iconic images of human rights violations, photography and journalism

Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (111): Refugees in Pakistan

A Pakistani displaced man holds his baby next to his tent in Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, June 8, 2009. Fighting in the Swat province is still going on. At one point, up to 3 million people have fled the fighting. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

A Pakistani displaced man holds his baby next to his tent in Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, June 8, 2009. Fighting in the Swat province is still going on. At one point, up to 3 million people have fled the fighting. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


More on Pakistan and on refugees. Some numbers. More iconic images of human rights violations.

citizenship, data, globalization, human rights maps, international relations, law, statistics

Human Rights Maps (95): Asylum Seekers

country of destination of asylum seekers

country of origin of asylum seekers

(source, source, source)

These data are for 2008. Maps on refugees are here. All asylum seekers are refugees but not all refugees are asylum seekers. An asylum-seeker is an individual who has sought international protection from persecution and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. Some refugees who flee persecution may decide not to seek official asylum status. A person is a refugee from the moment he or she fulfills the criteria set out the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The formal recognition of someone, for instance through individual refugee status determination (RSD), does not establish refugee status, but confirms it.

If you want the numbers of asylum seekers or refugees, rather than their origin or destination, go here and here respectively.

More textual information on refugees and asylum is here and here respectively. More human rights maps in general are here.

citizenship, globalization, human rights maps, intervention, war

Human Rights Maps (82): Refugees

refugee map 1

refugee map 2

(source, click on the images to enlarge)

The same data presented differently:

where refugees come from

where refugees come from

where refugees go to

where refugees go to

refugees per 1000 population

refugees per 1000 population

(source, where you can find an interactive version)

More maps on refugees here. More human rights maps in general here. More textual information on refugees here. More about asylum. Some more statistics on refugees and asylum.

citizenship, statistics, war

Migration and Human Rights (22): Number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at All-Time High

Pakistani refugees wait in line for bread at the Yar Hussain camp. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty

Pakistani refugees wait in line for bread at the Yar Hussain camp. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of people internally displaced within their own countries (also called IDPs) has reached a historical high of more than 28 million (see also here for the full report). The numbers of IDPs usually fluctuate a lot and go up and down as a result of the outbreak or settling down of internal conflicts within states. The current increase follows recent events in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The countries with the largest numbers are Colombia (3 million), Iraq (2,5 million) and Sudan (2 million). (There’s an older map here).

More statistics are here.

human rights nonsense, war

Human Rights Nonsense (2): “Refugee Run” in Davos

A reminder what this series is about: the ways in which the language of human rights is used to push nonsense. Human rights nonsense devalues the whole system of human rights, and has to be ridiculed mercilessly if we want to preserve what is good about human rights.

This post is about the infamous “Refugee Run” earlier this year in Davos:

Refugee Run Davos

Refugee Run Davos

(source, click on the image to enlarge)

From the announcement:

During the coming World Economic Forum, we will co-host a very moving event in which people “step into the shoes” of the world’s 40 million refugees. For a moment in time, participants will be thrust into another environment where they face an attack from rebels, a “mine field”, border corruption, language incapacity, black-marketeering and refugee camp survival. Following the event, a debrief will invite the participants to discuss the refugee situation and explore ways to assist, should they wish so. … (Spoiler alert: no harm will come to you!)

In the words of Bill Easterly:

Can Davos man empathize with refugees when he or she is not in danger and is going back to a luxury banquet and hotel room afterwards? Isn’t this just a tad different from the life of an actual refugee, at risk of all too real rape, murder, hunger, and disease?

Did the words “insensitive”, “dehumanizing”, or “disrespectful” (not to mention “ludicrous”) ever come up in discussing the plans for “Refugee Run”?

This isn’t the best way to raise consciousness and awareness, to make the rich world sensitive to the problems of refugees, or to mobilize support for the activities of the UNHCR. It’s just stupid nonsense at best, and “disaster pornography” at worst, discrediting the activities of an organization that is more important than ever.

