On Saturday, the world will commemorate another International Migrants Day amidst the pandemic. Celebrated since 2000, the International Migrants Day highlights the contributions made by the roughly 272 million migrants, including more than 41 million internally displaced persons, and the challenges they face.
In 1997, Filipino and other Asian migrant organizations began celebrating and promoting 18 December as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants and the date was chosen because it was on 18 December 1990 that the UN adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Since the earliest times, humanity has been on the move. Some people move in search of work or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. Still others move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors. Migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Today, globalisation, together with advances in communications and transportation, has greatly increased the number of people, who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places, but has created challenges and opportunities for societies throughout the world. It also has served to underscore the clear linkage between migration and development, as well as the opportunities it provides for co-development, that is, the concerted improvement of economic and social conditions at both origin and destination.
Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the one in which they were born. According to the IOM World Migration Report 2020, as of June 2019 the number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 272 million globally, 51 million more than in 2010. Nearly two thirds were labour migrants. International migrants comprised 3.5% of the global population in 2019. This compared to 2.8% in 2000 and 2.3% in 1980. While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others migrate out of necessity. According to UNHCR, the number of globally forcibly displaced people worldwide was 79.5 million at the end of 2019, of which 26 million were refugees, 45.7 million people were internally displaced, 4.2 million were asylum-seekers, and 3.6 million were Venezuelans displaced abroad.
Migration draws increasing attention in the world nowadays. Migration is a global phenomenon driven by many forces. These start with aspirations for dignity, safety and peace. The decision to leave home is always extreme, and, too often, the beginning of a dangerous, sometimes fatal journey. The lure of a well-paid job in a wealthy country is a powerful driver of international migration. The attraction has intensified as income differentials among countries continue to grow. This holds true not only regarding the large and growing differentials between high and low-income countries, but also with regard to the more dynamic and the less dynamic developing countries.
Many advanced and dynamic economies need migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and that do not find local workers willing to take them at going wages. Population ageing also underlies this growing demand, as it gives rise to deficits of workers relative to dependants. And as younger generations become better educated, fewer in their ranks are content with low-paid and physically demanding jobs. Migration may reduce wages or lead to higher unemployment among low-skilled workers in advanced economies, many of whom are themselves migrants who arrived in earlier waves. However, most migrants complement the skills of domestic workers instead of competing with them. By performing tasks that either would go undone or cost more, migrants allow citizens to perform other, more productive and better-paid jobs. They also maintain viable economic activities that, in their absence, would be outsourced. By enlarging the labour force and the pool of consumers and by contributing their entrepreneurial capacities, migrants boost economic growth in receiving countries.
At the point of origin, deeper poverty does not lead automatically to higher migration. The poorest people generally do not have the resources to bear the costs and risks of international migration. International migrants are usually drawn from middle-income households. However, when migrants establish themselves abroad, they help friends and relatives to follow and, in the process, the costs and risks of migration fall, making it possible for poorer people, though not for the poorest, to join the stream. Low-skilled migration has the largest potential to reduce the depth and severity of poverty in communities of origin. Mounting evidence indicates that international migration is usually positive both for countries of origin and of destination. Its potential benefits are larger than the potential gains from freer international trade, particularly for developing countries.
Contrary to what some may believe, migrants play a vital role in the global economy. Studies show that immigrants bring growth and innovation in both the countries they come from, and in those they move to. Most advanced nations face a demographic time-bomb as their aging populations and low birth rates mean that they will have to rely on immigrants to drive and sustain economic growth. It is, therefore, in the best interests of these developed nations to support a safe and orderly migration.
So if you have any migrants who live or work near you, take some time and actually get to know them, their hopes and aspirations and who they really are. They are far away from their family and friends in an unknown land just to make a living. Among the migrant workers in our midst could be teachers, authors, poets and businessmen who for reasons beyond our knowledge are forced to do hard labour. So the least we can do is smile and ask them about themselves.