How do conflict and lack of opportunity impact the South Asian migration?

Published Date:   Friday, May 01, 2015

Migration as a process of moving from one’s own country to another country has been a historical phenomena. Migration has also shaped much of the flux related to the global economy. There have been debates among developing and developed countries about the positive and negative sides of migration and outflow of human capital. The concepts like brain drain, reverse brain drain, and brain circulation has been studied by economists, sociologist and policy makers in the academic circles. But then we know how Aristotle gave us the wonderful style of analyzing phenomena’s using numbers and mathematics. This is also being constantly tried by social scientist researching in the area of migration and labour mobility, were using statistical analysis discussions are put forward. There have been some insightful statistical reports related to migration and global flow of human capital around the world. If we carefully analyze statistical report published by UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affair “Trends in International Migration Stock: The 2013 Revision” then we find that in the period of 1990-2013 there has been some interesting annual changes of migration stock of South Asian countries which are India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

South Asian countries have been dominating the outmigration for a long time now. However, the recent statistics shows something else! India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka among the South Asian countries show negative trends in the migrant population stock. Maldives leads among the countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh which have shown positive growth of annual migration stock with some decadal fluctuations. There has been a continuous negative change in the migration population of India in terms of both the sexes. In the decade of 1990-2000 there was negative annual change of -1.6 % of migration stock of India which was followed with more negative change of -1.7 % in the decade of 2000-2010. In the year 2010-2013 the annual rate of change in the migration stock was -0.6% which still reflects the negative trend of annual migration stock of the country. Pakistan also shows a negative trend of migration with some positive fluctuations, starting in the decade 1990-2000 Pakistan had -4.4 % of annual rate of change of migration stock for both the sexes. Ending in the year 2010-2013 the data shows that Pakistan still has a negative migration stock of -1.8% of the population. Sri Lanka in terms of both the sexes has also shown negative trends which during the time phase of 1990-2013 stood at constant -1.5%.

In terms of positive trends in the migration stock among the countries of South Asia, Maldives leads with starting figures of 11.4% during 1990-2000 and ends with 6.4% of annual rate of change for both the sexes during 2010-2013. Even though there is decline in the figures compared to 11.4% to 6.4% but still there is positive annual change which shows that still large number of Maldivians are migrating to other countries. After Maldives, Nepal also shows positive rate of annual change in the migration stock of both the sexes which in time phase of 1990-2000 stood at 5.1% and ended at 2.4% in 2010-2013. For Bhutan the figures stand at 3% annual rate of change and ends at 1.6% for both the sexes during the year 2010-2013. Bangladesh has also shown positive trends of annual rate of change of migration population which during the decade of 1990-2000 were 1.1% and during the 2010-2013 stood at 1.2%. Afghanistan also shows positive trends of migration for the both the sexes which during the decadal phase of 1990-2000 stood at 2.7% and at the time phase of 2010-2013 stood at 0.9%.

The overall statistical figure of South Asia shows a negative trend of migration stock for both the sexes. During 1990-2000 the figure was -2.5% and at the time phase of 2010-2013 it stood at -0.5%. Some important inferences can be drawn from the above statistical figures in general for South Asia and particularly for specific countries of South Asia. As there is negative trend of migration stock, it shows that increasing opportunities of education, work and economic avenues are contributing to the negative trends of migration. Specifically countries like India and Sri Lanka show continuous trends of negative annual rate of change of migration stock which is related to the fact that in past two decades both these countries have developed in many fields be it education, infrastructure, economy and work opportunities. The case of Pakistan is interesting since it shows some positive fluctuations with negative trends. This is also more important to understand since Pakistan in recent years has faced severe problems related to terrorism and sectarian violence. Compared to Pakistan, Afghanistan shows positive trends of migration in the time phase of 1990-2013 which can be best understood in relation to factors like soviet invasion, prolonged civil war, Taliban rule and now resurgent terrorism. Bhutan and Nepal being two small Himalayan nations of South Asia are naturally inclined to have positive trends in migration since there are limited economic avenues, educational opportunities and jobs prospects due to small size of the economy. The case of Bangladesh is related to its high growth in population and limited geographical area to sustain such a exorbitant rise in the population. There is no doubt in this reason why Bangladesh is ahead of many big South Asian countries like India and Pakistan in terms of outflow of migration. The case of Maldives can be related to couple of factors like education, work and limited economic avenues and of the most significant one being problems faced related to climate change. Maldives being one of the important locations in South Asia where impacts of climate change is most severe and considered to be most threatening in future. 

As discussed in the first paragraph that Aristotle’s sense of understanding phenomena’s using mathematics and statistics is what holds relevance for understanding global patterns and trends related to migration. As it is mentioned in the UN’s ESCPA report that many details related to migration is still not known as there is no primary source of data collection since many countries still don’t have dedicated surveys for migration studies and analysis. As the world has always been interconnected many social scientist have tried to qualitatively study this interconnection, but then knowing this interconnection and understanding with help of numbers and statistics makes our analysis more precise and empirically grounded. 

Rajiv K. Mishra (GRFDT Executive Committee Member and Research Student, Centre for Studies in Science Policy, School Social Sciences, JNU. Email ID: [email protected])


United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2013). Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 revision (United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2013).

UN ESCAP, Stats Brief: Measuring international migration in a development context. February 2015, Issue No. 05.

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