Written By: Joe Costanzo
Director UK Institute for Migration Research (UK-IMR), www.uk-imr.ac.uk

Anyone today with access to modern media has heard a podcast, watched a news story or read an article/blog about migration—even those without access to media have almost certainly heard or shared a personal, migration story.

December 18th, is International Migrants Day when we recognize “the large and increasing number of migrants in the world”. (United Nations @ http://www.un.org/en/events/migrantsday/)

Rarely a day goes by when stories of migration do not affect our lives. For some, migration is a first-person experience—our own stories of leaving, of change, of struggle, of searching for something better for us, for our families. For many, migration is part of our families’ stories. For some, migration is something we worry about, how it appears to be changing our villages, our cities and our nations. Migration is all of these things and more.

Who is a migrant? What about refugees, are they migrants too?

These may seem like basic questions but they cause confusion and frustration for many, including students and teachers, statisticians, legal scholars and policy makers trying to make sense of the complex world around us. The public conversation about migration has been nearly constant this year when we have witnessed unprecedented levels of human displacement across the globe.

Journalists, politicians and researchers have been responding daily to a rapidly changing landscape where all forms of migration continue to reach historically higher levels; where public support for humanitarian migration has abruptly shifted towards security concerns; and where long-standing (and assumed stable) policy and philosophical frameworks are in crisis—the European Union’s policy framework on asylum (called the Dublin Regulation) and the principle of free movement within European borders (the Schengen Area) are now being challenged. Here, in the UK, local authorities are responding, attempting to develop strategic plans on how to manage the certainty that change is coming but the uncertainty of what’s to come. This includes the formal resettlement of Syrians and steady claims for asylum from nationals of many other countries, as well as the continued growth in intra-EU migration towards the UK.

International agreements, like the 1951 Refugee Convention – which defines a refugee – and international organizations, like the United Nations, provide legal frameworks and guidance on how to describe and count the many different sorts of people (migrants, refugees, students etc.) who may cross national borders by choice or by force to travel, live, work or settle outside their home countries. The term “migrant” has no universally-accepted definition around the world, but the UN suggests that, in the international context, it refer to “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” regardless of their motivation or legal circumstance.

Where can I find good, reliable information or learn more about migration?

The ‘simple’ answer could be in three easy steps: In places you likely already know, a few you may not and a few classics!

First, locate the basic terms and numbers: For definitions and other migration-related lingo, check out our migration institute’s new glossary of terms. Even though it might seem daunting at first, for numbers check out the experts at the national statistics offices in your country (like the Census Bureau in the United States, or the Office for National Statistics in the UK). These are excellent first points of contact for getting the big picture.

Second, think critically about what you read on migration. Ask yourself (and, why not the person or organization putting out the information?) where the numbers come from and whether sources you trust use those same numbers.

Third, google it (responsibly). I just googled “migration” from here in the UK. It gave me 170 million responses. I might be a migration researcher but I don’t have the time (or the money) to read all those results! Be more specific, googling “migration research” or “migration statistics” reduces the number of hits by millions. Even more important, the top results are recognizable names and organizations—universities, think tanks and government agencies working specifically on these issues. Adding even more specific terms you’re interested in, like your city, or themes like “jobs”, “impacts” or “asylum” will help again. If you find yourself caught on an academic website—fear not! Sources like TheConversation.com and DiscoverSociety.org translate academic research into compelling, accessible and timely data and analysis that can be readily used and understood. Too, targeted google searches have the added value of introducing you to new, emerging sources of information.

The importance of an informed discussion on migration could not be more critical given the historic levels of all forms of migration underway worldwide including, and most visibly, the forced (or humanitarian-led) migration of refugees. And, through the determined efforts of many actors in and outside of academia, a hard-fought and important place has been created for evidence-led debate on migration.

For many reasons, the debate over migration will continue to grab headlines. Hopefully this short blog post gives some easy to remember and easy to use tools so you can question (and provide your own answers to) the migration conversation.

Currently the Director of the UK Institute for Migration Research, Dr Costanzo got his start in the migration field in the early 1990s as an intern in the Consular Section of the US Embassy in Paris (State) before working for many years on migration statistics and migration policy for the US Commission on Immigration Reform, US Census Bureau (Commerce) and US Citizenship & Immigration Services (Homeland Security). Joe and the UK Institute for Migration Research are based in Kent, England.