A long-term, global perspective on human migration

Emerging from the 2019 CfAS design workshop, “Understanding human migration from a long-term perspective,” the goal of this working group is to develop a synthetic model of the relationship between migration and human security that can assist in the development of more humane and sustainable migration policies. Contemporary human migration poses one of the greatest challenges to global peace and sustainability. In 2020, about 280 million people, or 3.3% of the world’s population, were international migrants. Of these, the United Nations Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 1 in 78, or more than 100 million people, have been forcibly displaced, fleeing their homes to escape conflict, persecution, ecological devastation and unsustainable conditions. The consensus (see, for example, the National Intelligence Council report) is that the pace and magnitude of migration will increase in the future.

There has been an interdisciplinary explosion in studies of human migration over the past few decades. Most of this research, and virtually all the research used by policy makers, is based on present-day data or at best incorporates data with a shallow time frame. Yet, migration is not a new phenomenon. Most societies have established structural frameworks and cultural processes to facilitate the movement of people, many of which are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Identifying commonalities and differences among these frameworks and processes, discerning which set of these cultural traits were successful for both migrants and host populations, and forwarding the results into specific elements of modern migration policies, requires synthesizing data from a multitude of case studies that span the range of human experience (see Altschul et al. 2020). 

The working group consists of collaborators in West Africa, Europe, and North America. Regular meetings are held via Zoom, with each collaborator working independently between meetings. In 2022, with the support of funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the SRI Foundation, the group met in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to bring their collective understanding to bear on the migration crisis in West Africa. The group has presented at major conferences and has several publications under development.

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