The number of people migrating between poorer countries in 2015 rose faster than the number migrating from poor to rich countries. “South-south” migration – or movement between poorer countries – accounted for 37% of all migration last year, two percentage points more than “south-north” migration, according to a report from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
More than 90.2 million people migrated between “southern” countries in 2015, compared with 85.3 million from south to north. In 2013, the equivalent figures were 82.3 million and 81.9 million respectively. The gap may even be higher, due to weaknesses in record-keeping in the global south, the IOM said.
Despite western perceptions that Europe faces almost unprecedented migration challenges, IOM said the figures were a reminder that other parts of the world were coping with far bigger human movements with far fewer resources.
“Although people tend to think of international migration as the movement of people from poor countries to rich countries, only a minority of migrants move from south to north,” said Frank Laczko, the director of IOM’s global migration data analysis centre. “Around 87% of refugees are located in countries in the south – they don’t move to richer countries in the world.”
Countries neighbouring South Sudan – including Ethiopia, Uganda and Congo – have welcomed nearly 700,000 South Sudanese refugees, despite a lack of resources and, often, internal political conflict. Just over 1 million asylum seekers arrived in Europe by boat last year, equating to 0.2% of Europe’s population of 500 million; a similar number currently live in Lebanon, where the population is just 4.5 million and where state infrastructure is far weaker. Turkey houses 2.7 million within a population of 80 million.
There is also large-scale movement within the global south for economic reasons, Laczko said. “The key economic destinations are Malaysia, which hires a huge number of workers. In Africa South Africa attracts a huge number. In South America it’s Argentina. In west Africa, there is free movement of labour between the west African countries, so there’s a lot of movement there.”
A smaller but under-reported number of people are migrating from richer to poorer countries – about 5 million people, or 13.6% of the total number of migrants.
“We do see a small but significant number of people moving from north to south, people that couldn’t find work in Europe moving from, for example, Portugal to Brazil and Mozambique,” said Laczko. “That movement of people has not been properly investigated because coverage is usually all about south-north migration.”
More than 55 million migrants moved between rich countries in 2015, forming 23% of the total.