More on refugees, including some statistics.

citizenship, statistics, war

Migration and Human Rights (18): Number of Refugees, End of 2008

From The Economist:

At the end of 2008 10.5m refugees were in the direct care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, down slightly from 11.4m a year earlier. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq again caused the largest numbers of refugees to flee to, or remain in, neighbouring countries. Some 2.8m of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan, most of whom are in Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan hosted almost 1.8m people last year, nearly all from Afghanistan, with Syria and Iran each receiving around 1m people. Germany was the most popular destination among rich countries. But as a share of its population Jordan has by far the highest concentration of refugees.

Countries with most refugees

Jordan’s high proportion of refugees is partly explained by the large number of Palestinian refugees (some of whom were actually born in Jordan).

More statistics on refugees. More on refugees in general.

human rights facts, statistics, war

Human Rights Facts (38): Declining Numbers of Conflicts and Rising Military Spending

military spending


[This post is by guest-writer Line Løvåsen].

Following up on this post, some additional information on the evolution of military conflicts and military spending.

Since 2005, the Human Security Report Project (HSRP) publishes reports on trends in armed conflicts and political violence. The reports indicate a decline by around 40% in armed conflicts and political violence since 1992. Another report, the SIPRI yearbook of 2009, counts 16 armed conflicts going on in the world in 2008. In 1998 there were 36, and from 1989 to 1998 there were over 100.

The decline is explained by the end of the two “conflict machines”, colonialism and the Cold War. The increase in international activism, more specifically at the UN, and changes in the nature of warfare have also resulted in fewer deadly conflicts. The wars of today are of a lower intensity, and are fought with lighter arms, predominately between weak government forces and poorly trained rebels. The increasing number of refugees is another reason for lower death tolls, together with a decrease in the number of authoritarian regimes. According to the report, terrorism is the only type of political violence that is increasing, but it still accounts for a small number of deaths. Despite this relatively small number, many politicians still claim that terrorism is the biggest threat.

According to the peace dividend-notion, there should be a reduction in military spending when there is a decline in conflicts. However, SIPRI, which reports on annual military spending, shows, in the 2009 report, an increase in military spending by 45% since 1997. The world now spends more than 1464 billion dollars annually (!) on the military and arms trade. The biggest spender is the United States, which is responsible for almost half of the total world spending, and during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, US military expenditure increased to its highest level in real terms since World War II. In addition to increased spending, there is also an increased concentration of spending with around 15 countries responsible for over 80% of total spending.

More on military spending.

satellite evidence of human rights violations, war

Satellite Evidence of Human Rights Violations (2): Sri Lanka

Via Obsidian Wings:

The fighting [between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil rebels in the North] has recently focused on a small area on a little spit of land surrounded on three sides by water. The people who lived there were essentially trapped, and the Tamil Tigers were said to be using them as human shields. There were, reportedly, 50,000 of them as of May 15. Aid has not been able to get through for some days. Here are some photos from a report commissioned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (via the BBC) that give some sense of the recent damage to this area:

satellite evidence of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, click to enlarge

satellite evidence of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, click to enlarge

Bear in mind that those photos are of the same area, and that they were taken four days apart. That’s how long it took for most of those houses — which had been set up for displaced persons — to be obliterated by government shelling.

citizenship, law

Migration and Human Rights (16): Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants

illegal immigrants caution sign at border crossing

(source unknown)

Human beings who have been raised in a society become members of that society: not recognizing their social membership is cruel and unjust. … People who live and work and raise their families in a society become members, whatever their legal status: that is why we find it hard to expel them when they are discovered. Joseph H. Carens (source)

Let’s just leave aside for the moment the absurdity of the concept of “illegal alien” – a person can never be illegal, only certain acts can be – and accept that the expression “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” is in fact short-hand for “person entering and residing in a country illegally, and in violation of immigration and residence laws”.

Of course, people entering and settling in a country without this country’s permission act illegally. (I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they are criminals. Not everyone breaking the law is a criminal: when you get a speeding ticket, you have broken the law but no one would call you a criminal). And countries have good reasons to regulate entry, residence and citizenship. Within certain limits, of course. They can’t exclude everyone. International law states that asylum seekers, refugees etc. have to be allowed entry and residence in some cases.

