Telling the Untold Stories of Migration

Telling the Untold Stories of Migration

Migration, be it within a country’s boundaries or beyond its territorial limits, is a phenomenon no country is excepted from. Whether it is a developing country or a developed one, internally-displaced people or those who have migrated to other places are found everywhere. These migrants play a critical role in keeping the wheel of their host countries’ socioeconomic development in motion. But, unfortunately, they are meted out an exploitative treatment and are subjected to serious discrimination, servitude and disparagement. Although they are treated as second-class citizens and are often berated, still they show strong allegiance with their host country. And, taking that as their home, they play an active role in its growth and development. In order to recognize the efforts, contributions and rights of internal and external migrants and to highlight the problems and issues they face, December 18 is celebrated around the world as International Migrants Day under the auspices of the United Nations.

There are two basic types of migration: internal and external. Internal migration, also called displacement, is the act of moving from one place to another within the geographical boundaries of a country whereas external migration is moving overseas i.e. beyond the borders of a country. In recent years, though the term ‘migrant’ is being used interchangeably to refer to migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, yet they are, in fact, very different from one another. As per the definition provided by the UN’s refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (hereinafter UNHCR), migrants are the people who “move to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases, for education, family reunion, or other reasons,” whereas refugees are the people “outside their country of origin because of feared persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances.” Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as ‘refugees’ with access to assistance from states, UNHCR, and relevant organizations. Moreover, an asylum-seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee and seeks international protection from persecution or serious harm in his/her home country. Every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker, but not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee. While they are waiting for their claim to be accepted or rejected, they are called asylum-seekers or the ones who seek refuge in a country other than their home country.

The difference between the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ can further be highlighted from the fact that those who decide to migrate do so with their free will—they are free to decide as to when to leave their homeland and where to go—but a refugee doesn’t have such a free choice. It’s the compulsions of time that decide his fate and compel him to take an immediate decision. Moreover, refugees may not return safely to their homes and they need protection at some other places; in stark contrast to immigrants who don’t face any considerable restrictions in this regard. They can return to their homelands freely when and how they want.

As per International Organization for Migration’s “Global Migration Trends 2015 Factsheet,” over 1 billion people in the world, or more than 1 in 7 people globally, are migrants. The figure includes the stock of 244 million international migrants and around 740 million internal migrants. At present, nearly 3.3% of global population consists of migrants as compared to 2.8% in 2000. Nearly 58% of migrants live in developed regions of the world while 42% in the developing ones. As per the data provided in “Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision,” published by the Population Division of UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, up to mid-2015, about 51% of international migrants were living in 10 countries. The most popular destination country is the United States, where 46.6 million migrants officially resided in 2015—about 19% of the world’s total. At second place is Germany with 12.9 million, followed by the Russian Federation (11.9 million). Eight South Asian countries hosted nearly 4.66% of world’s total migrant population (11.377 million).

As per the world ranking of South Asian countries, India was placed at 12th place, followed by Pakistan (15th), Bangladesh (36th), Nepal (64th), Afghanistan (78th), Bhutan (154th) and Sri Lanka (164th). The latest figures suggest that Pakistan is hosting 3.628 million migrants on its soil which is 1.48% of world’s total and 31.89% of Asia’s.

Most of the international migrants, called diasporas, belong to India as 15.6 million of its citizens have migrated to other countries. Mexico with a total of 12.339 million is at second place while the Russian Federation is at third place with 10.576 million. Top 10 biggest countries on the list account for 33.75% or global diasporas and out of these ten, three—India (1st), Bangladesh (5th) and Pakistan (6th)—are located in South Asia. More than 5.935 million Pakistanis have migrated to different countries and they are 2.43% of world’s total international migrants and 16.1% of that of Asia. Nearly 15.13% of international migrants belong to South Asian countries which occupy various positions—ranging from first to 218th among 233 countries—on the world ranking. India is at the top whereas Bangladesh is at 5th place, Pakistan at 6th, Afghanistan at 11th, Sri Lanka at 36th, Nepal 37th, Bhutan at 176th, and the Maldives at 218th place.
International migrants play a significant role in economic, social and cultural development of not only the host countries but also of communities in their home countries. But, still their role in all of these processes remains largely unacknowledged and their contribution is measured only in terms of their remittances. These remittances contribute to eradication of poverty of their families as well as communities. Moreover, the living standards of the remitters also get improved.

