International migration is a major component of the history of humanity. Since the dawn of time, humans migrate, move, evolve on the planet in freedom. Finally, until the strange concept of borders emerges. At first, there were more natural boundaries between territories, like mountains, rivers. Then came the effective control, mainly military, of a given territory within the dividing lines with the outside. Exterior considered the enemy, most of the time. The States thus formed throughout history then wanted to control this space as best as possible, defend it against possible aggressors, and even extend it, by force generally. The main reasons being the control of resources. Land, water, mineral wealth.
Despite these historical geopolitical developments that are supposed to slow down travel, people have continued to migrate. And even more and more. In a legal way and quite uninhibited most of the time. But also to escape an unenviable fate: extreme poverty, deadly conflicts, intimidation, theft of land and resources, forced displacement, etc. Territories considered as virgin, or at least almost empty, and filled with economic potentials, thus became populated as, like the Americas, Australia or the Asian part of Russia. These displacements of populations have greatly varied the proportion of immigrants from one country to another. Some states have more than half of their immigrant population, while others are less than 0.1 percent.
The UN counted 258 million migrants in the world in 2017. A massive phenomenon, certainly, but which remains very relative. Indeed, it only concerns… 3.4% of the world’s population. In 1965, this proportion was 2.3%. In 1990, it rose to 2.9%.
Humans live mainly in their country of birth.
The United States has the largest number of immigrants in the world. They were 48.2 million in 2015 according to the United Nations. Then come, far behind, Russia (11.6 million), Saudi Arabia (10.8), Germany (10.2), the United Kingdom (8.4), the United Arab Emirates ( 8), France (7.9), Canada (7.6) and Australia (6.7).
But in proportion to their total population, it is quite different. The United Arab Emirates becomes the most cosmopolitan country, with 87.3% of its population of immigrant origin, that is to say born abroad. Saudi Arabia accounts for 34.1%, Switzerland (29%), Australia (28.2%), Canada (21%), Austria (17.2%), the United States ( 15.1%), the United Kingdom (12.9%), Spain (12.7%), Germany (12.5%) and France (12.3%).
Overall, smaller countries often host a larger share of immigrants or refugees. Lebanon for example, hosts about 20% of refugees on its territory, from countries at war (Syria) or in latent conflict (Palestine) of the region. But in some countries, living conditions and the healthy economy are attractive, as in Luxembourg (46% of immigrants) or Switzerland (29%).
Some large countries attract few people, such as India (0.4%), China (0.07%), Brazil (0.3%) or Japan (1.7%). These countries, on the other hand, provide many emigrants. India, for example, is the country that provides the largest contingent of emigrants, with 15.9 million people, or 1.2% of its population. Mexico is second, with 12.5 million emigrants (10%), mainly to the United States. Russia (10.4 million, 7.2%), China (9.7 million, 0.7%), Bangladesh (7.2 million, 4.5%) and Syria (6.2 million, 33.3%) ) follow.
Here again, the ranking changes as soon as we talk about proportion. The country with the most people leaving is Bosnia and Herzegovina with 45.6%. Cape Verde (41.8%) and Albania (38.9%) also lost their population.
As some countries are very active in the field of migration (the United Kingdom, for example, which has 8.4 million immigrants and 4.7 million emigrants in 2015), many others seem completely closed to the phenomenon, such as Japan. This country has both few immigrants (1.7%) and few emigrants (0.6%).
For a long time confined to a displacement of the countries of the north towards the countries of the north and the south, the world witnessed a true “reversal of the migratory flows”, according to the expression of Alfred Sauvy. Now, it is the southern countries, after the great wave of decolonization of the second half of the 20th century, which provide the largest share of international migrants, with flows south-south (97 million) and south-north (89 million). The north-north flow concerns a quota of 57 million people, and the north-south flow is estimated at 14 million.
Human migration is a natural and global, historical phenomenon, which is increasing in spite of the obstacles, while remaining marginal among the populations. People who migrate usually do so for vital reasons, and we must continue to let humans free from their movements as much as possible.
Nobody is illegal, everyone is born on this planet.
Source: Atlas of the World Population, Gilles Pison, 2019, Autrement