Countries also have a legal right to expel those who violate the rules. However, there are moral and even economic reasons not to expel people. Migration can be their only means to escape poverty and persecution, and it has been shown that receiving countries can benefit economically and culturally from immigration.

Fortunately, forcibly returning illegal immigrants to their country of origin is just one available option. In all cases of violations of the law, countries have different options (which can be used in combination):

  1. Force the law-breaker to stop the violation and return the situation to the status quo ante: in this case that would mean deporting the illegal alien.
  2. Give the law-breaker a fine.
  3. Imprison the law-breaker: in our case, this would often be worse than option 1.
  4. Give the law-breaker amnesty, regularize his status and grant him legal authorization to stay.
  5. Force the law-breaker to pay damages: that would not be relevant in our case since it’s difficult to argue that an illegal immigrant has done any real harm to anyone.

Just turning a blind eye isn’t an option, because that creates different problems, both for the immigrants and for the rest of the population. The immigrants are forced into the black labor market with all the risks this entails. As they live in the “dark” they will find it difficult to come forward to complain about rights violations or to go to the police or a judge. Doing so will reveal their illegal status and will result in forcible return to their country of origin. They live under constant fear of deportation. And the rest of the population has to compete with black and hence cheaper labor.

Option 1, as stated in the quote above, is often cruel and unjust, and sometimes even physically dangerous for the migrant. Option 3 is perhaps even worse, and option 5 irrelevant. So 2 and 4 remain. The normal objection to option 4 is that it stimulates illegal immigration and therefore leads to over-immigration. That’s probably not entirely incorrect. So let’s combine it with option 2 and make it conditional: not for felons, for example, only after x years in the country etc. However, such conditions and restrictions should be reasonable and limited.

illegal immigrants


Let’s have a look at the time requirement:

Some might argue that the passage of time is irrelevant. Some might even say that the longer the stay, the greater the blame and the more the irregular migrant deserves to be deported. In my view, the opposite is true: the longer the stay, the stronger the moral claim to remain. … It is morally wrong to force someone to leave the place where she was raised, where she received her social formation, and where she has her most important human connections. … there is something deeply wrong in forcing people to leave a place where they have lived for a long time. Most people form their deepest human connections where they live. It becomes home. Even if someone has arrived only as an adult, it seems cruel and inhumane to uproot a person who has spent fifteen or twenty years as a contributing member of society in the name of enforcing immigration restrictions. The harm is entirely out of proportion to the wrong of illegal entry. Joseph H. Carens (source)

There are some data here on public support for amnesty.

human rights maps, war

Human Rights Maps (50): Internally Displaced Persons

In 2012, there were 28.8 million internally displaced people worldwide. This record high includes a five-fold increase in Syria due to the conflict there.

Some older numbers:

internally displaced persons

(click on the image to enlarge)

AFRICA contains half of the world’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)—those who have fled their homes but continue to live in their own countries. Sudan alone has over 4m of them, about the same number as the whole of Asia. Congo has another 2m or so, Somalia at least 1.3m. A score of other countries including Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya have hundreds of thousands more. In sum, there are about 12m IDPs across the continent. (source)

internally displaced people in africa

As these numbers tend to fluctuate a lot, because of the nature of the problem, here’s an update (dated February 2010):

internally displaced persons map

(source, source, source)

MDG : world map with number of IDP by conflict


More on this subset of the global refugee population.

comedy, political jokes and funny quotes, war

Political Jokes & Funny Quotes (12): Refugee


A man in Amsterdam feels the need to confess, so he goes to his priest.”Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. During WWII, I hid a refugee in my attic.”

“Well,” answers the priest, “that’s not a sin.”‘

“But I made him agree to pay me 20 guilders for every week he stayed.”

“I admit that wasn’t good, but you did it for a good cause.”

“Oh, thank you, Father. That eases my mind. I have one more question.”

“What is that, my son?”

“Do I have to tell him the war is over?”

