When do people migrate?

Movement of people due to environmental stress

Millions of men, women and children around the world move in anticipation or as a response to environmental stress every year. Disruptions such as cyclones, floods and wildfires destroy homes and assets, and contribute to the displacement of people. A diverse range of human migration pathways in the context of environmental change have been documented in mountainous regions: displacement, labour migration, and planned relocation. Advances in meteorological and other sciences which inform about the dynamics and pace of climate change indicate that disruptions ranging from extreme weather events to large scale changes in ecosystems are occurring at a pace and intensity unlike any other known period of time on Earth.

Seasonal migrant workers

An international migrant worker is a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national. The length of stay for a migrant worker is usually restricted as is the type of employment they can hold. Crossing national borders to work is one of the key motivations behind international migration, whether driven by economic inequalities, seeking employment, or both. Some migrant workers have employment that is seasonal in nature. In such cases, the migrant worker’s job opportunities are dependent on seasonal conditions and can be performed only during part of the year.

Data on environmental mobility

Research on environmental mobility is still developing and while advances have been made in the past two decades there are various data and knowledge gaps that persist. Increasingly reliable figures for the number of new internal displacements related to rapid onset environmental disruptions are produced each year. But for obtaining reliable numbers of migration when it is not forced, it is difficult to compute reliable estimates for the numbers of people moving in anticipation of or response to slow-onset processes such as desertification or sea-level rise.

Key Terms

  • Seasonal migration
  • Environmental migration
  • Drivers of migration

Research and analysis on the topic

Effect on Urban Areas

While it is important to consider areas of origin, it is also vital to analyse areas of destination when assessing the outcomes of environmental migration. For example, after three years of drought in Mexico, increased flows of people from rural to urban areas have been documented. Such movements can be adaptive or maladaptive. Cities are often situated in areas prone to hazards, such as on the low-lying coastal areas or in areas of geological hazards, such as landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In cases where migrants settle in areas exposed to hazards, such as in slums on hillsides or in flood-prone regions, these populations may be more exposed and vulnerable to environmental and climatic disruptions in the future. It is possible that more environmental hotspots will emerge in the future with a population subject to a triple jeopardy of population growth, increased vulnerability and exposure to more severe and frequent and climate events.

Migration and weather events

There has been growing recognition in recent years of the need to better integrate migration into global climate and environmental mechanisms, and for climate change mechanisms to incorporate human mobility aspects. Climate science suggests that the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events are rising, exposing more people and their assets to adverse impacts. Migration, displacement and planned relocation are capturing increased attention from research, policy and practice as people attempt to move away from stress and risk, and towards safety or opportunity. In this context, measures are needed with the following characteristics: people are enabled to choose whether, when, and with whom to move; people who move can access livelihood opportunities and remit resources that enhance adaptation; and people who move can do so in a dignified, safe and regular manner.

Read p. 258-259 of the WMR 2020

  1. What are some of the ways in which people who live in mountainous regions use weather to determine when or if they will migrate to new areas?

  2. Refer to the IOM definition of a ‘migrant worker’. In what situations might migrant workers also be “seasonal workers”?

  3. What are some of the geological hazards that come with an increase of people moving to urban areas.

  4. What are some ways that people migrating to urban areas due to environmental issues might actually still be at risk even when they settle in cities and urban areas?

  5. What are three characteristics that should be considered in measures to help people who decide to migrate due to increasing pressures from environmental and climate change?

  6. Summarize the characteristics into your own words and briefly explain why each is important.