Refugees, inequality, and human development.

Author:Richmond, Anthony H.


This paper examines the relation between refugee movements and indicators of income, education, and life expectancy in sending and receiving countries. Countries which score low on the Human Development Index are more likely to experience conflict giving rise to internal displacement and refugee movements. Wealthier countries accept the better educated for permanent settlement, while admitting less-skilled manual workers and asylum seekers on a temporary basis.


Cet article examine les relations entre les mouvements de refugies et les indicateurs de revenus, l'education et l'esperance de vie dans les pays de depart et les pays d'accueil. Les pays avec un score bas sur l'Indice du developpement humain ont le plus de probabilite de connaitre des conflits provoquant des deplacements internes et des mouvements de refugies. Les pays plus riches acceptent les mieux eduques pour l'etablissement permanent, tout en admettant les travailleurs manuels moins eduques ainsi que les demandeurs d'asile sur une base temporaire.


The huge disparities in living standards between the developed and less developed regions of the world account for much international migration, including refugee movements. There were an estimated 200 million international migrants in 2005. (1) They accounted for approximately 12.9 per cent of the population of North America and 7.7 per cent in Europe, but less than 2 per cent of the population of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. (2) While states reserve the right to control movement across borders and endeavour to prevent "illegal" immigration, migration occurs with or without legal sanction. People move from less developed to developed countries and regions, to perform menial or dirty work, supply field labour for agro-business, provide domestic services, or work in the sex trade. Many are victims of unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers. An estimated 800,000 people are trafficked annually. (3) At the same time there is a "brain drain" of highly qualified professionals, including much-needed doctors and nurses. (4) The term "much-needed" applies both to the sending and receiving countries. The net gains to wealthy countries raise serious ethical questions and issues concerning appropriate compensation that have been debated since the 1960s. (5)

The inequalities, which undoubtedly exist within wealthy countries, pale in significance when compared with the inequalities between them and the rest of the world. Poverty in Canada, Britain, and other OECD countries is a relative concept. It bas no similarity to the absolute levels of deprivation experienced in the Third World. The world average gross national income per capita in 2001 was US$5,120. The range was from $430 in low-income countries, with an average of $26,510 for the most advanced industrial countries. (6) The Human Development Index (HDI) combines indicators of income, education, and life expectancy into a single measure of the quality of life in various countries and regions of the world. (7) Table 1 summarizes the data. It indicates that Canada, with a score of .949 on the index, enjoys a very high quality of life, as do all the OECD countries, with an average score of .892. Developing countries' average score was .694. The highest score, .963, was achieved by Norway and the lowest score was that of Niger at .281. Table 1 also shows the huge differences between wealthy countries and others, measured by gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, and the gross enrolment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary education. As the UN report notes, variation in income, health, and education exist in every country, and inequalities associated with gender, race, and ethnicity interact and are reinforcing across generations. (8)

There is a close connection between the incidence of violent conflict and low levels of income, and/or low scores on the Human Development Index. Nine out ten countries at the bottom of the Human Development Index have experienced violent conflict since 1990. (9) Afghanistan, in particular, has experienced both external and internal conflict, including invasion by the Soviet Union and, more recently, the United States and its allies, in the "war against terrorism." It is not surprising that Afghanistan has been the source of the largest concentration of refugees, mostly located in camps in Iran and Pakistan. Other major source countries for refugees in 2004 were Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Somalia. To these must be added an additional 5.4 million internally displaced persons worldwide. These include people escaping conflicts in Africa...

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