More on refugees.

citizenship, globalization

Migration and Human Rights (7): Overview



This post is kind of a summary of the stuff I’ve written about international migration and how it is relevant to human rights. I’ve tried to put it all in a simple drawing:

immigration and human rights

The darker the kind of grey, the more precarious is the rights situation of the people involved. Citizens typically enjoy the best human rights protection of anyone in the territory of a country, relatively speaking. Even in badly governed states or dictatorships they are better off than immigrants, legal or illegal. And also in perfect democracies do citizens enjoy more rights than legal immigrants: the former have political rights, the latter do not. See this post for more information about this difference.

However, in a perfect democracy, legal immigrants and citizens enjoy the same level of protection with regard to all other types of rights, non-political rights such as freedom rights. This is called the principle of constitutional universality which is explained here.

Illegal immigrants of course have a much harder time, even in perfect democracies. As they live in the “dark” they will find it difficult to come forward to complain about rights violations or to go to the police or the judge. Doing so will reveal their illegal status and will result in forcible return to their country of origin.

Asylum seekers or refugees have an even harder time because they are usually imprisoned for the duration of their asylum application. And as they are imprisoned, they usually find it difficult to escape into illegality when their application is denied. Compared to normal illegal immigrants, the government knows where they are – in prison – and hence can easily return them to their own country. Here’s a post on asylum seekers. And here’s one on refugees.

The worst off are the modern slaves. Many of them end up in slavery as a consequence of migration, but not all. Many modern slaves are normal citizens.

Here’s a more general post on migration (numbers, trends, types, causes, consequences…). And here’s a post on the public’s opposition to migration.

A related topic is overpopulation.

A word about the arrows in the drawing: since citizens enjoy the best protection, it is a good strategy for non-citizens to try to become citizens. Traditionally, only legal immigrants can apply for citizenship (when some conditions are fulfilled). Asylum seekers, when their application is accepted, become legal immigrants and then they can, in the next step, try to apply for citizenship. If their asylum application is rejected, they are either send back or disappear into illegality. Together with other illegal immigrants, they first have to become legal immigrants (for example through some kind of amnesty measure) before they can hope to apply for citizenship.

human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (47): Refugee



Refugee (2), F. Spagnoli

I’m a stranger, like hope in a world that doesn’t change
or change in a world that doesn’t hope.
And like all strangers I wash my hands separately,
and I scratch my own back,
and I no longer wonder ’bout the double meaning of “asylum”
‘cos there is none:
you have to be a lunatic to try it.

More on asylum, refugees or migration.


Migration and Human Rights (4): Asylum

This post on asylum is a follow-up on a previous post on refugees, which was in itself a follow-up on a post about the broader topic of migration.

Asylum is a form of protection that allows individuals to remain in a country, provided that they meet the definition of a refugee. Eventually, they may become permanent residents or even nationals.

People seeking asylum in another country do so because they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They usually petition for asylum when they enter a country, and the government of the country decides on a case-to-case basis, according to its own rules, whether or not to grant asylum to a particular person. A person has to fulfill certain conditions before being granted asylum. These conditions differ widely from one country to another. Some countries have a very restrictive policy.

When asylum is denied, states usually deport the asylum seekers, back to their own country or to a third country. During the period leading up to the decision whether or not to grant asylum, states often detain the asylum seekers (and their families and children) in special prisons. Nevertheless, many failed applicants manage to remain illegally in the country. However, whether deported or gone underground, failed asylum seekers often lead miserable lives. And then we forget all those that didn’t make it to the country of application. Asylum seekers often undertake hazardous and fatal journeys.

People have a right to asylum (see article 14 of the Universal Declaration). It’s a very old legal notion (e.g. the medieval church sanctuaries). The grounds for asylum are however, rather limited. There should be some kind of persecution. An important question is whether economic refugees should be given asylum. I think they should. Poverty is just as much a violation of human rights as forcing someone to change his or her religion.

However, unrestricted economic asylum does not seem to be possible. Flooding rich countries with millions of economic refugees will not help anybody. It will destroy economic welfare in the few places where it exists, without offering any real improvement for the disadvantaged.

