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Migration of the Monarch Butterfly

Towards a world on the move

What will we do if the world population starts to stampede?

Globalisation, restlessness amongst people who are economically and socially oppressed - or simply 'squeezed' in their societies - or a restlessness perhaps also expressed as an omen of climate crises ever-further advancing themselves.

Image: From The Oyamel Forests, The People Who Live There, and The Monarch Butterfly Migration

Will the world help, or control and punish? Where are we heading with what may well become the biggest crisis in modern history of human civilisation, as the world population starts to stampede?

On this page some thoughts from The Option in Azerbaijan in the lead-up to the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

This is where the challenge lies: Will governments, parliaments, employers and civil society fulfill the promise of human rights made to the world's nearly 200 million international migrants? The world will be watching.

"Right of Choice": A World on the Move

The Option, Azerbaijan
November 14, 2006

International migration is a vital part of today's globalized existence. It can play a key role in development and poverty reduction. It has clear benefits that could be enhanced and disadvantages that could be minimized. Despite this, many of the issues surrounding migration are complex and sensitive. The introduction of peoples from one culture into another tends to generate suspicion, fear and even downright xenophobia. High profile incidents involving migrants and heated debates have both underscored the stories of "migration gone bad". The millions of stories of "migration gone good" - of women, men and youth who leave their country and contribute to both their adopted and home countries through their skills, labour and taxes--tend to go largely untold.

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the migration landscape as transport and communications have improved within an increasingly globalized world. All nations are now involved with the movement of people--whether as origin, transit or receiving countries. The number of people counted as living outside their country of birth has almost doubled during the last 50 years, increasing to 191 million in 2005. Women now constitute almost half of all migrants and dominate in migration streams to developed countries.

Migration can be voluntary or forced, although the actual experience may contain elements of both. Most people migrate for labour, family reunification or marriage. The demand for labour migrants (i.e., those searching for better economic opportunities abroad) has been a major factor in rising levels of migration to developed countries. It is with respect to this group that experts invoke the potential role of migration in development and poverty reduction--especially given the significant impact that financial remittances and other benefits can have on countries of origin. Forced migration and trafficking, on the other hand, encompass the more poignant vulnerabilities associated with international movements particularly where it involves women and children.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, the proportion of international migrants worldwide has remained relatively low, growing only from 2.5 per cent of the total global population in 1960 to 2.9 per cent in 2000. Nevertheless, net migration accounts for a growing and major share of population growth in developed regions--three quarters in 2000-2005. While in developing regions, emigration has not led to significant decreases in population growth, in 48 countries, mostly small or island states, it has resulted in reductions of more than 15 per cent.

Today, the number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. International migrants would now constitute the world's fifth most populous country if they all lived in the same place--after China, India, the United States and Indonesia. Nevertheless, migration has actually slowed: that is, the absolute number of new international migrants has decreased from 41 million between 1975 and 1990 to 36 million between 1990 and 2005. Part of the decline can be attributed to the drop in the number of refugees.

Developing countries are experiencing a sharp reduction in the immigrant growth rate, while in developed countries (excluding the former Soviet Union), growth continues to expand: Of the 36 million who migrated between 1990 and 2005, 33 million wound-up in industrialized countries. These trends reveal that 75 per cent of all international migrants now live in only 28 countries. Between 1990 and 2005, 75 per cent of the increase occurred in only 17 countries, while migration actually decreased in 72 countries. In sum, migration is concentrated in a relatively small number of countries: One out of every four migrants lives in North America and one of every three in Europe.

Globalization and the Migration of Women

Today, women constitute almost half of all international migrants worldwide 95 million. Yet, despite contributions to poverty reduction and struggling economies, it is only recently that the international community has begun to grasp the significance of what migrant women have to offer. And it is only recently that policymakers are acknowledging the particular challenges and risks women confront when venturing into new lands.

While most women historically migrate for marriage or family reunification, the past decades have seen an increase in women--married and unmarried--who migrate alone or in the company of other women or fellow migrants outside of their family circle. Women are on the move in all parts of the world, drawn by the opportunities and forces of globalization. Biases regarding what constitute appropriate "male" or "female" labour, government policies and employer practices influence why and where women and men move, for what occupations and under what conditions.