The sum total of international migrants’ remittances they sent to their home countries amounted to $580.6 billion in 2015, according to World Bank estimates; almost 75% ($438.6 billion) were sent to developing countries, representing more than three times the size of foreign aid received by such countries in the same year.

Telling the Untold Stories of Migration

As per World Bank estimates, in absolute terms, top three recipients of migrant remittances in 2015 were India ($68.9097 billion) followed by China ($63.9576 billion), and the Philippines ($28.4827 billion). The top 10 countries on this list received 51.6% of world’s total remittances. In the same year, the remittances routed to South Asia amounted to $1.176577 trillion—20% of world’s total remittances.

As per the ranking in terms of receiving remittances, among South Asian countries, India was at the first place while Pakistan at 7th followed by Bangladesh (9th), Sri Lanka (19th), Nepal (22nd), Afghanistan (114th), Bhutan (168th) and the Maldives (180th). Remittances sent to Pakistan amounted to $19.3060 billion and these were 3.32% of the world’s, and 16.4% of South Asia’s, total remittances.

Estimates on remittance outflows for 2015 indicate that these were mostly sent from the United States ($61.3830 billion), followed by Saudi Arabia ($38.7870 billion), and Switzerland ($24.4020 billion). Remittance outflows from top 10 countries constituted 40% of world’s total while 0.26% of South Asia’s. From South Asian countries (excluding India), migrants sent $1.5228 billion to their home countries. The biggest chunk of remittances from South Asia was sent from Sri Lanka which occupied 37th position on the world ranking, followed by the Maldives (55th), Afghanistan (80th), Bhutan (102nd), Pakistan (107th), Bangladesh (108th) and Nepal (114th). In this year, international migrants in Pakistan sent $30 million to their homelands—1.96% of total remittances sent from South Asia. In 2014, remittances amounting to $6.2220 billion were sent, making the country 18th largest in the world on this ranking.

In 2015, total outflow of remittances constituted 0.8% of world’s total gross domestic product (GDP). The biggest remittance-to-GDP ratio in South Asia was recorded in Nepal where these remittances accounted for 32.2% of country’s total GDP. Liberia and Tajikistan were placed at second and third place with this ratio at 31.2% and 28.6%, respectively. Among South Asian countries, Sri Lanka with 8.5% was at 36th position while Bangladesh was at 37th (7.9%), Pakistan at 40th (7.2%), India at 68th (3.3%), Afghanistan at 98th (1.6%), Bhutan at 116th (1.0%) and the Maldives was at 158th place with 0.1% remittance-to-GDP ratio.

The world we live in today is fast moving toward urbanization and, at present, 54% of world’s population resides in urban centres and the trend of migration from rural to urban areas is on the rise. As per UN-Habitat’s findings, nearly 3 million persons per week are moving to urban areas. The biggest factors behind increase in urban population and the expansion of urban centres are internal as well as external migration. According to International Organization for Migration’s World Migration Report 2015, nearly one in five of the world foreign-born population resides in established global gateway cities. Nearly 46% of Canada’s foreign-born population lives in Toronto while in America, 40% of such population resided in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco. Moreover, 28% of that of Australian population is mainly concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne and 38% of England’s entire foreign-born population lives in London. There are many other cities which host high proportions of such populations. For instance, Dubai’s 83% population is foreign-born while Brussels (62%) and Toronto (46%) are at second and third place in this regard.

