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People on the Move

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People have been on the move since time immemorial. Today, the number of international migrants worldwide stands at 258 million, about 3.4 per cent of the world’s population. Nearly half of them are female. Amongst migrants born in a developing country – 72 per cent of the global total – less than half are hosted in developed countries. There are also 22.5 million refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in their home countries. The vast majority of them are hosted by developing countries. For instance, the bulk of Syrian refugees, over 4 million, are hosted by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan; and the number of refugees that entered Uganda from South Sudan was three times greater than the number of those who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe.  
Refugees who fled to Gaza during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War are repatriated to Hebron, Transjordan (West Bank/Occupied Palestinian Territory), under the supervision of UN observers. Gaza December 1949 UN Photo/AW

People have been on the move since time immemorial.

Today, the number of international migrants worldwide stands at 258 million, about 3.4 per cent of the world’s population. Nearly half of them are female.

Amongst migrants born in a developing country – 72 per cent of the global total – less than half are hosted in developed countries.

There are also 22.5 million refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in their home countries. The vast majority of them are hosted by developing countries. For instance, the bulk of Syrian refugees, over 4 million, are hosted by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan; and the number of refugees that entered Uganda from South Sudan was three times greater than the number of those who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe.

Most forced displacement, however, still occurs within countries’ borders. An estimated 40 million people are internally displaced.

Climate change, demographics, instability, growing inequalities, and aspirations for a better life, as well as unmet needs in labour markets, mean that people will continue to migrate.

Migrants and refugees make a major contribution to both their host and home countries. Around three quarters of the migrants are of working age, bringing in much needed labour force to the developed world. For instance, the population of Europe would have declined between 2000-2015 in the absence of migration. Moreover, remittances migrants send back home to support their families and communities amount to nearly $600 billion a year - three times all development aid. Many of the refugees are well educated professionals, contributing their expertise in their countries of adoption.

While we use statistics to speak about people on the move, we must remember that each number represents a human being - a mother, father, daughter, son, grandparent - someone just like each of us.  The images on display here capture but a moment in time-- over the last seven decades-- of the millions that have, for one reason or another, become people on the move.

 

Palestinian refugee children in the UN demilitarized zone at Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). Tiberias, Israel c.1950 UN Photo Black South African workers return to their townships at the end of their working week. Johannesburg, South Africa 1985 UN Photo

Refugee

Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.  The refugee definition can be found in the 1951 Convention and regional refugee instruments, as well as UNHCR’s Statute.  

--United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Migrant

While there is no formal legal definition, most experts agree that an international migrant is someone who changes his or her country of usual residence, irrespective of the reason for migration or legal status. Generally, a distinction is made between short-term or temporary migration, covering movements with a duration between three and 12 months, and long-term or permanent migration, referring to a change of country of residence for a duration of one year or more.

- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

 

Roma civilians on the move in search of safety. Kosovo June 1999 UN Photo/Roger LeMoyne European refugees en route to Sweden from camps in Austria and Italy arrive by train in Copenhagen. Copenhagen, Denmark July 1956 UN Photo

Internally Displaced Person

Those who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or

human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized

state border

 

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998)

The United Nations works to assist people on the move…

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. It was initially given three years to complete its work and then disband.

Today, nearly seven decades later, the UNHCR is still hard at work, protecting and assisting millions of refugees around the world, with about 11,000 employees deployed in 130 countries.

In 1954, UNHCR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work in Europe. In 1981, it received a second Nobel Peace Prize for what had become worldwide assistance to refugees.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, ratified by 145 state parties, defines the term refugee and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them. The core principle is non-refoulement - a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. States are expected to cooperate with UNHCR in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

 

Returnees arrive in Timor-Leste aboard a ship chartered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Dili, Timor-Leste 1999 UN Photo/M. Kobayashi Tajik refugees return from Afghanistan. Khalton District, Tajikistan December 1994 UN Photo/P. Labreveux

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was born in 1951, known then as the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe. It was tasked to help European governments in identifying resettlement countries for the estimated 11 million people uprooted by the Second World War. 

From its roots as an operational logistics agency, it has broadened its scope to become the leading international entity committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. It works with governments and civil society to advance the understanding of migration issues, encourage social and economic development through migration, and uphold the human dignity and well-being of migrants. The IOM currently has 165 member states and eight observer states. It deploys about 9,000 employees in over 150 countries.

Child migrant workers are driven to the fields in the southern United States. North Carolina, U.S.A. July 1978 UN Photo/S. Rotner Children of the Embera people, indigenous to Colombia, internally displaced by conflict. Rio Suchio, Colombia June 2006 UN Photo/Mark Garten

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) began operations in 1950, to assist those who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees. The Agency’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict.

In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, UNRWA today provides assistance to approximately five million people. It is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

 

Many other UN entities help people on the move, in their respective areas of operations. For example, UNICEF helps children - half of the forcibly uprooted people in the world - by protecting them against trafficking and exploitation and providing health services and education. It also helps unaccompanied or separated children reunite with their families. The World Food Programme provides food assistance to millions of displaced people around the world, while the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) serves the hygiene, and sexual and reproductive health needs of women and young people which can be overlooked during emergencies, with staggering, and sometimes life-threatening, consequences.

 

A Yemeni man waits to receive a winter cash grant from UNHCR. He and his seven children fled to an informal tent settlement on the outskirts of Sana’a after their home was destroyed. Sana’a, Yemen January 2018 © UNHCR/Mohammed Hamoud A man expelled from the Republic of Congo, along with more than 130,000 nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, holds up his "Movement Boarding Pass" issued by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Maluku, Democratic Republic of the Congo May 2014 UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in 2015, will mobilize efforts to collectively end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, many of the reasons for large displacements of populations. But, it is evident that there will always be people on the move. Better management of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons requires global cooperation, shared responsibility and political will. 

Quotations from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on refugees

“Of the many global challenges we face, human mobility is one of the most paradoxical and misrepresented.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General     

“Refugee protection is not a matter of generosity. It is an obligation under international law. All countries have the right to manage their borders in a responsible way. But they also have a duty to protect the rights of refugees, and the human rights of all people on the move.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General     

“Instead of closed doors and open hostility, we need to re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime and the simple decency of human compassion.  With a truly global sharing of responsibility, the number of refugees we face can be managed.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General        

“I myself am a migrant, as are many of you. But no one expected me to risk my life on a leaky boat or to cross a desert in the back of a truck to find employment outside my country of birth. From my experience, I can assure you that most people prefer to realize their aspirations at home.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General        

 “I have been pained to see the way refugees and migrants have been stereotyped and scapegoated – and to see political figures stoke resentment in search of electoral gain.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General     

“In today’s world, all societies are becoming multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious. This diversity must be seen as a richness, not as a threat.  But to make diversity a success, we need to invest in social cohesion, so that all people feel that their identities are respected and that they have a stake in the community as a whole.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General      

 

 

 
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