Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency
Migrant women at work in the "Hopeful Hands" sewing factory started by two Iraqi women in Canada.

Since the earliest times, humanity has been on the move. Some people move in search of labour or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. Still others move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors.

Today, more people than ever before live in a country other than the one in which they were born. In 2017, the number of migrants reached 258 million, compared to about 173 million in 2000. However, the proportion of international migrants in the world population is only slightly higher than that recorded over the past decades, equaling 3.4% in 2017, compared to 2.8% in 2000 and 2.3% in 1980.

While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others migrate out of necessity. There are approximately 68 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 25 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons.

Who is a migrant?

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is. 

Migrants and the SDGs

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes for the first time the contribution of migration to sustainable development. 11 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain targets and indicators that are relevant to migration or mobility. The Agenda's core principle is to "leave no one behind," including migrants.

The SDGs’ central reference to migration is made in target 10.7: to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. Other targets that directly reference migration mention trafficking, remittances, international student mobility and more. In addition to this, migration is indirectly relevant to many more targets across topics. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration for the benefit of all, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. In 2016 IOM entered into an agreement with the United Nations (A/70/976), becoming one of its specialized agencies


To promote diversity and inclusion of migrants in society, IOM has developed the platform ‘i am a migrant,’ which features first-hand accounts from individuals, providing insights into the experiences of migrants of all backgrounds and throughout their migratory journeys. 

Data on migration

In 2017, the number of international migrants worldwide – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – reached 258 million (from 244 million in 2015). Female migrants constituted 48% of this international migrant stock. There are an estimated 36.1 million migrant children, 4.4 million international students and 150.3 million migrant workers. Approximately 31% of the international migrant stock worldwide reside in Asia, 30% in Europe, 26% in the Americas, 10% in Africa and 3% in Oceania [Source: Global Migration Data Portal]

It can be a challenge to make sense of available migration data, as this is often scattered across different organisations and agencies, and not easily comparable. IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre runs the Global Migration Data Portal, which serves as a unique access point to timely, comprehensive migration statistics and reliable information about migration data globally. The site presents migration data from diverse sources and is designed to help policy makers, national statistical officers, journalists and the general public interested in migration to navigate the increasingly complex landscape of migration data.

Global Action

Large-scale movements of refugees and migrants affect all UN Member States and they require closer cooperation and responsibility-sharing. In 2016 the UN General Assembly convened a high-level plenary meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants. The UN Secretary-General prepared the report 'In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants' (A/70/59) with recommendations on the issue.

UN member states adopted a set of commitments, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (A/RES/71/1), recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to migration. The New York Declaration acknowledges the positive contribution of migrants to sustainable and inclusive development, and commits to protecting the safety, dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status.

In March 2017 the UN Secretary-General appointed Louise Arbour of Canada as his Special Representative for International Migration to lead the follow-up to the migration-related aspects of the high-level summit.

As a result of the New York Declaration, UN Member States agreed to cooperate in the elaboration of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted at an intergovernmental conference on international migration in December 2018 in Morocco. The GCM covers diverse issues such as strengthening labour rights for migrant workers, improving migration data as a basis for evidence-based policies, saving lives and establishing international efforts on missing migrants, and many others. The implementation of the GCM will represent progress in governing migration in a way that increases its benefits for individuals, communities and countries alike, and reduces its risks for all.

International Migrants Day

In December 2000, the General Assembly proclaimed 18th December International Migrants Day (A/RES/55/93). On that day in 1990, the Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (A/RES/45/158). 


Drupal template developed by DGC Web Services Section and Digital Soutions and Support Unit