The same is true for other kinds of refugees. In principle people should be protected, whatever their origin. But of course, a state is no longer obliged to grant asylum if the applicants are so numerous that accepting all of them would lead to chaos and economic problems in the receiving country. Accepting them anyway would mean sacrificing the rights of the people of the receiving country without being able to do much in favor of the rights of the refugees.

Combating human rights violations in the country of origin is the best way to solve refugee problems. Most people do not want to flee, so accepting them as refugees is not the best solution from their point of view, even though it is still better than not accepting them and it makes it possible to protect their rights.

Here are some data on asylum in the world. The number of asylum seekers varies over time, depending on the number and severity of crisis situations around the world, on the application and immigration policies of the receiving countries etc. However, an upward trend can be seen from the available data:

trend of asylum applications

The top receiving countries are the following:

asylum top destinations

When we plot this against the size of the receiving countries (which is a good measure of their “level of saturation”), we get the following picture:

asylum destinations by number of inhabitants

Asylum seekers come mainly from the following countries (one notices a shift between 2003-4 and 2006-7):

asylum countries of origin

asylum countries of origin 2

equality, what are human rights

What Are Human Rights? (15): Constitutionally Universal


The theme of this post is the often difficult relationship between citizenship and human rights. This relationship is difficult because human rights, which are explicitly rights for all people everywhere, without distinctions of any kind, seem to require citizenship, and hence a distinction between groups of somehow differentiated people, for their protection. Without citizenship, it is argued, human rights remain a wish rather than a reality, potential rather than effective. Indeed, we often see that non-citizens such as refugees, asylum-seekers or stateless people suffer more rights violations than the citizens of the countries in which they happen to find themselves, even if these countries are comparatively well functioning democracies.

I want to argue that there are no legal reasons to consider citizenship as some kind of necessary condition for the protection of the rights of people within the territory of a state. Or, to put it negatively, that there are no legal reasons to treat the rights of non-citizens with less respect than the rights of citizens, or to accept violations of the rights of non-citizens with more ease than violations of the rights of citizens. There has to be, in other words, equality of protection between citizens and non-citizens. Citizenship therefore should be irrelevant for the protection of the human rights of the people within a given state territory. The state should be blind in this respect and treat non-citizens as if they were citizens. Non-citizens should have the same legal, judicial and other means to stand up for their rights.

The legal argument is based on Article 2, paragraph 1 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states the following:

“Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

citizen einstein

Albert Einstein receiving from Judge Phillip Forman his certificate of American citizenship

The widely held but mistaken belief that the rights of non-citizens residing in a state are, perhaps inevitably, more precarious than the rights of the citizens living beside them, goes back to the historically important role of citizenship in the practice of protecting human rights. Theoretically, citizenship is irrelevant to human rights. These rights are the equal rights of all human beings, equally and unconditionally. It is not justified to say that one should be white, male, citizen or whatever to be able to enjoy the protection of these rights. Universality, equality and unconditionality are perhaps the main characteristics of human rights. That is where they got their name. They would not be called human rights if this were not the case.

Although theoretically these rights come with no conditions attached, in reality and in practice there are many necessary conditions for their effective protection: a well functioning judiciary, a separation of powers, a certain mentality, certain economic conditions etc. Too many to name them all, unfortunately. But the one we should name and explain is citizenship. Historically, it was because people were citizens of a state that they could use and improve the institutions and judicial instruments of the state, including the executive powers, to enforce their rights. It is this historical contingency, the fact that people have always found their citizenship very useful for their human rights, which has led many to believe that there is some kind of special link between citizenship and human rights which makes it possible and acceptable to treat the rights of non-citizens with less respect. That rights are only accessible to citizens. That the rights of man have often been the “rights of an Englishman” in the words of Burke.

edmund burke

Edmund Burke


“The survivors of the extermination camps, the inmates of concentration and internment camps, and even the comparatively happy stateless people could see … that the abstract nakedness of being nothing but human was their greatest danger” (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism).

hannah arendt

Hannah Arendt


The state, although it does not grant rights, has to recognize them and make them real, but not only for citizens. The constitution, the main instrument for recognizing human rights, should and nowadays often does explicitly guarantee rights for humans, and not merely rights for citizens. Everybody within the territory of the state, not only the citizens of the state, can then enjoy the human rights protected by the constitution. Citizens as well as non-citizens can then go to court and challenge unjust laws or acts of state. Both categories of people have legal personality. This is often called the constitutional universality of rights.

