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Migration on the rise across world, new study says

July 3, 2019

Millions more people will move across the globe in the coming decades, as economic inequality and the effects of the climate crisis take their toll. That's the conclusion of a new German study.

Skilled labor in Germany
Image: Getty Images/J.-U. Koch

Some 10% of the world's population harbor ambitions to leave their home countries and settle elsewhere, according to a new study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.

But, the authors of the study hastened to add, that doesn't mean they actually do up sticks and leave.

"Only a fraction of those people actually make concrete preparations for a migration and go somewhere," institute director Reiner Klingholz said as the study was presented on Wednesday. That, the study found, is because they either can't afford to move, or they don't have the right information.

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Adrian Heiermann, one of the authors of the report, told DW that the reasons why people migrate had become more and more diverse.

Whereas the primary reason used to be to "occupy new territory," now people might move for any one of a number of reasons: "On the one hand we have what would be considered humanitarian movements. That means that such people are fleeing persecution, war, or similar; on the other hand we have migration that happens for educational purposes or so that families can be reunited. Increasingly there are mixtures, where it is unclear in what field they should be categorized."

The globalized economy has also made people more mobile in general, he added. This last factor is exacerbated by the inequality between the developed and the developing worlds, which has a particular effect on the 20-39 age group, the study concluded. Young people in countries where they are struggling to find work are more likely to want to move. 

In 2017, 258 million people lived outside the country of their birth, according to United Nations figures. This includes around 68 million people who have either fled conflict or made asylum applications in other countries.

Those numbers are only likely to grow. US-based polling firm Gallup recently estimated that some 750 million people could imagine moving to another country, which would be 15% of the world's adult population.

Climate crisis a key factor

According to the Gallup study, some 33% of people in sub-Saharan African countries want to move elsewhere, while in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 27% and the Middle East 24%. Sub-Saharan Africa is currently experiencing a population explosion at the same time it is being hit by more pressure on resources caused by a climate crisis.

But that, Heiermann clarified, does not mean the European Union is necessarily the main magnet for all these people, despite that perception in some parts of Europe. For one thing, many Africans simply move to a neighboring country if they find better opportunities there.

In fact, the US remains the guiding target for potential migrants across the world: some 21% said they would like to head there, according to Gallup, a figure that equals 158 million people. Germany, France, and the UK were named as attractive destinations for 42 million, 36 million, and 34 million respectively.

EU economies need migration

At the same time, the Berlin Institute found that the major influx of refugees into Europe in 2015 had had an effect on migration policy in the EU. Many European governments moved to limit migration, which then meant that the "the number of people seeking protection and dropped significantly."

Germany mulls law to alleviate shortage of skilled labor

This, it seems, has proven to be a popular among the people of Europe. According to one European Commission study from 2018, around 53% of EU citizens are "skeptical or negative" about immigration form non-EU countries.

But, according to Heinemann, this is bad for the EU's demographic situation. The expected aging of societies across Europe means that migration will become necessary for economic development. Almost everywhere in Europe, more and more people are going into retirement, which means fewer people are paying into health and retirement insurance schemes while more people draw on those funds. China, Japan, and South Korea are heading towards a similar problem, the study pointed out.

The costs of health care across Europe are expected to increase massively. Meanwhile, according to the Berlin Institute, the number of people in employment age (that is, between 20 and 64 years old) is likely to shrink across the continent by some 7% by 2030.

This is changing a little in Germany, where the government has introduced a new migration law, designed to attract more qualified migrants, (while at the same time the government works to push out more asylum-seekers).

For Heinemann and the other authors of the study, the United Nations migration pact agreed in December last year was a first step towards creating a global framework by which to regulate and cooperate about the issue.

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Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight
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