While migrant women and men are both in demand, the latter are more likely to occupy highly skilled and better-paid jobs. Women, on the other hand, are often restricted to traditionally "female" occupations--such as domestic work, work in the service sectors (waitressing etc.), and sex work--frequently unstable jobs marked by low wages, the absence of social services and poor working conditions. Nevertheless, because care work and nursing remain traditional female roles, certain migration channels are now wide open--with formal mechanisms designed to fill the demand for female employees. However, even when migrating legally, women are often relegated to jobs where they are subject to discrimination, arbitrary employment terms and abuses.


Because of its underground nature, experts caution that trafficking data is rough and hard to gauge. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 2.45 million trafficking victims are currently toiling in exploitative conditions, and that another 1.2 million are trafficked annually, both across and within national borders. The US Department of State numbers are similar: between 600,000 and 800,000 women, men and children are trafficked across international borders each year--most for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Of these, the majority--up to 80 per cent--are women and girls. Up to 50 per cent are children.

Trafficked women are usually forced into prostitution and sex tourism, commercial marriages and other "female" occupations such as domestic work, agricultural and sweatshop labour. Human trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking and is a major source of organized crime revenue. The industry generates an estimated US$7 to $12 billion annually--although real numbers are difficult to come by. These numbers, however, reflect profits only from the initial sale of persons. The ILO estimates that once victims are in the destination country, traffickers net an additional US$32 billion a year--half generated in industrialized countries and almost one third in Asia.

Trafficking constitutes the dark "underside" of globalization. The opening-up of national borders and international markets has led not only to increased international flows of capital, goods and labour, but also to the globalization of organized crime. Improved information technologies and transportation allow transnational syndicates to operate as never before. The majority of victims are migrants in search of a better life who are usually lured by the false promise of a decent job. Increasingly restrictive immigration policies limit the possibility of legal entry, which is in turn driving more and more would-be migrants to unwittingly entrust themselves to traffickers.

Although trafficking differs from other types of migration, there is considerable overlap with both regular and irregular migration where it involves violence, confinement, coercion, deception and exploitation. A mail-order bride, for example, may enter the country legally but subsequently be forced into labour; a domestic worker can end up trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. Trafficking also intersects with smuggling. Unlike the latter, however, trafficking contains an element of coercion or deception while the relationship between migrants and smugglers is based on consent and usually ends upon arrival at the destination. In actual practice, however, distinctions can be fuzzy, and there are cases that contain elements of both.

Global phenomenon

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that is driven by demand and fuelled by poverty and unemployment. Many trafficking victims typically apply for advertised jobs as babysitters, models, hairdressers, dancers and waitresses--with friends, and sometimes even relatives, acting as recruiters. According to research in Serbia and Montenegro, 64 per cent of recruiters are acquaintances. Criminal networks, often working in collaboration with corrupt customs officials, will process travel documents and seize victims' passports upon arrival. Most women are forced into prostitution in order to pay off their "debt". Traffickers will often rape, isolate and/or drug victims in order to "break" their spirit and ensure compliance. Women and girls are often sold and resold and then re-trafficked to other destinations.

South-East Asia and South Asia are home to the largest numbers of internationally trafficked persons, at an estimated 225,000 and 150,000 respectively. The US Department of State estimates that more than 100,000 persons are trafficked from the former Soviet Union and 75,000 from Eastern Europe each year, while Africans account for an additional 50,000. The Department also maintains that approximately 100,000 persons are trafficked out of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Asia, the largest numbers of women trafficked are said to be within or from the region. The Greater Mekong and Indonesia are major trafficking areas. Thailand, in addition to being a destination country, serves as a source and transit hub for other Asian countries, Australia, the United States and Western Europe. India and Pakistan are major countries of destination for trafficked women and girls and are also transit points into the Middle East. In South Asia, child trafficking is of particular concern: "an extension of a serious child labour problem", which includes the exploitation of girls for domestic work.

