The global extension of market forces has been deeply disruptive for many people and communities, and has forced many more to migrate in search of a better life. The majority of migrants are in the developing countries, moving from the rural areas to the cities: by the end of this century about half the world's people will live in cities. Added to these are millions of refugees who have been driven across national frontiers by famine, drought, war or environmental degradation: at the end of 1993 there were over 16 million refugees, most of whom had taken up temporary residence in neighbouring developing countries.

The industrial countries are, however, more worried about those international migrants who travel further afield, hoping to live temporarily or permanently in the richer countries. In 1993, some 100 million people were living outside their country of citizenship. International migration is of course nothing new, but it seems to be taking on a new shape and character. Even in rural areas, people nowadays can see a stream of images suggesting that life would be so much better in an industrialised country, and with much cheaper international travel many are tempted to see for themselves. On top of this, resurgent ethnic tensions in a number of countries are destabilizing minority groups that feel they have little choice but to contemplate life elsewhere.

The chief benefit for the sending countries is the money that migrants send home (international remittances now amount to around $70 billion per year). Indeed, many communities with a tradition of emigration now rely on remittances from family members overseas for the bulk of their income. There are also costs, however: the sending countries are losing some of their most vigorous and educated people. The prime benefit for the receiving countries is precisely the reverse. They get a ready-made workforce prepared to take on tasks that local people cannot do, or refuse to do, often the dirty, dangerous and difficult work. For decades, many countries were happy to accept immigrants on these terms, often assuming they were guest workers who would eventually return home. But economic recession since the 1970s has changed the picture: the receiving countries are much more selective about whom they will accept. Even so, they have not been able to keep out all unwanted immigrants (the United States is thought to have around 2.6 million illegal immigrants and Europe around 3 million.) Nowadays, some of the largest flows are from Latin America to the United States, and from North and West Africa and Eastern Europe into Western Europe.

People are always likely to travel if there is work for them to do. Governments will not be able to control this migration completely, though they can try to mitigate its worst effects, ensuring that migration is as humane and productive a process as possible. But in the longer term, they can also try to change the circumstances that force or encourage people to move. Migrant-receiving countries could, for example, modify their economies so that they do not maintain old industries that require immigrant labour to sustain them. They might also reduce barriers to imports from developing countries so that workers could stay in their home countries allowing the goods to travel rather than the people.

Finally, such disruptions could imply a different kind of indesirable consequences: the same social dislocation encourages criminal tendencies in the global era.


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