Issue 7, January 2009
This edition of the World Savvy Monitor is mostly concerned with international migration, voluntary and forced, that take people from their country of birth. Yet, it is important to remember that most migration in the world today is internal. There are far more internal economic migrants than international ones. There are more internally displaced people (IDPs) than there are official refugees and asylum-seekers. Moreover, many of those classified as international migrants began their journey with internal migration within their country of birth; or ultimately find themselves internal migrants of one kind or another within their country of destination. See the China and Sudan editions of the World Savvy Monitor for more thorough discussions of internal economic migrants and IDPs. Internal migrants often experience the same discrimination that international migrants do in their host countries. See Amnesty International for a report on the discrimination faced by Chinese internal migrants in health care, education, and employment.
One of the biggest issues concerning internal migration (besides the plight of IDPs) involves urbanization. Many internal migrants are part of a larger global trend toward population concentrations in cities. Today, half of the world’s people (3.3 billion) live in urban areas; and about 1 billion live in slums surrounding urban areas. Many experts note the rise of “global cities” (see the November-December 2008 edition of Foreign Policy Magazine). As Foreign Policy’s editors note, “The world’s biggest, most interconnected cities help set global agendas, weather transnational dangers, and serve as the hubs of global integration. They are the engines of growth for their countries and the gateways to the resources of their regions. In many ways, the story of globalization is the story of urbanization.” Some of the biggest growth is taking place not only in global cities like New York, London, or Moscow, but in the developing world in Dhaka, Lagos, and Sao Paulo.
Infrastructure and capacity describe the ability of quickly growing urban areas to absorb both internal migrants and immigrants. Two countries experiencing an explosion in rural to urban migration are India and China. In an article for the New York Times Somini Sengupta relates that in India, large cities often contain vast disparities in wealth and lifestyle as the concept of “inclusive growth” eludes the Indian economy and urban planners alike. Millionaires often live in protected and lavish enclaves near slums. Inequality is rampant and service delivery highly disparate, a phenomenon seen in many developing countries. The concentration of people living such disparate lives in such close proximity can be destabilizing.
In some areas of China, however, urban planners are seeking to avoid this boom-slum dynamic through rigorous planning and federal purchases of land to create more efficient, highly managed mega cities. This is in place of letting smaller and medium-sized cities grow organically and haphazardly, as has happened in much of the developing world. In some Chinese cities, officials operate on a “build it and they will come” approach as analysts from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) have reported, seeking to create larger cities with more efficient use of resources and delivery of services in place of traditional sprawl that characterizes dispersal of urban areas throughout a region.
The changing distribution of political power in democracies like the United States is also affected by internal migration. As states gain population through internal migration, their electoral weight changes in a system where House seats and electoral votes are apportioned according to demographics. From the migration of African-Americans out of the South to the migration of retired baby boomers to the “sun belt,” political influence shifts along with large migratory flows. “Swing states” are often places where demographics are in flux, combining native, internal migrant, and immigrant populations, such as Michigan and Florida.