Facts and trends

Illustration of estimated migration movements between developing and emerging countries.
Illustration of estimated migration movements between developing and emerging countries. The arrows connect the migrants' areas of origin with their areas of destination. © flowminder.org

Migration is as old as humanity itself. But the defining aspect of migration in the 20th and 21st centuries is the complexity and scale of the phenomenon, which has been transformed by increasing globalisation and new transport and communication technologies. The number of international migrants currently stands at around 244 million.

244 million international migrants are equivalent to about 3.3% of the world's population. Some 150 million of them have left their home countries to find work. Of these migrant workers, around half are women and a third are young people aged between 15 and 34.

There are currently over 79 million displaced people worldwide according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  They have left their countries of origin because of persecution or exposure to serious violence. This includes more than 30 million children and young people under 18 years of age. The number of child refugees under the UNHCR's mandate has almost doubled in the space of 10 years.

In addition to the documented refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers, millions more are forced to leave their homes involuntarily.  Because their situation does not correspond to any internationally recognised category, they do not fall under any established legal protection system such as the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Drivers of involuntary migration include natural disasters and the negative effects of climate change, the consequences of state fragility, systemic poverty and a lack of prospects.

Migration movements between different countries, including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa, as well as within South Africa.
Illustration of estimated migration movements in South Africa. © flowminder.org

Gaps in protection in international migration

The lack of protection for migrants in vulnerable situations remains one of the major loopholes in current international migration governance. Significant progress has been made in recent years in recognising that all migrants, irrespective of their legal residency status, have fundamental human rights that must be protected. However, the major challenge is ensuring that these international obligations are honoured.

This is where, for example, the protection agenda for people displaced by natural disasters and the effects of climate change, which evolved from the Swiss-Norwegian Nansen Initiative, can make a difference. The protection agenda highlights ways of improving protection for affected populations through measures in various relevant areas, such as disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and development efforts to strengthen the resilience of affected communities.