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A world without borders

By Peter Curson - posted Monday, 21 December 2015


Human migration is now a global phenomenon. There are more people on the move around the world than at any previous time in human history.

Not since World War II has our world experienced population flows of such size and complexity. Millions of people are moving across international borders every year in the search of employment, education, a new life or simply to escape from political violence, persecution and the impact of natural disasters.

The number of international migrants has more than doubled over the last 30 years from 103 million to more than 250 million today and could quite possibly reach 400 million by 2050.  Since 1950 the number of international migrants in the developed countries of Europe and North America has increased by around 60 million.

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Today more than 60% of international migrants reside in developed countries and the numbers flowing into Europe have grown from 56 million in 2000 to approximately 80 million today.

People smugglers are having a field day transporting tens of thousands of Africans across the Mediterranean to Italy and Spain. Thousands of refugees from Syria are sailing in small rubber and wooden boats from Turkey to the Greek islands of Kos, Lesvos and Samos. 

So far more than 3,000 migrants have perished in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean. Half of all international migrants live in just 10 countries.

The largest number, more than 46 million, currently live in the USA. In Europe, Germany and France host the largest migrant populations while large numbers of migrant workers from Southern Asia live and work in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. 

Every major city in our world now has its significant immigrant population. German cities have their Turks, Paris and Marseilles their Algerians and Africans, London its West Indians and Sydney its Italians, Greeks and Chinese.  

But migration is much more than the international flood of refugees. Today there are more people abandoning rural areas and moving to towns and cities than in any previous time of human history. China in particular is witnessing one of the greatest rural-urban movement of people the world has ever seen and more than 260 million have made such a journey over the last few decade

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So what has migration delivered?

On one hand it has offered education, employment, safety and a new life to many hundreds of thousands insulating many from hunger and poverty. It has also seen vast sums of money remitted by migrants back home to families and relatives. Migration has also played an important part in bolstering lagging labour force numbers in many developed countries and in some cases produced a surge in local birth rates.

But migration also has a dark side. Recent arrivals in developed countries run the risk of being exploited or discriminated against.

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About the Author

Peter Curson is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University.

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