Why do people migrate?

Read the selection from the World Migration Report 2022 and then answer the questions.

Environmental change and natural hazards play a significant role in mobility and displacement in the region. The Pacific region is disaster prone with high vulnerability to earthquakes, floods, forest fires and droughts. The intensity and frequency of such events are of concern, marked recently by the devastating bushfires in Australia that blazed from July 2019 until February 2020, burning 17 million hectares of land. This historic event triggered 65,000 new displacements, mostly from pre-emptive evacuations. Natural hazards and displacement can be more acute relative to population size, such as the volcano eruptions in Papua New Guinea in June 2019, which triggered an estimated 20,000 displacements, and Cyclone Harold, which hit Vanuatu in April 2020 displacing around 80,000 individuals, approximately a quarter of the population. Environmental change and natural hazards lead to a spectrum of mobility decisions among individuals and communities. Coping and adaptation strategies, along with resources and social networks may inform decisions to stay in high-risk environments. People’s migration decisions as they relate to environmental change will continue to influence demographic change in the region. Asylum seekers and refugees are a prominent feature of the region. The top three countries hosting asylum seekers and refugees are Australia (138,000), Papua New Guinea (11,000) and New Zealand (2,500). In the last decade, approximately 11 per cent of all resettled refugees were welcomed in Australia. The number of places under Australia’s Humanitarian Programme rose to 18,762 in 2018/2019.414 In 2019/2020, Australia provided 13,170 Humanitarian Programme places out of the total 18,750 allocated for the reporting year. The programme was not fully delivered in 2019/2020 due to the temporary suspension of granting of all offshore humanitarian visas in March 2020 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. In its annual Budget for 2020/2021, the Australian Government reduced its humanitarian places by 5,000, returning to the pre-2017 level of 13,750 places per annum. COVID-19 travel restrictions have meant that by July 2021, it is estimated that around 10,000 people granted humanitarian visas overseas will remain offshore and be unable to enter Australia due to continuing significant international travel restrictions. The subsequent federal budget (2021/2022) confirmed that programme places would remain at 13,750 for several years to come. By May 2021, there were just over 230 people remaining offshore (around 100 on Nauru and 130 in Papua New Guinea), many having been transferred from Australia more than seven years prior. Overall, it is estimated that Australia allocated around AUD 8.3 billion toward offshore processing of around 4,000 asylum seekers between 2012 and 2020.

Seasonal labour migration regimes continue to facilitate emigration from Pacific Island countries to Australia and New Zealand. Labour migration programmes such as the Seasonal Workers Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme in Australia and the Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme in New Zealand recruit migrants primarily from the Pacific and South-East Asia to occupy jobs in agriculture and accommodation (in Australia) and horticulture and viticulture (in New Zealand).399 The emigration from Pacific Island countries to Australia and New Zealand is significant due to the relatively small population sizes and the pace at which participation in these programmes has grown, particularly in Australia, where there is no cap. The majority of migrants that participate in these seasonal migrant worker programmes are from Vanuatu and Tonga. For example, it is estimated that in 2018, 13 per cent of the Tongan population aged 20–45 emigrated to work in Australia and New Zealand. An evaluation of the seasonal worker programmes demonstrates that while the economic opportunity for migrants from the surrounding Pacific Island countries drives participation, the departure of migrants can impact population growth and traditional social systems, and pose opportunity costs to local production in these regions. Additionally, it is recorded that the vast majority of workers are male. In Australia for example, only 14.6 per cent of participants in the 2017–2018 cohort were women. With regard to gender equality, this is a cause for concern as women have to carry out unpaid work in their households in the absence of men and may miss the opportunity for work experience and financial gain.


  1. What are the major drivers of migration in Oceania? Give at least two examples from the text above.

  2. What migration drivers might be more likely to be found in countries in the Oceania region as compared to other countries in the world?

  3. How might migration due to environmental factors be classified as voluntary migration? In what ways would it be involuntary? Explain with examples.

  4. When it comes to drivers of migration, how might environmental and economic challenges in the region relate to each other?