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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2004: Migration and Urbanization
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Migration and Urbanization

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International Migration
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International Migration

According to the United Nations Population Division,(7) in 2000 there were 175 million international migrants in the world—1 in every 35 persons—up from 79 million in 1960.(8) Nearly 50 per cent were women, and 10.4 million were refugees. Between 1990 and 2000, two thirds of the growth in migrants took place in North America. Before 1980, the less-developed regions had a higher share of international migrants, but by 2000, three fifths were found in the more-developed regions.

Today, in an increasingly globalized economy, migration often provides employment opportunities, giving rise to an unprecedented flow of migrants, including increasing numbers of female migrants.(9) At the same time, there are growing numbers of refugees and people internally displaced by natural disasters, armed conflict, social unrest, or economic and political crises.


Governments of countries of origin and of countries of destination should seek to make the option of remaining in one’s country viable for all people. To that end, efforts to achieve sustainable economic and social development, ensuring a better economic balance between developed and developing countries and countries with economies in transition, should be strengthened. It is also necessary to increase efforts to defuse international and internal conflicts before they escalate; to ensure that the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, and indigenous people are respected; and to respect the rule of law, promote good governance, strengthen democracy and promote human rights.

—from ICPD Programme of Action, para. 10.3

International migratory movements have big economic, sociocultural and demographic impacts on sending, transit and receiving areas.(10) Transit and receiving areas have had difficulties managing migration flows and integrating migrants into society. Sending areas have lost skilled labour and families have been divided, with women often becoming household heads after the departure of their husbands.

The migration of younger workers has left behind those too old for physical work in agriculture. Heightened concerns about terrorism have prompted many countries to enhance security at their borders, leading to increased illegal immigration, particularly through smuggling and trafficking. Migratory movements have contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

The economic effects of migration run in both directions. Remittances from migrants flow from more- to less-developed countries. The World Bank reports that in 2002, total workers’ remittances to developing countries amounted to $88 billion ($30 billion more than official development assistance), and that remittances flowing through official channels more than doubled between 1988 and 1999.(11)

The ICPD called on countries to: address the root causes of migration, especially those related to poverty, for instance, by promoting sustainable development to ensure a better economic balance between developed and developing countries, and defusing international and internal conflicts; encourage more cooperation and dialogue between countries of origin and countries of destination, to maximize the benefits of migration; and facilitate the reintegration of returning migrants.(12)

Recommendations included using short-term migration to improve the skills of nationals of countries of origin, collecting data on flows and numbers of international migrants and on factors causing migration, and strengthening international protection of and assistance to refugees and displaced persons.(13)

Echoing the ICPD and other international agreements, the Millennium Summit in 2000 agreed that countries should respect and protect the human rights of migrants, migrant workers and their families. The 2003 Final Report of the Commission on Human Security(14) stated, “The movements of people across borders reinforce the interdependence of countries and communities and enhance diversity”.

Nevertheless, international migration remains a sensitive subject, and countries have not been able to agree to convene a United Nations conference to provide guidance to countries in addressing the issue, as some have proposed.(15)

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