The protection of the economic rights of non-citizens is an even more contentious matter. Should non-citizens have the same healthcare protection, social security, education etc.? In principle yes, but some countries may have such a large number of non-citizens in their territory that the economic viability of their social security system comes under threat. The tax payers ability to fund the system is limited, and non-citizens normally don’t pay taxes.

More on migration.

citizenship, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (36): Statue of Liberty

statue of liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Emma Lazarus, inscription on the Statue of Liberty (or rather the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World)

More on asylum here.


Migration and Human Rights (3): Refugees

angelina jolie unhcr

Angelina Jolie

In countries where people have to flee their homes because of persecution and violence, political solutions must be found, peace and tolerance restored, so that refugees can return home. In my experience, going home is the deepest wish of most refugees. Angelina Jolie

In a previous post, I talked a bit on the problem of migration and how it’s linked to human rights. I also tried to give a classification of types of migrants. One type is the refugee, and according to the classification the refugee is an involuntary migrant and a “push-migrant”. It’s the situation in the home country – usually war, famine or persecution or a combination – which forces or pushes him or her to migrate abroad, usually to one of the neighboring countries. The refugee is different from other types of migrants, such as the people who feel the “pull” of economic opportunity which, voluntarily or involuntarily (in the case of extreme poverty), drives them abroad.

Refugees who flee war, famine or oppression but do not leaev their home country are called internally displaced persons.


According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR), there were roughly 20 million refugees in the world in 2005, and 33 million in 2006. This is an underestimate because the numbers don’t include the Palestinians refugees, many of the Afghan refugees etc. Amnesty International place the number of worldwide refugees last year at just over 36 million. Three quarter of these come from Asia and Africa. The top refugee producing countries are:

refugee producing countries


The country with the largest number of internally displaced persons is Sudan, with over 5 million. Pakistan is the top host country in the world for refugees:

refugee receiving countries

And these are 2007 data, with an interesting breakdown between international refugees and internally displaced persons:

refugees top receiving countries


Countries’ responses

Countries have an obligation to accept refugee on their territory. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. 2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

However, this obligation is often rejected by countries. Countries often subject

“refugees to arbitrary arrest, detention, denial of social and economic rights and closed borders. In the worst cases, the most fundamental principle of refugee protection, non-refoulement, is violated, and refugees are forcibly returned to countries where they face persecution.” Human Rights Watch (http://hrw.org/doc/?t=refugees&document_limit=0,2)

The states that create the refugee problem also have obligations. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Therefore, countries have an obligation to create or restore the circumstances which make it possible for people to return home. It’s up to these countries, with the assistance of the international community, to address the root causes that force people to flee.

refugees under the protection of the hcr

refugees under the protection of the hcr


Migration and Human Rights (2): A Few Facts and Numbers

1. Numbers of migrants and trends

The Center for Global Development (CGD) estimates that around 200 million people – one in 33 – do not live in the country where they were born. Not surprisingly, the richest countries receive the largest number of migrants:

countries with largest number of migrants

countries with largest number of migrants as share of total population


It is believed that the number of migrants will grow as a result of the demography in rich countries. These countries have a relatively low birth rate, good health care systems, and hence an aging population. They will require more migration to replenish their workforce and keep their benefit system intact.

