Migration is not a new phenomenon; however, there are new demographic revelations with the estimated 214 million international migrants (World Migration Report 2010). For instance, women now comprise approximately 49 % of the world’s migrants – the so-called “feminization” of migration. More important is the startling numbers of young migrants.
According to the Youth Supplement of the United Nations Population Fund(UNFPA) State of the World Population Report 2007, young people make up about a quarter of migrants worldwide. If the definition of youth includes young people up to the age of 29, young people represent half of global migrant flows (UNFPA, 2006).
Beyond migrating themselves, youth are affected by migration in other ways. As the total number of international migrant’s increases, so does the number of children and youth who accompany their parents in the migration process or feel the impacts of migration – negative or positive – if they are left behind. The recent revolution in North Africa has already led to refugees seeking asylum and work in Europe, and is likely to further increase the number of young people in forced migration.
For demographic reasons and forecasting with various economic theories of migration, it is important to note that, Europe with its aging population will need young migrants more than ever to sustain and promote its economic growth.
Youth in the age of globalization have access to relatively cheap and easy means of transport, and are more likely than ever to migrate for reasons ranging from family reunification to the desire for better education and employment opportunities to the need to escape war or conflicts. As mobile phone networks and internet spread rapidly around the developing world, youth are increasingly aware of opportunities beyond their borders, even as immigration laws become stricter worldwide. A recent study in Ghana by an affiliate of Young People We Care, for example, found that over 88% of Ghanaian youth internet users had plans to leave the country within five years for education or employment.
A call for attention for the largely “invisible” people
Despite the growing number of young people affected by international migration, youth migration is rarely a key issue at international debates as compared to other issues like female migration. It is exciting, however, to see that the international community was no longer turning a blind eye to Child and Youth Migration at a time when youth unemployment – a key reason why many young people wish to migrate – has sparked revolutions in countries like Tunisia, spreading through Egypt to other North African countries.
The entire African continent is at the brink of a revolution if we use youth unemployment as a yardstick for unseating failed governments or regimes. Still within the confines of the UN-proclaimed International Year of Youth, and for the second time the World Bank has advised African governments to urgently tackle youth unemployment to avoid losing economic gains in its 2011 World Development Report.
These developments also reminds me of a recent speaking engagement I had with UNICEF following the launch of its flagship State of the World Children’s report, which tried to make a case for investing in adolescents.
Traditionally, many politicians see young people as a “problem group.” Economists and demographers have put forth a number of reasons why Africa’s current youth bulge should be seen as a catalyst for development, however; if offered the right investment of resources, they will yield great economic, social and political dividends. All other things being equal, when a greater proportion of a country’s total population is in the middle-age phase of the demographic transition the country enjoys increased income growth, higher savings rates and increasing economic power, as experienced by as many as a third of East Asian countries with their so called “miracle” growth rates over the past few decades. This middle age or youth bulge presents a demographic dividend or potential which can help increase productivity, savings and investments – all of which are crucial for economic growth. However, sound economic policies are needed at this stage to help propel economic growth.
There are many logical reasons to invest in young people by promoting entrepreneurship and smooth school-to work-transition opportunities, amongst other programs. For instance, young people who would otherwise have been engaged in socially destructive activities such as armed robbery, irregular migration and prostitution, instead find worthwhile opportunities that promote their personal and community’s development in their country of origin. When opportunities are abundant for young people, they are able to make rational choices. Conversely, when youth lack opportunities such as education and employment, migration for instance becomes a necessity rather than a choice.
Appropriately, the Global Migration Group shall host a two day Informal Thematic Debate on International Migration and Development at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 19th of May, 2011 on “Migration, Adolescents and Youth: Harnessing Opportunities for Development”.
The way forward: Realizing needs of young migrants and involving them in shaping their own future
To add to the debate on adolescents and youth migration, below are some recommendations that we would like the President of the General Assembly and the Global Migration Group to consider:
Following the above discussion, it is apparent that there are various ways for the UN, sending countries and destination countries to work together to harness the development potential of children, adolescents and youth who are affected by migration, whether as migrants themselves or as family “left behind.” Properly managed which also requires the active participation of youth in migration debates, polices and actions , migration can serve as a “triple win” for sending countries, destination countries and young migrants themselves, all while minimizing the social and economic cost of migration.
**An open access article by Michael Boampong, with inputs from Ausrine Pasakarnyte and Céline Lemmel submitted to the Global Migration Group and the President of the General Assembly ahead of the informal debate to be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 19th of May, 2011 on “Migration, Adolescents and Youth: Harnessing Opportunities for Development”. Michael, Ausrine and Céline are youth development activist who have coordinated three Youth Consultations on Migration and Development since 2008 to enhance youth perspectives on migration and development for NGO – Young People We Care. For further enquiries contact Michael via firstname.lastname@example.org
 As is the case of the UNFPA report, the African Union also considers young a person to be young up to 35 years of age.
 See: UNFPA (2006). Moving young : State of the world population 2006 – youth supplement: New York: United Nations Populations Fund.
 The case for investing in young people was first made in the 2007 World Development Report, which postulated that “developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their record numbers of young people between 12 and 24 years of age could produce surging economic growth and sharply reduced poverty.”
 See: Diaspora Bonds: Tapping The Diaspora During Difficult Times, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/TOPICS/Resources/214970-1288877981391/Ketkar-Ratha.pdf
 See: World Migration Report, 2000. International Organization for Migration
 See: Remarks By Ms. Kirsi Madi Deputy Regional Director For CEE/CIS, UNICEF On Behalf Of The Chair Of The Global Migration Group at http://www.unctad.org/sections/wcmu/docs/ciem4_OP_Madi_en.pdf
Founder of Young People We Care (YPWC). He completed a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Coast in 2008, where he read Economics and Geography as his major courses. Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences and is currently pursuing a Masters programme in Development Studies at Uppsala University. In September 2008, he successfully managed a joint initiative that was undertaken by YPWC with support from UNICEF Voices of Youth, Global Youth Action Network, Migrants Rights International and TakingITGlobal for the creation and publication of some key youth statements for the Global Forum on Migration and Development in the Philippines. He was nominated in 2006 by the Task Force Committee of the UN-Non Governmental Liaison service to present a paper on Migration and Development at the UN Headquarters in New York. Michael was also a youth delegate to the 2007 Global Forum on Migration and Development and also the Regional Consultation on Migration, Remittances and Development in Africa. Michael is currently an Advisory Board member of the Bangladesh Youth Parliament, and was also a contributor and editorial member of the young people version of the UN Human Development Report for 2006 and 2007. He has work experience in international organizations such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ghana. www.michaelboampong.com