Migration, the story of humanity | Sunday Observer

Migration, the story of humanity

Wherever we live, we are all migrants. In fact, migration is the very foundation of humanity. According to latest research, the first humanoids migrated from what is now East Africa nearly 120,000 years ago to other parts of Africa and the world. Here in Sri Lanka, we are said to be descendants of Prince Vijaya, who came to our shores from India. In the modern world, whole countries have been founded by immigrants. Among these countries are USA, Australia and New Zealand. In essence, human history is actually a story of migration.

It is therefore appropriate that the United Nations has set aside a separate day (December 18) to mark the contribution of migration to the moulding of our world and to highlight the very modern issue of mass migration that occurs as a result of poverty, conflict and even environmental problems.

From the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh to the Syrians fleeing to Europe, migration has become a defining issue of our times as thousands of migrants have perished during the perilous voyage to their intended destinations. More than 2,700 migrants (out of 138,000) died while trying to reach Western Europe in 2017 alone.


The total number of international migrants has increased from an estimated 175 million in 2000 to 244 million persons in 2015. Nearly two thirds of all international migrants live in Europe (76 million) and Asia (75 million). Migration is now more widely distributed across more countries. However, today, the top 10 countries of destination receive a smaller share of all migrants than in 2000. One of every 10 migrants is under the age of 15.

The impact of remittance flow is also significant having reached US$ 436 billion in 2014 – far exceeding Official Development Assistance and, excluding China. Mounting evidence indicates that international migration is usually positive, both, for countries of origin and of destination. Itspotential benefits for developing countries are larger than the potential gains from international trade.

Migration can be both legal and illegal. In the former category are people from developing countries with skills and professional qualifications who legally obtain permanent residency and citizenship in countries such as, Australia and Canada with generally low populations. Many advanced and dynamic economies need migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and they cannot find local workers willing to take them at going wages.

By performing tasks that either would go undone or cost more, migrants allow native citizens to perform other, more productive and better-paid jobs.There are also instances where people who go to other countries for work or studies are offered permanent residency to retain their expertise and knowledge for the betterment of the host country’s economy.

In the latter category are people who try to escape their own countries to regions such as Europe and Australia due to economic reasons, conflict or other factors.

It must be noted that the poorest people in any country generally do not have the resources to bear the costs and risks of international migration. International migrants are thus usually drawn from middle-income households.

If they succeed in their bid to reach a “greener pasture”, they become refugees or asylum seekers, but some of them end up being deported to the home country. The trafficking and smuggling of persons is an integral part of migration, the difference being that persons are trafficked against their will for slavery or prostitution while those smuggled are undertaking the journey on their own volition. Human smuggling rings charge exorbitant amounts for a rickety boat ride and leave the migrants midway at sea with only two options – getting caught by navies and coastguards of destination countries or death by drowning.

Fundamental rights

Illegal migration has become a major issue in many countries to the point where extremist political parties have sprung up to “protect the borders” of their respective countries against a perceived “alien invasion”.

These parties spread fear and suspicion about the immigrants among the native population. Ironically, many, if not all, of these countries have themselves been founded by immigrants.

Respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all migrants is essential to reap the benefits of international migration, though countries are free to address concerns such as extremism and terrorism.

Migration almost always enriches a country’s economy and culture. Countries such as the USA would not have developed to this extent if not for the massive contribution made by migrants. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transport, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places.

Migration draws increasing attention in the world. Mixed with elements of unforeseeability, emergency, and complexity, the challenges and difficulties of international migration require enhanced cooperation and collective action among countries and regions.

The United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM) plays a catalytic role in this regard with the aim of creating a dialogue within countries and regions. IOM also conducts awareness programs and Public Service Announcements (PSAs) such as the one aired on local TV which warns against illegal migration to Australia.

Migration does not necessarily have to be from one country to another. Most countries suffer from the phenomenon of domestic migration, where youth from backward villages migrate to the more prosperous cities in search of jobs and educational opportunities. This has a severe effect on the villages as the talent pool available for farming and traditional village industries drops almost to zero. This is why it is essential to create equal opportunities for all youth in the villages as well as in the cities. There is also the phenomenon of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) mostly arising as a result of conflict.


Migration, though not a new phenomenon by any means, is re-defining the world we live in. It is essentially a two-way street.

Developing countries must do more to create opportunities for youth within their boundaries which will dampen the enthusiasm to migrate.

Destination countries too must be more compassionate towards the plight of genuine migrants fleeing conflict and persecution while balancing their national interests and resources. The world will be a much better place to live in if we can all get along.