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Population Issues- 1999

Migration and Urbanization
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Population and Sustainable Development

Population Trends:
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Demographic Trends by Region

Migration and Urbanization

Knowledge that Empowers

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Challenges for the 21st Century

The New Generations, the Family and Society

 
Migration long predates the drawing of today’s national boundaries: in parts of Africa and Asia population movements still conform to old pat-terns rather than modern political geography. Yet the estimated more than 125 million people currently living outside the countries of their birth, including refugees and undocumented migrants, represent just over 2 per cent of the world’s population. More significant in modern times is the movement of people from rural to urban areas.

Internal Migration and Urbanization

The world is steadily becoming more urban, as people move to cities and towns in search of employment, educational opportunities and higher standards of living. Some are driven away from land that, for whatever reason, can no longer support them. By the year 2005, urban areas are expected to be home to more than half of the world’s people.

Already 74 per cent of Latin American and Caribbean populations live in urban areas, as do 73 per cent of people in Europe, and more than 75 per cent of people in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. In both Africa and Asia, urban dwellers represent about a third of the total populations. However, there are significant variations between individual countries. In Africa, for example, more than 50 per cent of the populations of Algeria, South Africa and Tunisia reside in urban areas.

In addition, there is a continuing trend towards ever-larger urban agglomerations. By the turn of the century, 261 cities in developing countries will have populations over 1 million, compared with 213 in the mid-1990s. In 1994, there were14 so-called "mega-cities," defined as cities with at least 10 million inhabitants. Their number is expected to double by 2015.

Urbanization usually accompanies social and economic development, but rapid urban growth on today’s scale strains the capacity of local and national governments to provide even the most basic of services such as water, electricity and sewerage. Squatter settlements and over-crowded slums are home to tens of millions, like the favelas that cling to the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro and the tombs used as homes by tens of thousands in Cairo’s "City of the Dead". In some developing countries, notably in Africa, this growth reflects rural crisis rather than urban-based development.

International Migration

Although dwarfed by the movements of people within borders, international migration is also increasing. Roughly half of the over 125 million people living outside their countries of origin reside in developing countries. This figure includes the 1997 figure of 12.0 million refugees. International migration includes both permanent migration and so-called temporary or labour migration -- which may be for long periods, even decades -- as well as the movement of refugees and undocumented migrants.

As with migration to the cities, people move in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Income disparities among and within regions is one motivating factor, as are the labour and migration policies of sending and receiving countries. Political conflict drives migration across borders as well as within countries. Environmental degradation, including the loss of farmland, forests and pasture, also pushes people to leave their homes. Most "environmental refugees", however, go to cities rather than abroad.

Migration of more educated young people from developing countries to fill gaps in the work forces of industrialized countries has been a feature of development in the recent past. In many receiving countries, industries and infrastructure are built and maintained, in part, by migrant labour. Remittances from migrants are a significant source of foreign exchange and in some countries even account for a substantial share of national income. Remittances are used in many ways: for consumer goods, building homes, for productive investments, for education and health services and, in general, contribute to higher living standards for remittance-dependent households.

Richer countries’ investment in health and education in developing countries would help foster long-term cooperation in managing migration pressures and improve the productive capabilities both of migrants and those who remain at home. While younger adults are more likely to migrate than older people, women make up nearly half of the international migrant population. Family reunification policies of receiving countries are one factor influencing migration by women, but women themselves are increasingly likely to move in search of jobs. Women frequently end up in the low-status, low-wage production and service jobs, and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse.

Among refugees, women and children are in the majority. At the end of 1997, the number of refugees outside their countries of origin totalled 12.0 million. The figure does not include people in refugee-like situations who have sought asylum in other countries. Nor does it reflect migration by displaced persons within national borders. In 1997, UNHCR estimated this total "population of concern", including returnees and those seeking asylum and/or refugees status, as numbering 22 million; a number which may have increased since. Ultimately, the goal of both sending and receiving countries should be to make the option of remaining in one’s home country a viable one, as is stated in the ICPD Programme of Action. But this goal will not be easily realized. Efforts to enhance economic opportunity, to sustain and improve agricultural production and to provide health care and education are among the strategies proposed by the ICPD at Cairo. Equally important, however, are strategies to resolve political conflict, end human rights violations and promote good governance.

The economic, demographic and political trends influencing migration are likely to continue over the next few decades, given the time it will take to implement the strategies recommended in Cairo. The challenge for governments lies in formulating migration policies that take into account the economic constraints of receiving countries as well as the impact of migration on host societies and its effects on countries of origin.

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