No novelty can be claimed for international migration, a process as old as human history itself. People have always migrated, whether for personal safety, adventure, trade, economic opportunity, social advancement, adventure, or religious and political freedom – even for a better climate!
The International Organisation for Migration reports that there were an estimated 191 million migrants worldwide in 2005, up from 175 million in 2000 and 76 million in 1960. And, on the basis of 2005 figures, the number of the migrants worldwide would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world! In 2006, the global number of refugees reached an estimated 9.9 million persons.
But international migrants are exceptional in many ways: they comprise just three per cent of the global population. And despite intensive media and political attention, levels of migration have been higher in the past. The levels of international migration had at the turn of the Twenty-first Century reached those of the 1920s, but were still far below that recorded before the First World War.
International migration is dwarfed by the scale of internal (rural to urban) migration prompted by economic restructuring, ‘development’ and urbanisation. The greatest population movement currently underway is happening within the borders of one country, China, where 140 million people are on the move, driven from the land by the market system and drawn to the cities by the prospect of work in world factories.
The general flow of international migrants is from poorer to richer countries, but not always to the West and many migrants remain within their region. In the main, refugees and asylum seekers remain in the poorer countries of the world.
For a closer look at a world with a people in constant motion, explore our interactive map.