Since cities offer potential access to a variety of resources, services and opportunities that are essential for people’s well-being and resilience, therefore, for most migrants, moving to a city is a sound decision. Behind the process of migration, there are two basic factors—push and pull—in play. Among the push factors that force people to migrate, prominent are social, economic and political problems and pull factors do also spur people to migrate. Besides these two biggest factors of rural-to urban migration, another factor that makes such migration inevitable is the growing ratio of ageing population in many countries. Moreover widening economic disparities among various regions within a country and among countries in the international system, ecological and environmental instabilities and inconsistent weather patterns are also some of the push factors. In many cities migration ratio has become far more critical than the factors like birth and death rates and age structures.

A brief analysis of the World Urbanization Prospects—the 2014 Revision, published by UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reveals that during 2010-15, the ratio of increase in urban population was 2.05% whereas that for rural population was 0.13%. In South Asia (Iran included), increase in urban and rural population was recorded at 2.52% and 0.67% respectively. In terms of growth in urban population, among South Asian countries, the Maldives was at 17th place with this ratio as high as 4.49%, Afghanistan was at 26th (3.96%), Bhutan at 34th (3.96%), Bangladesh at 41st (3.55%), Nepal at 51st (3.18%), Pakistan at 62nd (2.81%), India at 80th (2.38%) and Sri Lanka at 157th (0.84%). Moreover, in terms of growth in rural population, Afghanistan with 1.85% growth rate was the 35th biggest country in the world while Pakistan (0.97%), Sri Lanka (0.80%), Nepal (0.72%), India (0.70%), Bhutan (0.38%), Bangladesh (0.06%) and the Maldives (0.05%) were respectively at 76th, 85th, 90th, 94th, 119th, 133rd and 154th positions, respectively.

If this growing disparity in terms of growth in urban and rural populations is due to availability of better healthcare facilities in cities, then another big factor behind this is the migration that is taking place within and out of a country’s borders. The biggest reason of rise in urban population in developed countries is the migrants; then in the developing ones, internal migration, besides foreign migrants, is the core reason of unrealistic rise in urban population. A relevant example is China where 112 million people moved from rural centres to urban ones during the last decade.

Urbanization clearly brings benefits, as it is hard to find sustained economic growth without urbanization. Cities can also turn urban diversity arising from migration into social and economic advantages. Migration can help increase productivity if it is strategically managed and linked to the formal economy. However, while doing so, it must be taken into consideration that urban centres, in almost all parts of the world, are faced with inflow of people at local, regional, national and global scales. Similarly, cities also grapple with the challenge of managing migration. Migrants too have to face legal, cultural and social hindrances especially in terms of having access to housing, employment, education, health and other civic facilities. These problems and hindrances compel them to dwell the areas where they face perilous circumstances and most of them end up in slums which hardly have any provision of satisfactory developmental planning and offer access to very limited opportunities and resources. The unhygienic living conditions of migrants in these slums must be a matter of great concern for all. Because the environment in which they live, travel or work exposes them to many contagious and non-contagious diseases. Moreover, accidents, violence and aggression also create psychological issues and affect their mental health. In addition, the prevalent disparity in terms of having access to healthcare facilities also is detrimental to their health at individual as well as community level.

During the past two decades, it is being increasingly observed that owing to the availability of ample employment opportunities, affordable housing, personal security, family relations, public transport, healthcare facilities and a healthy environment, most migrants in North America and Europe prefer to live in smaller cities and towns rather than big cities and metropolises.

Migration and how it is governed, should be an issue at the frontline of urban planning and sustainable development. However, migration is largely omitted from the global debate on urbanization. There is a glaring absence of the mention of migrants in international planning for a new global urban agenda. Many city and local governments also still do not include migration or migrants in their urban development planning and implementation. Governments of nearly 80% of the 185 countries surveyed, especially the low- and middle-income ones, are working to reduce the flow of migrants from rural to urban areas.

Massive urbanization, accompanied by the rapid expansion of cities and metropolitan regions and the sprawling growth of megacities the world over, is the biggest and the most dominant challenge of the twenty-first century because cities will expand only because of local and international migration. To tackle this challenge, and to manage the growing migration pressure on civic, environmental and social fabric, national as well as local governments will have to improve their capabilities and enhance their working capacities.

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