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Chapter 1 The Good, The Bad, The Promising:
Migration in the 21st Century

A World on the Move

Unequal Opportunities in a Globalizing World

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:Irregular Migration

Forced Migration: Refugees and Asylum-seekers

Harnessing Hope: International Migration, Remittances and Developent

Burden or Boon? Impact on Receiving Countries

Migrant Health

Beyond Difference: Living with Diversity

"Each year, en route to the United States, thousands of migrants like this Honduran boy stow away through Mexico on the tops and sides of freight trains." ©Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Since the very dawn of humanity, people have migrated. Exoduses and migratory flows have always been an integral part, as well as a major determinant, of human history. Yet large intercontinental movements only began in the 16th century, with the expansion of Europe and the settlement of colonies.(1) Over the last two centuries, migration rose to an unprecedented level, primarily owing to the globalization of economic activity and its effect on labour migration.(2) While the great majority of those who move are still internal migrants (individuals or families who migrate within their own country), the number of international migrants(3) is substantial.

A World on the Move

International migration is a vital part of today's globalized existence. It can play a key role in development and poverty reduction. It has clear benefits that could be enhanced and disadvantages that could be minimized. Despite this, many of the issues surrounding migration are complex and sensitive. The introduction of peoples from one culture into another tends to generate suspicion, fear and even downright xenophobia. High profile incidents involving migrants and heated debates have both underscored the stories of "migration gone bad". The millions of stories of "migration gone good" - of women, men and youth who leave their country and contribute to both their adopted and home countries through their skills, labour and taxes–tend to go largely untold.

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the migration landscape as transport and communications have improved within an increasingly globalized world. All nations are now involved with the movement of people–whether as origin, transit or receiving countries. The number of people counted as living outside their country of birth has almost doubled during the last 50 years–increasing to 191 million in 2005.(4) Women now constitute almost half of all migrants and dominate in migration streams to developed countries (see Chapter 2).

Migration can be voluntary or forced, although the actual experience may contain elements of both. Most people migrate for labour, family reunification or marriage. The demand for labour migrants (i.e., those searching for better economic opportunities abroad) has been a major factor in rising levels of migration to developed countries.(5) It is with respect to this group that experts invoke the potential role of migration in development and poverty reduction–especially given the significant impact that financial remittances and other benefits can have on countries of origin. Forced migration and trafficking, on the other hand, encompass the more poignant vulnerabilities associated with international movements– particularly where it involves women and children (see Chapters 3 and 4).

Despite perceptions to the contrary, the proportion of international migrants worldwide has remained relatively low, growing only from 2.5 per cent of the total global population in 1960 to 2.9 per cent in 2000.(6) Nevertheless, net migration accounts for a growing and major share of population growth in developed regions–three quarters in 2000-2005.(7) While in developing regions, emigration has not led to significant decreases in population growth, in 48 countries–mostly small or island states–it has resulted in reductions of more than 15 per cent.(8)

Today, the number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. International migrants would now constitute the world's fifth most populous country if they all lived in the same place–after China, India, the United States and Indonesia.(9) Nevertheless, migration has actually slowed: that is, the absolute number of new international migrants has decreased from 41 million between 1975 and 1990 to 36 million between 1990 and 2005.(10)Part of the decline can be attributed to the drop in the number of refugees.

Developing countries are experiencing a sharp reduction in the immigrant growth rate, while in developed countries (excluding the former Soviet Union), growth continues to expand: Of the 36 million who migrated between 1990 and 2005, 33 million wound-up in industrialized countries.(11) These trends reveal that 75 per cent of all international migrants now live in only 28 countries.(12) Between 1990 and 2005, 75 per cent of the increase occurred in only 17 countries, while migration actually decreased in 72 countries.(13) In sum, migration is concentrated in a relatively small number of countries: One out of every four migrants lives in North America and one of every three in Europe.(14)

Figure 1: Status of Ratification of international legal instruments related to international migrataion

Click here to enlarge image

Source: United Nations. 2006. International Migration and Development: Report of the Secretary-General (A/60/871).