Internal migration is a common trend around the globe, and China is no exception. It has one of the highest levels of migration, mostly from rural areas to urban centers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 271 million people did not live in their registered residence for more than six months last year. Some estimates project that number will hit 350 million by 2050.
Rural-to-urban migration in particular continues to stimulate China’s economic development. The largest human migration in the world takes place during the Chinese New Year season, when millions of people travel from major cities to their hometowns to reunite with loved ones. There are many reports, books and documentaries that tell vivid stories of the incredible personal sacrifice migrants and their families make in pursuit of a better life. Those sacrifices can even become so unbearable that families ultimately go back to searching for work or business opportunities closer to home. After the holiday break this year, China experienced a shortage of workers as some failed to return to work.
Not everyone, however, is eager to return home to the countryside. Dominated by the agricultural industry, the rural, Hunan province town in which I reside is home to residents who go to bed far earlier than urbanites and who perform demanding labor that reaps little financial wealth. Many young people in particular have no desire to perpetuate the status quo. It is pretty uncommon to see residents in the 20-plus and 30-plus age demographics.
The Chinese government has started to offer certain incentives to make rural living more appealing (such as subsidies and machinery) and has even considered paying premiums for insurance against bad weather. The combination of such incentives with increasing rural development and family demands has been successful in drawing some residents back. But youth in particular still tend to prefer more urban lifestyles.
Mexico’s immigration commissioner announced yesterday that overall migration (based on figures around the unauthorized) from Central America bound for Mexico and the United States decreased by nearly 70 percent over the past five years. Commissioner Salvador Beltrán del Río of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, or INM) came to this conclusion by comparing the number of detained, undocumented Central American migrants in 2005 versus that in 2010—433,000 versus 140,000. He observed that the downward trend has continued thus far in 2011.
Commissioner Beltrán pointed out that Central Americans crossing into Mexico face grave risks of violence, kidnapping and extortion due to the increased association of organized crime with migrant trafficking. The International Organization for Migration’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Michele Klein Solomon, has concurred, adding that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or CNDH) estimates the number of annual migrant kidnappings to be around 22,000. Between April 2011 and September 2011, CNDH has placed that figure at 11,333.
However, some in Mexico dispute INM’s methodology. Rodolfo Casillas, a professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, contends: “What’s dropping is the number of people detained by immigration agents, which is different from the Central American migration flow that goes through Mexico.”
Mexico’s government has taken action to address issues around the treatment of migrants. In May, President Felipe Calderón approved a new migration law that aims to better protect migrants through such measures as punishing migration authorities for any unlawful acts committed toward migrants.