Story of Migration

What is migration?

Migration is an important 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. In fact we can say that migration is how civilisations evolve. As a species humans are most invasive, both collectively and individually. We can trace Homo-sapiens from their roots in South-Africa (often known as the cradle of mankind) 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

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? Why are we territorial if we all are the same species i.e. homo-sapiens?

“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 meaning of the word migrate is “to move from one region or habitat to another…”

When we want to study the socio-economy of a country we have to view that 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 International Organisation for Migration (UN Migration Agency) 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.” (un.org)


What’s the difference?

Emigrate / Immigrate / Migrate

Emigrate (out migration): Means to move 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. Sometimes the cause of movement is visible but other times it is difficult to tell. These causes can also be voluntary or forced.

When people move there is a cause i.e. Push and Pull or repel and attraction between two places.

Push Factors: Are the factors that give people enough reason to emigrate or out migrate of certain region

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

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 above-mentioned 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 example, a person moves out of a region because of bad climate and moves to a place with a better climate.


What’s the difference?

Migration / Circulation / Commuting

Migration is the movement of people in geographical space, this movement can be either temporary or permanent. It usually implies 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 migration is controlled by government policy (in stable countries). Governments frame policies to minutely monitor the inflow of migrants based on the potential of the immigrating population and the domestic requirements and make amendments in visa laws. Some countries follow a point-based system and assign migrating applicants points based on their potential. Usually 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

Image Source
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 exerts a strong pull effect while a compromised quality of life pushes people away from developing countries. Out flow of talent and skilled labour from developing countries of Asia and Africa cause real hindrances in the development of these countries. Even though remittences from the rich countries bring in valuable foreign exchange, 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 standard 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 US and Germany) given above. 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.

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 crisis our generation has seen. Invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces which started on 24th February 2022 has pushed not only longterm 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 (unhrc.org). India alone brought around 16000 of its citizens back under ‘Operation Ganga’ in year 2022 (thehindu.com).


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.
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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
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Climate is a prominent deriving force behind migration, responsible for forced mass migration both internal and external. Today the 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 the 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)
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It is estimated that by 2050 the number of people displaced due to climate change will be around 200 million (Source: IOM). Such climate migrants are also recognised by the term ‘Climate Refugee’.

As the world average temperature rises, the occurrence of extreme weather events will increase displacing more people and destabilising both source and destination regions.


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

Another example of forced migration is the slave trade. 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 migration of 10 to 12 million Africans to North America. Today around 12 per cent of Americans are of African-American ethnicity (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.