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the facts


There are 100 million migrants and 20 million refugees in the world today. Refugees move because they have to. Some migrants go because they cannot make a living, others because they want a better life and some simply because they have enough money to travel. The number of migrants hosted by other countries continues to rise - a million people move each year, mostly within the Majority World. 1

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The movers


30 million people forced to move within their own countries (internally-displaced). There are 16 million in Africa, 7 million in Asia, 5 million in Europe and 3 million in South America. 1

10 million people who have left their homes because they can no longer make a living from the land - environmental destruction will make 60 million people landless or homeless by the end of the decade. 2

People moving from rural to urban areas - 80 million migrants live in cities and each year another one and a half million move there. 2

Migrant workers - over 35 million people work overseas. Asian women are the fastest-growing category of foreign workers, increasing by 800,000 each year. 3

The shakers

Immigration policy-makers rattle off numbers of people to be allowed into a country. Officials then make practical decisions about who can cross their borders. Lengthy and intrusive bureaucratic procedures often leave potential migrants frightened and agitated.

COUNTRY Admitted immigrants for 1998: population 4 Top three source countries Types of migrants
AUSTRALIA 1: 253 New Zealand
68,000 family and economic migrants per year. Children who sponsor their parents to immigrate have to earn at least A$23,400 ($13,765) a year.
Treatment of migrants 6 Immigrants denied social security until they have been in Australia for two years. Although 60 % of recent immigrants are educated, only 30 % have jobs.
Overall Grade: 4/10
COUNTRY Admitted immigrants for 1998: population 4 Top three source countries Types of migrants
CANADA 1: 143 Hong Kong
115,000-127,900 economic and 58,000 family.
Treatment of migrants 6 Spends around $286 per immigrant on language training. Satisfactory services. Current policy under attack from right-wing.
Overall Grade: 7/10
COUNTRY Admitted immigrants for 1998: population 4 Top three source countries Types of migrants
UNITED STATES 1: 388 Mexico
480,000 family, 140,000 economic and 55,000 other migrant.
Treatment of migrants 6 682.7 million illegal immigrants were legalized recently. $495 million is spent on incarcerating illegal migrants while services for immigrants remain minimal.
Overall Grade: 5/10

A mixed crowd

Migration - including colonialism, settlement and family reunion - has created multicultural societies. It has also boosted the number of inhabitants - the population increase due to immigration since 1945 is 38% in Australia, 19% in Canada, 15% in the former West Germany, and between 5 and 10% in France, Belgium and Sweden. 6

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Family gatherings

Migrants urge their families to join them. For example, Pakistanis tend to move to Britain where their relatives have already settled. Canada and the US accept as many migrants each year as the whole of Europe - mostly due to family ties. 6

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Hurting the host?

There is a popular but misguided belief that migrants harm host countries by taking jobs and straining social services. In fact, they enhance economic growth and create employment. They invest money, shop, pay taxes and use services, all of which contributes directly to the local economy. And they add skills, knowledge and labour to the workforce.

  • Countries which have had high levels of immigration such as Australia, Canada, and the US have not had unusually high levels of unemployment. 1
  • Migrants in the US are more likely to own homes than non-migrants. They pay more in taxes than they take out through federal and state assistance. 6
  • In Australia an increase in immigration of one per cent from 1900 to 1975 led to an eight-per-cent increase in capital investment. 1
  • Professional migrants who arrived between 1961 and 1972 contributed an estimated $25 billion to the US economy. 6
  • In 1998, 48% of Americans say immigrants contribute more than they take, while 39% believe the opposite. This has changed from 1994 when only 36% thought migrants contributed more and 54 % believed the opposite. 6
  • In 1991 foreign workers sent $71 billion home - more than the total flow of international aid and second only to global profits from the oil trade. 7


    Cities have the most diverse mix of people. Migrants are lured to the bright lights by jobs, families, friends and the city's reputation for tolerance and diversity. 6

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    The world's most multicultural cities (percentage of immigrants)


    1 Peter Stalker, The Work of Strangers (International Labour Organization 1994).
    2 International Organization for Migration website http://www.iom.ch/
    3 International Labour Organization Website http://www.ilo.org/
    4 CANADA: A nation of immigrants (RL Taylor Publishing 1998).
    5 'Workers of the world', The Economist Vol 345 No 8041.
    6 Migration News (Centre for Immigration Studies, 1998).
    7 George Lodge, Managing Globalization in the Age of Interdependence (paper) 1997.

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New Internationalist issue 305 magazine cover This article is from the September 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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