Story of Migration

What is migration?

Migration is a key factor that determines the population growth, structure and composition of a region. All the civilisations existing today and the ones we have known are products of migration. Migration is certainly how human organisations advance and undoubtedly, we as a species, are the most invasive, both collectively and individually. We can trace Homo Sapiens from their roots in South Africa (often known as the cradle of humanity) which are now spread across the globe. Have a look at the migration map below and notice the tracks of human migration. Homo Sapiens gradually took over Homo Erectus and Neanderthals and are the only human species left. Humans are the only species known to have left this planet and aim at populating other celestial bodies.

Tracks of homo sapiens
Tracks of homo sapiens
Questions to be asked here are…

Where did the other two species go? Why are there only homo sapiens left? Are the homo-sapiens the first known invaders? Despite belonging to the same species, Homo sapiens: we continually exhibit territorial behaviour. This raises the question of why we display this tendency.

“Migration is defined as the movement of persons away from their place of usual residence, either across an international border or within a country.” (IOM)

The dictionary defines the word ‘migrate’ as “to move from one region or habitat to another…”

Therefore, while studying the socio-economy of a country, we have to consider the country’s fertility and mortality, along with migration patterns. Look at the graphs below, which show the population growth rates of different countries with and without migration. Try to observe the differences between different countries. We will later in this article discuss the reasons behind such patterns.

Now consider the following statements about migration

  • Its is “permanent or semi-permanent change of residence of an individual or group of people” (Tiwari, R.C., 2009)
  • It is spatial mobility of population between two geographical units (Johnston,R.J. 1986)
  • It can be permanent or semi-permanent (Lee, 1966)

Migration is a very complex phenomenon. Apart from a set of social, economic, political and environmental factors, migration of population in any region is determined, to a large extent by the perception and behaviour of individuals concerned. Therefore, there is no comprehensive theory of migration. Although attempts have been made, from time to time, to integrate migration into economic and social theory, spatial analysis and behavioural theory (Johnston et al, 1981:218).

Who can be considered a migrant?

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) any person who does not stay at his/her ‘habitual’ place of residence is considered a migrant, regardless of his “(1) place of birth; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is.” (

Emigrate / Immigrate / Migrate

Emigrate (out-migration): This means moving from one’s own country
Immigrate (in migration): To come to another country
Migrate: Means to move from one region to another (without any reference)

What causes migration?

Why do people stay or chose to move? There are various factors controlling the movement of people. Occasionally, the cause of movement or migration is visible but sometimes it is difficult to tell. Such causes of migration can be voluntary or forced.

People move (migrate) due to certain circumstances. Such factors are defined as ‘Push and Pull’ or ‘Repel and Attraction’ between two places.

Push Factors: These are the factors that give people enough reason to emigrate or out-migrate from a certain region

Pull Factors: These are the factors that attract people to a certain location and make them immigrate or in migrate.

push and pull factors of migration
Image Source
Natural CausesCalamities like Climate Change, floods, volcanoes etc.
Economic CausesPeople move in search of better life moving from developing to developed, rural to urban
Socio-CulturalTraditions of marriage where women leave their native place, in search of religious freedom,
Demographic CausesPeople move due to certain demographic composition
Political CausesGovernment policies, colonisation, wars etc.
Table 1: Causes or factors of migration

The aforementioned causes act both as push and pull factors. A certain factor that gives a push in a certain region pulls people to their destination. For instance, a person is pushed out of a region due to bad climate while contrary to this he is pulled or attracted to a place with a better climate.

Migration / Circulation / Commuting

Migration is the movement of people in geographical space, this movement can be either temporary or permanent. It usually implies a change in residence permanently or temporarily (Zelensky, 1971).

Circulation is temporary and repetitive moves without “any declared intention of a permanent or long-lasting change in residence” (Zelinsky, 1971)

Commuting is short-term travel from home. There is no change of residence in this case and is not considered migration.

Migration Policy

In modern times government policy controls migration (in stable countries). Governments frame such policies to minutely monitor the inflow of migrants based on the potential of the immigrating population and the domestic requirements and make amendments to visa laws. Some countries follow a point-based system and assign migrating applicants points based on their potential. Generally, tourist and student visas are easier to obtain for developed countries as they bring in valuable foreign currency while work visas and permanent residency are quite complex and complicated to attain.

Brain Drain

brain drain
Image Source
canada immigration
Graph 2

It is the most noticeable or rather the most vexed upon phenomenon of migration for a country. A developed country presents a greener pasture and consequently, exerts a strong pull effect. Whereas a compromised quality of life pushes people away from developing countries. The outflow of talent and skilled labour from developing countries of Asia and Africa causes real hindrances in the development of these countries.

Indeed remittances from rich countries bring in valuable foreign exchange, still it is no comparison for people, the real gold of a country. Often those citizens who take advantage of the best resources of a developing country raise up their standards and move out, making that country poorer not only of consumed resources but also destabilising its future. See Graph 1 of Canada (and other developed countries like the US and Germany) given above. A considerable part of its population growth is due to such migrants from developing countries Graph 2.

Forced Migration

Another concerning type of migration is forced migration. Usually, this type of migration is triggered due to certain threats.

Ukrainian war migration
Image 1

Specific terms are used for these migrants like refugee, asylum seeker and internally displaced person.

Take a look at image 1. It shows one of the biggest refugee crises our generation has seen. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces which started on 24th February 2022 has pushed not only long-term native Ukrainians but also thousands of students studying and working in Ukraine to evacuate the country overnight. It is estimated that around 7 million Ukrainians have been displaced, while 13 million are stranded ( India alone brought around 16000 of its citizens back under ‘Operation Ganga’ in the year 2022 (

afghan refugees
Image 2

Similarly, Afghan refugees have been displaced for more than 40 years, both in and out of their country.

“Afghanistan’s displacement crisis is one of the largest and most protracted in UNHCR’s seven-decade history. We’re now seeing a third generation of Afghan children born in exile,’’
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Climate Change & Migration

Climate change poses a powerful challenge to what is perhaps the single most important political conception of the modern era: the idea of freedom, which is central not only to contemporary politics but also to the humanities, the arts and literature.

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

Certainly, climate is a significant factor that drives migration, leading to both internal and external forced mass migration. Today anthropogenic climate change in return is shaping the geopolitics of the modern world. The new world order will be based on the dictates of the climate and its signs are already showing in international laws and policies.

In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration—with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption.
IOM (International Organization for Migration Geneva)
climate change displaces population

It is estimated that subsequently by 2050, an approximate 200 million people will be displaced as a result of climate change. (Source: IOM). Such climate migrants are also recognised by the term ‘Climate Refugee’.

Furthermore, as the world’s average temperature rises, the occurrence of extreme weather events will increase. Thereupon, displacing more people and destabilising both source and destination regions.

Slave Trade

africa slave trade
Overview of the slave trade out of Africa, 1500-1900. David Eltis and David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade(New Haven, 2010). Source

Perhaps, another example of forced migration is the slave trade. Undeniably, it has its roots in the colonial era but still exists locally and globally. The modern word for slavery is human trafficking and is an international problem.

Trans Atlantic slave trade is one of the infamous historical accounts of forced migration responsible for the migration of 10 to 12 million Africans to North America. Today around 12 per cent of Americans are Americans of African descent (2020 U.S. Census).

Such migrations were a part of trade between the colonies throughout the globe. Britishers would often transport slaves from their colonies in Africa and Asia to work on plantations in other countries.