Migration in South Asia: a Review


Migration encompasses any kind of population movement regardless of length, composition or cause, either across an international border or within a state, and includes refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people, and economic migrants. Estimates of its scale vary. According to the International Organization for Migration, some 192 million people - about 3 per cent of the world’s population - are living outside their place of birth, while UNDP estimates are higher at 740 million internal migrants and 214 million international migrants. Undocumented migration is harder to track, but the International Labour Organization estimates that there are 15–30 million irregular immigrants internationally.

Contrary to popular perception that migration is mostly a South-North phenomenon, South-South migration is large. Available data from national censuses suggest that nearly half the migrants from developing countries reside in other developing countries; almost 80 per cent of South-South migration takes place between countries that have contiguous borders.

Cross-border migration poses a big challenge for many countries, in terms of the magnitude and variety of migration patterns and processes. Appropriately managed, migration can greatly benefit the individual as well as his/her source and destination communities. In contrast, poorly managed migration can result in social, cultural, and economic difficulties, including public health problems such as HIV/AIDs, TB, and malaria. Nevertheless, migration is a natural process in the socioeconomic transformation of a country and cannot be stopped without coercive measures, which is not feasible in a democracy. Migrants make a huge contribution to the economy and culture of their source/destination countries by filling labour-market needs in high- and low-skill segments of the market, rejuvenating populations, improving labour-market efficiency, promoting entrepreneurship, spurring urban renewal, and injecting dynamism and diversity into destination countries and societies. Although migrants are exposed to new risks, migration in the first instance reduces vulnerability and contributes to a secure livelihood and to reduced risks of seasonality, harvest failure, and food shortage.

This desk review was undertaken to synthesize available evidence on programmes, policies, and research related to migrants in the South Asia region, specifically India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The objectives of this review are: (1) to synthesize existing evidence around migrants in order to characterize their specific vulnerabilities, (2) to collate information around existing policies and programmes for migrants and to identify gaps and challenges, and (3) to provide recommendations for future areas of research and evidence-gathering.


Vartika Sharma; Lopamudra Ray Saraswati; Susmita Das; Avina Sarna. Migration in South Asia: a Review. Population Council, New Delhi, India (2015) 34 pp.

Migration in South Asia: a Review

Published 1 January 2015