What is Migration?

Introduction to Migration

Human migration is an age-old phenomenon that stretches back to the earliest periods of human history. Migration is the movement of persons away from their place of usual residence, either across an international border or within a State In the modern era, emigration and immigration continue to provide States, societies and migrants with many opportunities. At the same time, migration has emerged in the last few years as a critical political and policy challenge in matters such as integration, displacement, safe migration and border management. In most discussions on migration, the starting point is usually numbers. Understanding changes in scale, emerging trends and shifting demographics related to global social and economic transformations, such as migration, help us make sense of the changing world we live in and plan for the future. The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population. A first important point to note is that this is a very small minority of the world’s population, meaning that staying within one’s country of birth overwhelmingly remains the norm. The great majority of people do not migrate across borders; much larger numbers migrate within countries (an estimated 740 million internal migrants in 2009). That said, the increase in international migrants has been evident over time – both numerically and proportionally – and at a slightly faster rate than previously anticipated.


  1. Why is it important to understand ‘scale’ when thinking about the issue of migration?

  2. Based on your reading of this passage and the information from the previous section, what can you infer about the challenge of international migration in the future?

Migration and population change in Africa

Many African countries have experienced significant changes in the size of their populations in recent years, as shown in figure 2, which ranks the top 20 African countries with the largest proportional population change between 2009 and 2019. All top 20 countries were in sub-Saharan Africa and each underwent substantial population growth during this period. These 20 countries reflect the trend across the continent, with Africa currently the fastest-growing region in the world and expected to surpass 2 billion people by 2050. It is important to note that the largest proportional population changes from 2009 to 2019 occurred in countries with relatively smaller populations, as to be expected. Africa’s most populous countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt – are not among the top 20; however, all three countries also experienced increases in their populations. The population growth in Africa is in contrast to population change in Europe, for example, which has experienced slower population increases in some countries and even decline in others over the same period. The significant increase in international migration within Africa has contributed to the recent population growth at the national level. While migration is not the only factor, with high fertility rates and increasing life expectancy also playing roles, increased intraregional migration within the continent has influenced population changes in some countries. For example, the share of international migrants as a proportion of national population in Equatorial Guinea has sharply increased in recent years. In 2005, international migrants accounted for less than 1 per cent of Equatorial Guinea’s population; by 2019, this figure had increased to nearly 17 per cent.


  1. The selection uses the example of Equatorial Guinea to make a point about population change. What does the text suggest may be a major contributing factor to Equatorial Guinea’s population growth?

  2. The author of this selection compares the population change of Africa with that of Europe. What is the major difference highlighted in the text?