An economist's view on migration and refugee?


Few issues have been so contentious in recent years as international migration. The refugee crisis sparked not least by the Syrian war has shown that policies governing migration are in a tangle. To quote Jeffrey Sachs' recent article (2016): 'There is no international regime that establishes standards and principles for national migration policies, other than in the case of refugees'. To add to the tangle, many issues are often bundled up together in the public debate, and it can be difficult to disentangle the various elements in the mix. This is not helpful from a policy perspective. Uncovering some of the key facts on international migrations--both voluntary and forced--can help us understand the issues currently at hand. From an economist's perspective, it is important to distinguish between root causes of migration as well as consider the positive effects of migrants on local economies.

Some facts on international migration and refugees

According to most recent UN DESA Population Division projections international migration is likely to increase in the coming years, and has done so for decades. Therefore, a serious debate on migration is now more topical than ever. Demographic trends in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa diverge to such an extent that the push-and-pull of migration will intensify as the population of Europe gets older while that of Africa younger. In the midst of all this, it is important to keep in mind some basic facts that often get trampled in the heated debate on refugees (see World Bank Development Indicators and UNHCR relevant data).

The majority of international migrants are not forcibly displaced. In 2015, approximately 9% cent (or 21.3 million) of all international migrants were international refugees; this number is only slightly higher today than in 1990. Furthermore, out of the 65.3 million refugees worldwide, most -40.8 million--are displaced within their own country.


Most international migration occurs between countries within the same major area. For example, the volume of South-South migration is higher than South-North migration. Also, most migrants originate from middle-income countries and reside in high-income countries.


Even though most international migrants reside in the developed world, most refugees (nearly 90%) are hosted by middle-income countries. In 2015, over half (54%) of international refugees were from Syria, Afghanistan, or Somalia; and the main...

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