Migration is one of the most important policy issues globally – but, apart from its overall size, very little is known about it.
As the world’s first International Forum on Migration Statistics gets underway in Paris this week, latest UN figures suggest that there are 257-million migrants in the world.
The forum has been convened by IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency with partners Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).
Investing in migration data could potentially bring huge benefits for migrants and governments alike.
For example, a forthcoming IOM and McKinsey report finds that data could help to increase the income of migrants in the European Union by E5-bilion to E7-billion if migrants were able to fully utilise their skills.
Better data could also help to increase the money that migrants send back home by $15-billion to $20-billion, or help identify double the number of trafficking victims.
IOM DG William Lacy Swing says that governments lose out on large benefits if data is not used to its full potential.
“Too often, data are seen as the abstract business of experts operating in backrooms. Yet data are essential to produce real-life results such as protecting migrants in vulnerable situations, fill labour market shortages and improve integration, manage asylum procedures, ensure the humane return of migrants ordered to leave or increase remittance flows,” he says in the new report.
Part of the problem is lack of data. For example, approximately half of the countries in the world do not include a question in their census asking when the migrant arrived, which makes it difficult to distinguish between long-term and short-term migrants. And 17% of countries in Africa have not conducted a census in the last 10 years.
Lack of good quality data limits policy makers’ ability to manage migration, plan ahead and allocate resources.
Another problem: we are not making the best use of the vast amounts of data which are already being produced. Data can be scattered across various agencies within countries and between countries making it difficult to obtain a comprehensive picture of migration trends.
We live in an era of big data, where vast amounts of data are continuously generated by mobile devices and web-based platforms. For example, smugglers and people seeking the services of smugglers regularly use social media. These sorts of data could give us a range of different new insights into the dynamics of migration but have yet to be fully analysed.
We also need to communicate better the key facts and figures about migration. Often, the general public is misinformed about migration. Global polls show that people often overestimate the number of migrants that live in their country.
Some advances have been made recently. IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) launched a Global Migration Data Portal in December 2017. It provides easy access to migration facts and figures from topics as diverse as international migration statistics, refugees and asylum seekers, trafficking, remittances, migration policies, and public opinion.