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International migration

January 4, 2011

A decade after the UN celebrated the first International Migrants Day, the number of migrants is still increasing rapidly. A recent report calls for concerted efforts to grasp the benefits of this global phenomenon.

Young migrants in front of a German flag.
International mobility requires concerted efforts

The number of international migrants is on the rise. Today there are about 220 million migrants in the world - that's the population of Russia and Germany combined.

Yet, political and socio-cultural efforts to deal with migration have been too piecemeal and fragmented, says a recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Changing demographics, interconnected labor markets, wage differences, and many other factors are expected to particularly increase labor migration in the upcoming years and decades.

"Migration is affecting all countries," IOM spokesperson Jean-Phillipe Chauzy told Deutsche Welle. "This is why concerted efforts are needed in order to better manage labor migration in the future."

Logo of the International Organization for Migration, pictogramm of family, circles
The International Organization for Migration wants quick action

Migration issues tend to be addressed bilaterally, for example, when addressing the return of illegal immigrants to their country of origin. But the IOM is asking governments to expand this approach in order to keep track with the high pace of future developments.

"Regional and interregional programs should be established," Chauzy said. "This is already happening successfully in a couple of regions. But this approach needs to be taken much more often."

Emerging destination countries

So far, the United States remains the top destination country of international migration. However, global trends reveal that migration will be distributed more evenly around the world as emerging markets become more and more lucrative.

"We found out that South-South migration is on the rise," Chauzy said. "And South-Africa is definitely a destination country that is increasingly used by migrants from the continent."

While nobody will be astonished to hear that China's growing economy attracts more and more migrants, there are also some surprises among the emerging destination countries.

"A country like Mexico, which used to be a country of emigration in the past, is now a country of immigration," Chauzy said. "You've got a lot of migrants coming from the South not only to transit Mexico, but to establish themselves there."

Attracting high-skilled migrants

Flags of African countries, blue sky
South-South migration is on the rise, particularly from African countries to South-AfricaImage: picture-alliance/landov

In the past decades, the number of migrants to the US has increased steadily - despite the economic crisis. But what is more, the US remained successful in attracting skilled and high-skilled individuals from all over the world to come to the US and establish themselves there.

According to the IOM, European countries tend to be less successful in doing so - especially when it comes to convincing high-skilled migrants to stay in the respective countries for a longer period of time.

But the overall migration to European countries has increased significantly in the past decade. The IOM identifies the European Union's enlargements of 2004 and 2007 as major reasons for this development as they merged labor markets of countries with substantial wage gaps.

The role of governments and civil societies

In addition to coherent national and international policies, civil societies play an important role in maximizing the benefits of international migration and in opposing discrimination against migrants.

"Rising unemployment has spurred discrimination," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said on December 18, the United Nations International Migrants Day. "It is important to recall, particularly in these turbulent times, the fundamental role that migrants play in strengthening the global economy."

Therefore, efforts are needed in order to better integrate migrants in the host society. In some destination countries, the human rights situation of immigrants also needs far-reaching adjustments.

In order to make progress, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, asked governments as well as non-state actors to keep an open mind and work on mutual trust.

"Migration is extraordinarily complex," Pillay said. "Finding smart solutions requires experimentation in an environment of trust."

Author: David Schnicke
Editor: Rob Mudge