linking Population, Poverty and Development

Migration: A World on the Move

In 2010, some 214 million people — 3 per cent of the world's population — lived outside their country of origin. The magnitude and complexity of international migration makes it an important force in development and a high-priority issue for both developing and developed countries. The fact that about half of all migrants are women, most of reproductive age, is another reason this a pressing issue for UNFPA.

Internal migration within countries is also on the rise, as people move in response to inequitable distribution of resources, services and opportunities, or to escape violence, natural disaster or the increasing number of extreme weather events. The movement of people from rural to urban areas has contributed to the explosive growth of cities around the globe.

A relatively small percentage of migrants — about 10.5 million in 2011 — are refugees fleeing armed conflict, natural disaster, famine or persecution. But crises can displace large numbers of people over short time periods: Between December 2012 and January 2013, more than 255,000 Syrians fled the country. In a two year period, the conflict has displaced some 5 million people, 1 million of whom are registered as refugees in neighbouring countries.In times of crisis, UNFPA pays particular attention to the specific, often overlooked, needs of women and young people.

Moving to work

The majority of migrants cross borders in search of better economic and social opportunities. Economic migrants are the world's fastest growing group of migrants. Globalization has increased the mobility of labour, and a decline in fertility and working-age populations in many developed countries is leading to a rising demand for workers from abroad to sustain national economies. New patterns of migration have arisen, and many countries that once sent migrants abroad — for example, Argentina, Ireland and South Korea — are now experiencing migrant inflows as well.

Several million people migrate without proper authorization each year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Such migrants often face dangerous journeys, exploitation by criminal smuggling networks, difficult working and living conditions, and intolerance when they arrive on foreign soil. Their irregular status often leaves them afraid to seek help when their rights are violated.

Increased female migration

One of the most significant changes in migration patterns in the last half century is that more women are migrating than ever before. Women now constitute half the international migrant population, and in some countries, as much as 70 or 80 per cent. As women migrants frequently end up in low-status, low-wage production and service jobs and often work in gender-segregated and unregulated sectors of the economy, such as domestic work, they are exposed to a much higher risk of exploitation, violence and abuse. Women migrants are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, a multimillion-dollar business. Trafficked women are exposed to sexual violence and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, yet they have little access to medical or legal services.

Migration and development

Migration is increasingly being perceived as a force that can contribute to development, and an integral aspect of the global development process. Migration considerations are being incorporated into broader planning policies, and will have an impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and post 2015 development strategies.

Migration is often temporary or circular, and many migrants maintain links with their home countries. While migrants make important contributions to the economic prosperity of their host countries, the flow of financial, technological, social and human capital back to their countries of origin also is having a significant impact on poverty reduction and economic development. Remittances from migrants are a major source of capital for developing countries.

Remittance flows to developing countries are estimated to total $406 billion in 2012, an increase of 6.5 per cent over the previous year. Global remittance flows, including those to high-income countries, were an estimated $534 billion in 2012. Possibly twice this amount was transferred informally. These financial transfers are growing in significance. In many countries, they are larger than either development assistance or foreign direct investment. Available data show that women send home a higher proportion of their earnings than do men. These contributions feed and educate children and generally improve the living standards of loved ones left behind.

Attention is being drawn to measures to counteract the negative effects of 'brain drain', to encourage migrants to invest in their countries of origin and bring their knowledge, skills and technical expertise to the development process.

Migration and population growth

High fertility and rapid population growth in some developing countries create pressures to emigrate by taxing infrastructures, education, health and social service systems and the environment. At the same time, migration has become an important component of population growth in countries where fertility has declined. In some parts of Europe and Asia, migration is mitigating population decline resulting from below-replacement fertility and population ageing. Net migration has already either prevented population decline or contributed to population growth in a number of countries.

UNFPA at work

UNFPA promotes the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development in the area of migration by promoting policy dialogue and enhancing governments' ability to respond to issues relating to international migration, to promote orderly migration flows and to address the needs of migrants. The Fund supports research and policy-oriented studies, organizes meetings and assists governments in their capacity to collect migration statistics, including gender-specific data. UNFPA advocates for addressing the special concerns of women migrants, including elimination of discrimination, abuse and trafficking.

UNFPA works with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to meet the emergency reproductive health needs of refugees and internally displaced women. UNFPA also provides reproductive health services and counselling for victims of trafficking, and technical assistance, training, and support to governments and other agencies to develop policies and legal frameworks to combat the problem.

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