Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2675

South-South Migrant Flows on the Rise, Says U.N.

By Thalif Deen Inter - Press Service

United Nations, 07 June, IPS): Traditional assumptions about international migration are gradually changing, as an increasing number of migrant workers and skilled professionals move from South to South -- from one developing country to another, says a new U.N. study released here.

"No longer do the vast majority of migrants settle in just a small number of industrial nations (in the West)," says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the 90-page report titled "International Migration and Development".

About a third of the world's nearly 200 million migrants have moved from one developing country to another, he points out, while an equal proportion have gone from the developing to the developed world.

In other words, Annan says, those moving "South to South" are about as numerous as those moving "South-to-North", which has been the traditional flow of migration.

Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, chair of the U.N. Committee on Migrant Workers, points out that international migration "is no longer an exclusively South-North phenomenon". It is a global phenomenon, he added.

"An increasingly large number of migrant workers are now employed in high-income developing countries, particularly in the Middle East," Kariyawasam told IPS.

According to the U.N. study, international migrants numbered about 191 million in 2005: 115 million lived in developed countries and 75 million in developing countries.

Nearly six out of every 10 international migrants live in high-income economies, but these include 22 developing nations, including Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Three-quarters of all migrants lived in just 28 countries in 2005, with one in every five migrants in the world living in the United States.

At the same time, there have been new innovations in international migration driving migrants back to their home countries. For example, China and South Korea are attracting their expatriate researchers with state-of-the-art science parks.

"Governments collaborate with migrant associations abroad to improve livelihoods at home; and development programmes help migrant entrepreneurs start small businesses in their communities of origin," said the study, which will go before a U.N. high-level meeting on international migration and development scheduled to take place Sep. 14-15.

Annan, who described his report as "an early road map for this new era of mobility", said the advantages that migration brings are not as well understood as they should be.

Migrants not only take on necessary jobs seen as less desirable by the established residents of host countries, but also stimulate demand and improve economic performance overall, he said.

The study also points out that developing nations benefit from an estimated 167 billion dollars a year sent home by migrant workers.

"The exodus of talent from poor countries to more prosperous often poses a severe development loss. But in many countries this is at least partially compensated by migrants' later return to, and/or investment in, their home countries, where profitable new businesses are established," it adds.

Migration is not a zero-sum game because it can benefit both sending and receiving countries at once. Significantly, says the report, many countries once known for emigration, including Ireland, South Korea and Spain, now boast thriving economies and host large numbers of immigrants.

In the study, Annan has proposed a global forum of the 191 member states to formulate new policy ideas and encourage an integrated approach to migration and development at both national and international levels.

"Such a forum would not produce negotiated outcomes," Annan said, "But it would give governments timely exposure to promising policy ideas, as analysed by the most relevant, qualified bodies from both inside and outside the U.N. system," he argued.

But most of all, he said, the proposed forum "would maintain our focus on international migration issues, while signaling that international migration is a normal but crucial element in the development process".

Kariyawasam agreed there was a need for such a global consultative forum to discuss all issues pertaining to migration in the context of soaring growth in migration arising out of the phenomena of globalisation.

"The nexus between migration and development can be one component of such a discussion. Most importantly, there must be a rights based approach to the issue of migration in line with international focus on protection and promotion of human rights for all," Kariyawasam told IPS.

Meanwhile, a proposal for an international conference on migration has been kicked around in the U.N. system for more than a decade but with no decision. Asked why member states are reluctant to support such a conference, Kariyawasam said this was a result of wide differences of opinion that still exist on this issue.

"However, it may not be possible to be in a denial mode for too long. Many aspects of migration now impact every country, society and community. Hence, the issue may have to be discussed soon at international level in a global forum. And migration can no more be considered only as a national issue," he added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

Share this


.