Although trafficking victims come from all over the world, in Europe most now circulate from Eastern Europe, and numbers appear to be rising. Since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, researchers report that the number of women being trafficked outside the country has risen markedly. The IOM estimates that approximately 2,000 Lithuanian women and girls, mostly from poorer, less educated backgrounds, are illegally taken out of the country each year and forced into the sex trade. In Germany and the Netherlands, the number of victims registered has also increased in recent years.

According to the IOM, Turkey has become one of the "largest markets" for women trafficked from nearby former Soviet states, with crime syndicates there pocketing up to $3.6 billion in 2005. Of the number of sex trafficking victims identified in 2005, 60 per cent came from Moldova and Ukraine, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 24. In response, the government of Turkey is stepping up measures to prevent and crack down on trafficking.

In South-Eastern Europe, on the other hand, trafficking appears to be declining or has become less visible. Bosnia-Herzegovina exemplifies some of the emerging trends and difficulties inherent in putting a stop to the trade. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children noted during the 2005 mission that trafficking has "changed in magnitude and nature". Traffickers have adapted their modus operandi to the anti-trafficking strategy adopted by the Government.

Following large-scale government raids, traffickers have gone further underground--away from nightclubs and into private homes. Fewer women are coming forward, but whether this can be attributed to reduce trafficking is difficult to assess. Some fear deportation and others are reluctant to speak to the police, who have sometimes themselves been accused of soliciting their services.

The Southern Africa region is host to a wide range of activities. These include the trafficking of women and children from Eastern Europe, China, Malawi, Mozambique, and Thailand into South Africa. A 2005 inquiry conducted by the IOM in South Africa reveals that women continue to be brought in from the rural areas of Mozambique and Maputo to be sold to gold miners for "use as sex partners and domestic servants without remuneration". In West Africa, most trafficking involves girls who are then sold into domestic work--although the ILO notes that armed groups also engage in child trafficking. In Ethiopia, traffickers tend to operate small businesses, such as travel agencies and import-export companies' activities that require frequent travel to the Middle East.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, most women are trafficked from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico and are taken for the purposes of sexual exploitation to North America, Western Europe and other countries in the region. Up to 70,000 Brazilians, mostly trafficked women, are estimated to be working as prostitutes in other South American countries and in places as distant as Spain and Japan. Children from the region are also trafficked into the sex and drugs trade or exploited as domestic workers.

Trafficking victims to the United States come from no less than 50 countries and are often forced to toil in garment shops on the outskirts of Los Angeles, brothels in San Francisco, bars in New Jersey and slave-labour farm camps in Florida. United States officials note that 14,500 to 17,500 people are brought into the country for purposes of exploitation every year.

Although forced displacement entails risks for everyone who attempts it, women and girls face particular challenges during flight, through temporary refuge and in final settlement. In 2005, there were approximately 12.7 million refugees in the world, roughly half of them women, and 773,500 individuals seeking asylum globally. As well as risks and hazards, however, flight offers refugees an opportunity to escape exploitation, discrimination and persecution. The breakdown of society can also afford an opportunity to rebuild anew on a foundation of equality and respect for human rights. Following the end of hostilities, women refugees play a critical role in building a lasting peace and restoring social and economic order. For many refugee women, reconstruction can offer an escape from discrimination and the opportunity to exercise new-found autonomy. For many, however, it does not.

Women and girls face many dangers and obstacles throughout the entire refugee experience. When schools and medical facilities close, jobs are lost and armed groups seize control, it is largely women and girls who assume care for children, the infirm and the elderly. Many must contend with unwanted and forced pregnancies and have special needs relating to sexual and reproductive health issues. They also often bear a disproportionate share of responsibilities and burdens. Certain groups of women such as those who head households, ex-combatants, the elderly, the disabled, widows, young mothers and unaccompanied adolescent girls are more vulnerable and require special protection and support. Although women make up a higher proportion of elderly refugees, their particular needs are often neglected. Many are also widowed and care for orphaned or separated children.

The effective management of international migration requires global, regional and bilateral cooperation. In recent years, inter-governmental dialogue has intensified. Building on the momentum of recent high-level commitments, the year 2006 is a significant one for international migration and global policy-making, which will culminate at the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. This is where the challenge lies: Will governments, parliamentarians, employers and civil society fulfill the promise of human rights made to the world's nearly 200 million international migrants? The world will be watching.