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How Historical Inequities & Emerging Trends Impact Migrant Rights

Dim image of Migrants walking hand in hand

In 2000, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) predicted  that "migration is likely to be a cutting-edge issue in international relations, economics and social order in many countries."

Titled "The Human Rights of Migrants," the United Nations (UN) agency's analysis also noted "the treatment of individuals as migrants, immigrants and refugees had [historically] been little more than a footnote to many policy debates, governmental consultations and academic reviews," and raised serious concerns about human rights protections among the world’s diverse migrant population. 

It turns out the IOM was right about the global significance of migration, with the worldwide migrant population (281 million) growing by more than 100 million since that publication. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migrants are particularly vulnerable and are often exposed to "xenophobia; discrimination; poor living, housing, and working conditions; and inadequate access to health services." 

That means the international community must prioritize the protection of migrants' rights, including their health and safety—not only helping improve their lives, but ensuring governments are prepared for new and emerging associated trends. 

One way for governments and other agencies to obtain a comprehensive and timely analysis of migration is through meaningful collection and analysis of reliable data outlining such challenges (more on this below). 


To better understand the expansive topic of migrants around the world, let's take a look at some relevant facts: 
  • Migration, on the rise since the turn of the century, slowed in 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which spawned border closings and various public health measures limiting human mobility. 
  • Migrants comprise 3.6 percent of the world’s population. If migrants collectively formed their own country, it would be one of the most populous in the world. (For perspective, the United States, the third largest nation by population, is home to about 4 percent.) 
  • According to a UN report on migration in 2020, "labor or family migration" was the top reason for people moving from one country to another, along with various humanitarian crises. 
  • The aforementioned UN report noted that two-thirds of international migrants reside in 20 countries—with the United States being the most popular destination, followed by Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the U.K.
  • Migrants face stressful situations that affect their physical and mental health and expose them to common mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

"Migration is likely to be a cutting-edge issue in international relations, economics and social order in many countries."

Migrants & Human Rights 

At the UN General Assembly in September 2016, governments adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The non-legally binding agreement helped establish a framework for protecting migrants' rights, condemned xenophobia, and aimed to provide support to countries receiving "large numbers of refugees and migrants." 

Human rights groups continue to call on governments to do more to protect the rights of migrants, including through the International Migrants Bill of Rights (IMBR) initiative, founded at Georgetown University Law Center in 2008. Even so, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in December 1948, declared "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" and "everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law." 

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): "Human rights violations against migrants can include a denial of civil and political rights such as arbitrary detention, torture, or a lack of due process, as well as economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to health, housing or education." 

Discrimination by governments or other groups against migrants can have far-reaching consequences, the UN department states

These include: 

  • Exposing migrants to violence or other forms of intimidation by extremist groups
  • Making migrants feel ostracized and forcing them to move away from certain communities and into poor living situations 
  • Excluding them from basic governmental services and civic engagement, including schooling, which is especially detrimental to children 


Understanding Emerging Migrant Trends 

For governments to live up to international frameworks to protect migrants' rights, a better understanding of both historical and current challenges is critical. 

As the Migration Policy Institute notes, migrants today are exposed to a host of issues, including the continued public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and other cascading conflicts. 

"2021 did not see a return to pre-pandemic migration trends, but instead witnessed new patterns of movement in some places," the organization reports. "At the same time, new conflicts erupted in 2021, ongoing crises continued to smolder, and forcibly displaced migrants often found themselves stuck in the middle." 

Among some of the most disruptive events facing migrants has been the lack of uniform border reopenings during the pandemic—significantly upsetting movement across physical borders by land, and air. Also, the absence of a coordinated, global campaign to vaccinate entire populations, especially for those in developing countries with limited access to some of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines, has also proved to be a major impediment. 

"Unlike efforts by national and local governments to require vaccine 'passports' to access businesses and other institutions, which often prompted stiff resistance, the imposition of this new vaccine mandate for international travel has received little domestic pushback," states the Migration Policy Institute. "These policies have, however, led to concerns about equity in terms of who has access to COVID-19 vaccines, which vaccine, and who administers it. For one, although vaccines have been easily accessible in many wealthy countries, there remains a global scarcity, and barriers have often been particularly acute for migrants and refugees." 


Leveraging Accurate, Reliable & Timely Data About Migrants 

Making good policy requires sound data—and that's especially important when addressing inequities and human rights concerns within the diverse migrant population.  

In making policy decisions, it's common for officials to utilize exhaustive studies and reports to get to the heart of emerging trends and issues. Yet while these are incredibly valuable, they can take a long time to produce and limit your ability to proactively address immediate problems within communities. 

The United Nations, for example, recognizes the need for such data. 

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: "Reliable data on migrants and migration are crucial for assessing current and future trends, identifying policy priorities and making informed decisions. Reliable and comprehensive data on migration can help ensure that discussions on migration, at both national and international levels, are based on facts, not myths or mere perceptions. Accurate, consistent and timely data on international migration are also essential to monitor progress in the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration." 

There's also a critical need for more information about "irregular migration," which generally refers to migrants without "correct authorization" to remain in a particular country. 

In such cases, the United Nations notes that irregular migration is a "complex phenomenon" with limited data. 

"Most official data systems fail to capture either the number or the circumstances of migrants, and many international data on migration do not accurately account for irregular migrants," it states. "Some data are available on those irregular migrants who are detained or otherwise subject to State action—e.g., arrests at border control points, numbers in immigration detention and return figures—but this is rarely indicative of the total irregular migrant population. Irregular migrants are very rarely included in population censuses, which remain the main statistical source of information about migrant populations." 

While global migration increased throughout the past two decades, the rate slowed once the pandemic took hold, which created its own set of concerns for governments across the world. Faced with systemic problems, such as discrimination and insufficient social services, and new and emerging trends, world agencies must redouble their efforts to ensure migrants are protected. Having accurate data derived from online platforms, which provides exponentially more information than traditional surveys, is key to meeting these needs quickly, and with foresight.

Citibeats leverages AI for social understanding by interpreting unstructured data in real time. We collect and analyze migration-related comments from social media, forums, blogs, and more to generate actionable insights months earlier than surveys and other traditional methods. Our customer solutions also focus on other key issues, including gender equality, sustainability, vaccines, and more.