The world is on the move Have you been talking lately about the EU enlargement, holidays, refugees, job seeking, commuting to work, meeting, family, retiring? Then you’ve been talking about migration. If international immigrants – nearly 200 million – lived in the same nation this would be the fifth largest on our planet, more populated than Brazil or Russia!
Migration is happening all over the world, between and within countries, and is on the rise as people move in response to an unequal distribution of resources, services and opportunities, to escape political, religious or environmental disasters. ( To learn basic ideas on international immigration ) (To see the latest report of the GCIM) (To consult a discussion of the pro’s and con’s of the EU enlargement)
People moving from rural to urban areas have contributed to the explosive growth of cities around the globe. A recent study about immigration in cities reveals that 20 cities of the world have over a million migrants, 14 of these are in coastal areas.(To see cities on a World map)
According to UN sources, Europe is the continent that received the largest number of international migrants in 2005, followed by Asia and the US.
Is the ocean always bluer on the other side? Studies have shown that migrants would choose to stay in their home countries if they could earn a living wage and work in a safe environment, with better access to jobs, education and free access to basic healthcare. By and large, humans move to improve their quality of life. Priorities vary depending on their satisfied or unsatisfied needs. Maslow’s theory, of the 1940’s, illustrates his view of humans’ hierarchy of needs and motivation and may be thought provoking in reasoning why people decide to move. (click here to see Maslows theory) Although migration has existed as long as human history, between 1965 and 1990 we witnessed increases of 45 million. And the numbers are rising.
International organisations talk about the opportunities of migration, quoting Brunson McKinley, International Organisation of Migration Director General: “ Migration is a catalyst for change and development, and in a world that is changing at a lightning pace, not harnessing the power of migration is shortsighted. Countries such as the US have been built on immigration while traditionally emigrant countries such as Ireland or Italy are witnessing booming economies thanks to migrant labour”.
But many others see the issue as a problem. Tragic episodes like the drowning or arrival of migrants in flimsy boats to the coasts of the Canary Islands or the Strait of Gibraltar raises the issue of Illegal migration and regulations in Europe. (click here to see a map of death toll around the coasts and seas of the EU)
In the UK the concerns about immigration can be summarised by consulting Migration Watch, the most active “watchdog” organisation on Immigration issues
Does migration specially impact coastal areas, or vice-versa?
The impacts of immigration on the environment are being widely argued, mostly on the principle that an increase in population leads inevitably to a stronger impact on the environment. Anthony Browne, Environmental Editor of the Times, in his book “Do We Need Mass Immigration” suggests Britain is full and argues that citizens are losing their quality of life due to unsustainable immigration (Consult this publication).
The environmental costs provoked by seasonal migrants are widely recognised. Malta, as many other coastal areas in southern Europe, receives three times its residential population of tourists. This leads to serious consequences on water services or waste management and this is not to mention the effects on society such as healthcare, house prices (To see an example of economic activity related to seasonal migration), economic dependence, cultural identity, etc.
More radical views are held by various anti-immigration organisations who are using environmental footprint as one of their arguments against immigrants. One of the most extreme groups is the US based Vdare. They claim their nation needs to keep immigrants out in order to keep up the American lifestyle (and thus to retain the largest per capita ecological footprint on the planet according to the Redefining Progress 2004 Report on Nations Footprint). The use of these arguments has pushed organisations like Friends of the Earth to raise their voice on this issue, “While population growth puts pressure on the world’s natural resources, Friends of the Earth does not believe that it is the main cause of environmental degradation. The world’s richer nations, including the UK, are putting by far the greatest pressure on the world’s atmosphere, oceans and forests. The richest 20 per cent of people consume 86 per cent of the Earth’s resources and tend to have the lowest birth rates” (click here to see the whole briefing note). Number 10 of the top ten migration issues according to Migration Information in 2005 have been the record numbers of displaced people due to environmental disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 (see related article) or hurricane Katrina (see related article). Up to 10 million people fled drought and famine in the Sahel region of Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s settling in wetter coastal regions that lead to severe environmental degradation. Climate Change may well be a global issue to keep an eye on. A study for the Washington-based Climate Institute suggests that 200 million people could be displaced due to factors such as climate change and sea level rise by 2050. This has been further confirmed by the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University in Bonn who have reported that environmental factors attributable to climate change will create up to 25 million new ‘environmental refugees’ over the next five years. But recent studies by authors from universities of the UK and the US have been questioning the direct cause-effect relation of population growth and environmental degradation as well as the impacts of migration in coastal environments and social resilience (see related article on a case study in Indonesia) and research on social resilience to migration in Coastal ecosystems in Vietnam). Another study explored the impact of Rapid Migrations on Environment Stability in the Phillipines. It is notable that all of these studies have been centered on developing regions.
In 2006 UNESCO published A handbook for measuring the progress and outcomes of Integrated Coastal and Ocean management, Governance Performance, Ecological and Socioeconomic indicators that may provide coastal managers with some basic socioeconomic information regarding migration. Indicators such as diversity, residential and migrant population, land and water tenure are a few of those recommended to allow decision-makers to determine whether Integrated Coastal Management interventions are achieving their intended goals.
Clearly, migration is an issue of global proportions, but one which manifests itself at the local level. The potential impacts are to be seen in competition for resources, pressure on public services, and cultural tensions. On the positive side, migrant labour may be vital to many agricultural and service sectors, especially the tourism economy, and cultural diversity can bring many positive benefits. And how should coastal managers take migration into account? The jury is still out on this question. And as with so many coastal issues, a better separation of information between coastal regions and the hinterland is required before we can draw any conclusions.