How do people migrate?

How do people migrate?

Pathways of mobility vary in terms of safety and adherence to regular migration governance regimes. This module will explore the pathways people choose to migrate, both in the physical sense—air, land and sea—as well as the legal sense, what we call regular and irregular migration.

Migrants with visas (from WMR 2018, Ch. 7)

Where possible, migrants will choose to migrate through regular pathways on visas. From a migrant’s perspective, the experience can be profoundly different impacting the migrant as well as his/her family, including those who may remain in the origin country. First, visas denote authority to enter a country and so offer a form of legitimacy when arriving in and traveling through a country. A valid visa provides a greater chance of being safeguarded against exploitation. Second, traveling on visas is easier logistically, as the availability of travel options is far greater. In some cases, it can mean the difference between a journey being feasible or not. Third, visas provide a greater level of certainty and confidence in the journey, which is much more likely to take place as planned, including in relation to costs. Traveling on visas is more likely to be safer, more certain and more easily able to accommodate greater choice, such as length of journey, travel mode and with whom to travel.

Changes in modern mobility systems

The significant increase in international mobility has been spurred by increased transportation links and the rapid growth in telecommunications technology. By the mid-1960s, rapid technological changes in aviation, such as the development of the jet engine, resulted in the boom of air transportation. These advances allowed aircrafts to reach far-off destinations and at much lower cost, thus leading to greater changes in cross-border movements of people and goods.

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Central American route

Key terms

  • Mobility
  • Migration pathways
  • Smuggling
  • Trafficking in persons

Research and analysis on the topic

Video: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted mobility?

Dangerous Travel Routes for Migrants

The Darién Gap “The Darién Gap is a lawless wilderness on the border of Colombia and Panama, teeming with everything from deadly snakes to anti-government guerrillas. The region also sees a flow of migrants from Cuba, Africa and Asia, whose desperation sends them on perilous journeys to the U.S.” “As traditional pathways to the U.S. become more difficult, Cubans, Somalis, Syrians, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, and many more have been heading to South American countries and traveling north, moving overland up the Central American isthmus. The worst part of this journey is through the Gap. Hundreds of migrants enter each year; many never emerge, killed or abandoned by coyotes (migrant smugglers) on ghost trails. —Excerpt from Jason Motlagh from Outside magazine

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The Darién Gap
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Mediterranean Sea route

Reflection questions

  1. What are the benefits to migrants of traveling with an authorized visa?

  2. What are some significant ways in which changes in transportation technology has led to changes in how people move around the world?

  3. Using the map and description above, what geographic features make the Darién Gap a dangerous transit region for migrants?

  4. Use the maps on this sheet, from p. 23 of this World Economic Forum report to answer these questions:

    • What is the fewest number of countries a person would have to travel through to move from Nicaragua to the United States using a land route? List the countries.

    • List 4 countries that tend to be ‘landing countries’ for people using the Mediterranean Sea route to get to Europe from Africa and/or the Middle East.

  5. Using information you have learned and your own knowledge, what are some of the most significant obstacles for migrants using the following routes to move around the world: a) sea routes b) land routes c) air routes?