nations to:

  • Recognize and address the root "push" causes of migration - armed conflicts, human rights violations, environmental degradation, lack of sustainable economic growth, and insufficient social resources - and also acknowledge the influence of economic "pull" factors.
  • Improve urban planning by encouraging the growth of small or medium-sized urban centers and sustainable development in rural areas.
  • Assess the impact of national economic and environmental policies on residential patterns, and build capacity to manage urban development.
  • Stem undocumented migration by improving law enforcement (especially against profiteering smugglers of aliens) while safeguarding the human rights of undocumented migrants.
  • Protect refugees and asylum-seekers, reduce pressures that lead to refugee movements and support international refugee assistance.

Sources: (1) Population Action International, Why Population Matters (New York: 1996), p. 19; (2) UNFPA, The State of World Population 1998 (New York: 1998), p. 70; (3) UNFPA, The State of World Population 1995 (New York: 1995); (4) Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies, and U.S. Committee for Refugees (World Wide Web site: http://www.refugees.org/world/statistics/wrs98 table10.htm); (5) Joseph A. McFalls Jr., "Population: A Lively Introduction" (Third Edition), Population Bulletin 53.3 (Washington DC: Population Reference Bureau, 1998), p. 10.

September 1999