Op-Ed | Redefining home: Migration narrative | Wasi Ahmed

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Migration is more global in recent times than it ever was. For many who migrated for work or income abroad decades back, the primary motivation was not to settle permanently in overseas countries but to work there and send money home. This was particularly the case with most migrants who basically were job seekers.

The deeply passionate saying ‘home is where the heart is’ does not seem to ring the right chord these days. For a large section of the world population, home is where work is, or food is, or safety.

The recent trend in global migration with its unsettling fallout in various spheres of human life appears to be redefining many things including, regrettably, home, and those who belong there. One hardly finds a point to disagree when it has been found that 14 percent of the world’s adult population — nearly 710 million — wants to permanently migrate to other countries, according to the findings of Gallup Inc., a US-based research and consulting company.

War, famine and economic disasters are driving large numbers of people from countries such as Syria, South Sudan and Congo, while poverty coupled with high unemployment is causing thousands in Asia and Africa to leave their homelands. The Gallup finding, referred to above, shows that the desired destinations are advanced countries — the USA sitting at the top. Roughly 20 countries attract more than two-thirds of all potential migrants worldwide. Gallup interviewed 587,000 people aged over 15 in 156 countries between 2013 and 2016 to come up with detailed figures on this.

The current exodus of people is one of the defining challenges facing world leaders. The US has been the preferred destination of potential migrants for years. However, Germany’s popularity rose significantly after Chancellor Angela Merkel promised: “no limit” to the number of refugees her country would accept. The period of Gallup’s survey covered the height of the European migrant crisis. By contrast, the UK lost some of its allure during the lead-up to the Brexit vote, with 35 million potential migrants naming it as their desired destination between 2013 and 2016, down from 43 million between 2010 and 2012. In 31 countries throughout the world, at least three in 10 adults say they would like to move permanently to another country if they could. The desire to migrate increased the most in non-European Union countries in Europe, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the Middle East and North Africa.

There are now around 244 million people living in countries other than the ones they were born in, according to migration figures of the United Nations. Many of those people went overseas to find work, leaving their families behind. For a growing number of families, the money their relatives send home is their primary source of income. Remittances in 2015 totalled an estimated $582 billion according to the World Bank. The Pew Research Centre has used the same figures to create an interactive map which tracks the huge amounts of money flowing between developed and developing countries. The United States is home to 19 percent of the world’s migrants. They sent $133.5 billion in remittances in 2015. The biggest recipients were: Mexico ($24.3 billion), China ($16.2 billion), and India ($10 billion). Germany has the second-highest number of migrants. In 2015 migrants sent home $22.8 billion from Germany, mainly to neighbouring European countries. The biggest recipients were: Poland, France, and Italy. Saudi Arabia is home to migrants from very different backgrounds. Thousands of highly educated staff from Western nations are employed in the energy sector. A much higher number of migrants from the developing world work in low-paid jobs. Taken together, they sent home $45.7 billion in 2015. The biggest recipients were: Lebanon, Myanmar and Syria.

Remittances indeed have a massive impact on the economy of countries that receive them. World Bank figures show that in 2015, remittances to Egypt were worth four times as much as revenues from the Suez Canal. In Nepal, they make up nearly one-third of the country’s total GDP. Much of the money migrants send home is spent on food and immediate household needs. But there is evidence to show that many recipients are using the money to ensure a more secure and healthier future for their families. In the case of Bangladesh, remittance from overseas workers — who are mostly temporary migrants  — is the second highest foreign exchange earner next to exports.

Migration is more global in recent times than it ever was. For many who migrated for work or income abroad decades back, the primary motivation was not to settle permanently in overseas countries but to work there and send money home. This was particularly the case with most migrants who basically were job seekers.

The UN is now formulating a longer-term plan to make sure that remittances these migrants send home bring tangible benefit for their families. Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN is calling for reducing the transaction costs of remittances. However, the crux of the issue remains: how the movement of people from one country to another — often from one continent to another — can contribute to global harmony and peace.

 

Cover image source: Internet

 

Wasi Ahmed, a novelist, short story writer, and journalist, lives in Dhaka.

 

 

 

 

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