Human Migration: Stopping to Think

Statistics like 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide tug at our hearts. Numbers like the ones in the chart above overwhelm some of us with many different emotions. Some may feel anger at the atrocities that these numbers represent. Others may be moved to do something about it – send funds or volunteer to help with agencies like the UNHCR, World Vision, various missions agencies or myriad of other relief organizations. And there are those who may acknowledge the plight of these refugees, but quickly get back to their own lives, not giving it a second thought.

68.5 million is a large number, and much of the focus of the media is on these unfortunate people. Much of the reason for that is because “news” as we have come to know it today is centered on sensationalism – we are generally bored, so we crave better stimuli, therefore, to keep up with our attention, the news outlets have to find sensational stories. And with the rise of “fake news” we don’t know for sure if what we learn is true or not. Let me give you an example.

Recently I read from a “refutable source,” as in Time magazine, that the human attention span is now shorter than that of a gold fish – 8 seconds for humans, and 9 seconds for gold fish (see the May 14, 2015 article here). Two years later (March 10, 2017), an article was posted by yet another “reputable source,” as in BBC, debunking that notion (see the article here).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the UNHCR’s numbers are wrong. I am simply pointing out the fact that there is a lot of information at our finger tips. In fact, the amount of information out there is overwhelming to sort through to find the truth. Therefore, too many of us are either indiscriminate in what we read or see on the internet, or simply tune out all information. What I am advocating for, if I may, is that we pay careful attention to some of the changes that are going on around the world, and ask some intelligent questions.

For example, what does it mean for the world if 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced? If 85% of the world’s displace people are in “developing countries,” what does it mean for a country to be “developing?” And, if 57% of those people are from South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria, where are the other 43% from? The chart also shows that 10 million people are stateless – what does that mean? If they are “stateless,” where do they live? What does all this movement of people do to the cultures of the places that they are moving to?

Let me throw another statistic out there. 244 million. That is the number of people who are living in countries outside of their birth countries. Who are these people? We know that 68.5 million are forcibly displaced people, but only 25.4 million would count in that number (remember, 40 million are internally displaced – meaning, they are still within the borders of their own countries, just forced out from their home town). Others are people like my family. We left Korea (my birth country), and became a U.S. citizen. Then my wife (born in Korea) and our three daughters (all born in the U.S.) moved to Canada, and became citizens this year. Vast majority of the 244 million are people who have moved willingly, mostly due to job situations, to other countries. Many of them are living in the region that their countries are located (i.e. South Korean moving to Japan or China, French moving to Netherlands, Brazilian moving to Peru, you get the picture).

244 million is 3.3% of the world’s population. When we’re talking about percentages, the migration numbers do not seem huge. However, in his book, Microtrends: the small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes, Mark J. Penn gives numerous examples of small movements changing the world. According to his research, 3.3% is a significant number – it, indeed, is a “small force behind tomorrow’s big changes.”

If we open our eyes, we will see that the changes are already happening around us. Let me give you a few here as “appetizers,” then tackle some of the changes in the coming posts. As you go through the day, see if you could spot some of these changes around you (I will limit these to North America – U.S. & Canada – as this is where I am familiar with).

  1. Number of “ethnic” food restaurants have increased
  2. Labels of the products that we buy are in two or more languages
  3. It’s not too surprising to see women wearing head scarves, hijabs, or burkas around us
  4. More mosques, and temples (Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, and other) are being built
  5. Inter-cultural marriages are more common

I hope you enjoy noticing how your neighborhoods, cities, and countries are changing as a result of human migration. Please leave your observations in comments below.

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