Migrants and Refugees 2.3 per cent of Population: World Development Report, 2023

The annual World Development Report, 2023 by the World Bank quotes a Parsi legend, points to human migration for several thousand years and advocates policy changes to deal with migrants and refugees

People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside a temporary refugee shelter (Photo: Getty Images)
People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside a temporary refugee shelter (Photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

The World Bank’s annual World Development Report, 2023 is devoted to the subject of migration and is titled, “Migrants, Refugees, and Societies”. The objective, it says, is to encourage coolheaded thinking about this hot topic.

Migration, it begins by pointing out, has been a part of the human experience for the past 200,000 years. But the number of migrants outside their countries of birth is today 184 million, just 2.3 per cent of the world’s population. It is the same as in 1960.

The figure of 184 million migrants includes 31 million ‘fully documented and sometimes exploited guest workers in the oil rich Gulf Cooperation Council countries and 11 million citizens of the European Union who have opted to live and work in countries other than their countries of origin or birth.

The report quotes a Parsi legend. The leaders of the first Parsi migrants to the Gujarat coast, the legend says, were brought before the local ruler, Jadhav Rana. Unable to comprehend each other’s language, the ruler presented them with a vessel overflowing with milk and indicated that his land could not possibly accommodate more people. The Parsi head priest responded by putting some sugar into the milk, indicating that the migrants would enrich the local community without displacing the original inhabitants. They would dissolve like sugar, sweetening the society. Impressed, the ruler granted them land and the right to live and work in Gujarat.

The report points out that people migrate either because of economic opportunity or because of fear of persecution, the latter accounting for 5.5 million Syrian civil war refugees spread across Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. People flocking to the US borders are often ‘distressed migrants’ from failed or semi-failed states such as Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti.

Out of the total 184 million migrants, 37 million, the report estimates, are refugees. About 40 per cent (64 million economic migrants and 10 million refugees) live in high-income countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These are highand low-skilled workers and their families, people with an intent to settle, temporary migrants, students, as well as undocumented migrants and people seeking international protection.

Economic migration, the report points out, is driven by prospects of higher wages and access to better services and in 2020, about 84 per cent of migrants lived in a country that was wealthier than their own.

Moving borders however have costs that most poor people cannot afford, which probably explains the large number of illegal migrants from parts of India, notably Gujarat and Punjab, trying to cross borders into the US, UK and Canada.

Demographic changes have sparked an intensifying global competition for workers and talent, the report adds and cites examples of three countries.

Italy, with a population of 59 million, is projected to shrink by almost half, to 32 million, by 2100, with those above age 65 increasing from 24 to 38 percent of the population.

Mexico, traditionally an emigration country, has seen its fertility rate drop to barely replacement level. Nigeria, by contrast, is expected to expand its population from 213 million to 791 million, becoming the second most populous country in the world, after India, by the end of the century.

Climate change is also driving migration. About 40 per cent of the world’s population—3.5 billion people—live in places highly exposed to the impacts of climate change: water shortages, drought, heat stresses, sea level rise, and extreme events such as floods and tropical cyclones. Economic opportunities are dwindling in these regions, making them vulnerable and driving migration. Bangladesh is a case in point.

All said and done, however, the share of ‘foreign-born’ people (both migrants and naturalised citizens) has historically fluctuated between 2.7 per cent and 3.5 per cent of the world’s population, the report underscores.

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