Another reason to believe that migration will increase in the future, is the relative ease and low cost of travel in a globalized world. This is already obvious when one takes a look at the main migration routes today:

migration routes

2. Types of migration

  • Voluntary migration, including economic migration (although some types of economic migration are not voluntary and caused by poverty) and nomadism
  • Involuntary or forced migration, including slave trade, human trafficking, refugees from war or oppression, asylum seekers, ethnic cleansing, eviction or expulsion, the forced resettlement by Stalin in the former USSR etc.
  • Internal migration, including rural to urban migration, vs international migration
  • Local migration, including border-migration, vs international-intercontinental migration
  • Legal migration vs illegal migration, i.e. with or without the consent of the receiving country
  • Permanent migration vs temporary migration (e.g. seasonal migration in agriculture)
  • Cultural migration (nomadism)
  • Organized migration, including migration of military personnel within military cooperation schemes, migration of aid workers etc.
  • “Push” migration: people are pushed out of their countries because of local reasons; push migration tends to be involuntary
  • “Pull” migration: people are pulled out of their countries by opportunities elsewhere; pull migration tends to be voluntary

3. Causes of migration

  • poverty, the need to find a (better) job
  • the need for education
  • persecution or oppression
  • war including civil war
  • ethnic cleansing
  • slave trade
  • human trafficking including the sex industry
  • refugees and asylum seekers
  • job opportunities
  • family reunion
  • natural disasters including desertification
  • urbanization and industrialization
  • government population policies, e.g. the One Child Policy in China leading to imbalances between the sexes
  • government resettlement policies
  • etc.

4. Consequences of migration

Migration can be beneficial for the migrants. It can mean the difference between oppression, suffering or poverty on the one hand, and freedom and wealth on the other. Wealthy migrants can also help their home country in different ways. The money sent back home by migrant workers (so-called remittances) already surpasses foreign aid. See this graph:

financial flows to developing countries

This money is of course a welcome contribution to the home economy, but the brain drain inherent in migration is the other side of the coin. Whereas some of the migrants return home and take with them valuable education and skills which can be used for the development of their home country, others stay away and are a permanent loss. Of course, one should be careful not to blame all the problems of the developing world on brain drain.

Migrants often find themselves in situations which are not better or even worse than the ones they were fleeing. They can end up in the black labor market, exploited by ruthless entrepreneurs, or in the sex industry, or, when they are “illegal”, in constant uncertainty because of the fear of being evicted. Even when they are legal, many countries will not offer them full citizenship or equality. Their human rights may not be adequately protected and they cannot participate in politics.

For the receiving countries, the benefits are also obvious. These countries often need the workforce offered by the migrants. The mixing of different cultures and races is also generally beneficial, although it can lead to negative social behaviors such as xenophobia. Xenophobia can also be caused by non-optimal economic migration. People do not always migrate to the places where their skills are scarce, and hence they often find themselves in competition with local workers who do not welcome this competition. Migrants are often less demanding and therefore more popular with employers, and when these migrants are illegal they end up in the black market which is even more beneficial for employers because less costly. This competition, coupled with cultural or religious practices and beliefs which are different and sometimes difficult to understand and accept, causes xenophobia.

More on migration.

democracy, war, what is democracy?

What is Democracy? (23): Democracy is Peace, Ctd.

tank war

In a previous post, I discussed the democratic peace theory. This is a follow up.

Tyrannies, compared to democracies, are more likely to cause wars. Tyrannies violate human rights and these violations make it very difficult to maintain the rule of law (different human rights institute the rule of law, and the indivisibility of human rights means that the whole body of human rights is in danger when some human rights suffer). Without the rule of law, it is very hard to maintain a justice system which that can channel conflicts away from violence. As a consequence, these conflicts can escalate and can become violent. People start to take the law in their own hands. They start to steal, to compensate for goods stolen, and to murder, to compensate for murder. Revenge is seen as the only alternative for justice, and revenge tends to escalate. Large-scale conflict and civil war become a very real threat. And civil wars have a tendency to become international wars.

Moreover, violations of human rights create anger, frustration and revolt (this is true for all types of rights, economic rights included), and can therefore be a direct cause of civil war. And civil war can lead to international war.

However, there is an even more direct link between rights violations and international conflict. Rights violations can create tensions with neighboring countries because of refugee flows, which result from rights violations or civil war. Neighboring countries can decide to intervene in these rights violations or in a civil war, to protect their own safety and prosperity. This intervention can, of course, lead to an international conflict. It is, however, the internal situation in a country and not the intervention from the outside, which causes the conflict. It is the country in which human rights are violated, which creates international instability.