World Migration Report 2013: Getting the Global Picture

By Joe Lowry

Dilini, from Sri Lanka is a security guard in Kuwait who feels her mentality has changed in the 13 years since she left Sri Lanka. Pablo is a Spaniard living in Chinatown, Buenos Aires, who works as a creative editor. He wants to move back to Spain when the economy there improves. Vera is a German film student enjoying the diversity of New York. And Carlos, a doctor from Peru, but working in Angola misses his family back home. He is saving money and getting ahead in his career, thinking long-term for his young son.

Together Dilini, Pablo, Vera and Carlos represent the four migration pathways explored in “World Migration Report 2013”, IOM’s flagship annual publication, which examines migrant well-being and development.

This year IOM teamed up with the research company Gallup to poll more than 25,000 migrants in over 150 countries to find out what life is really like for the hundreds of millions of our fellow global citizens, on the move North-South, South-North, North-North and South-South in search of work, escape, education, love, refuge, family, adventure…in short, in search of a better life.

But is that what they get? And how do we know?

“Improving the well-being of the individual” – getting a better life – is one of the key aims  of the UN Millennium Declaration, but development often lacks the personal touch, focusing much more on the macro than the micro. And migrant contributions are viewed in how much money is sent back home, rather than how lives are affected.

The latest World Migration Report takes a different tack, and aims to focus on the human stories whilst debunking quite a few myths about direction of travel, employment and remittances. The 215-page report focuses on six core dimensions of well-being, to present a unique picture of the gains and losses associated with migration, and the implications for human development.

The gains and losses can be illustrated by Shirmila’s story. She is one of Sri Lanka’s 1.7 million migrant workers who are estimated to generate about USD 6 billion annually between them.  But that’s only one side of the story. After seven years away, working as a domestic helper in Kuwait she knocked on the door of the dream house that her hard work had helped to build "and a strange woman opened the door and said she was my husband’s wife!”

17 years later she is still in Kuwait and is surrounded by her children, all of whom have found good jobs in the Gulf state. Now they are providing for the next generation back home, ensuring their future.

So where do we go from here, and what do we do with the precious information that WMR 2013 has thrown into the spotlight? For starters, the High Level Dialogue on Migration at the UN in New York next month will be all the richer for this report.

“How migration is integrated into the development agenda will depend partly on whether the focus remains on poverty eradication in the poorest countries of the world, or on a broader vision of inclusive and sustainable development for all countries,” according to the report’s authors.

“Whatever approach is taken, there is clearly a need for a much stronger evidence base to understand better the linkages between migration and development. Additional research and better indicators of migrant well-being are also needed to generate a clearer understanding of the implications of migration for human development in the future.”


Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM