A significant share of the migratory flows in the Asia-Pacific region is irregular. The region hosts the largest undocumented flows of migrants in the world, mainly between neighbouring countries. Irregular migration routes are not only intraregional but also extend beyond the region. Some of these movements are supported by smugglers, who may or may not be connected to transnational organized crime. Mixed migratory flows are characteristic of the region, with some people on the move in search of better living conditions, while others are fleeing conflict and persecution. The increased security concerns associated with the negative perception of migration among host populations has led many countries to take a stronger stand against irregular movements. With a growing number of migrants in administrative detention and returned to their country of origin, the costs of managing migration are increasing. This also poses new challenges from a human rights perspective. States are working together to develop bilateral solutions or finding new responses at the regional level to increase the effectiveness of their response.
At the same time, the region continues to host the largest number of refugees and displaced people in the world, with Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran alone hosting 2.7 million Afghan refugees. Although the number of countries in the region which have ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees remains low, programmes resettling refugees to the United States, Australia and European countries continue, with a view to offering a durable solution to the persons concerned. These programmes, however, remain relatively small in scale in light of the size of refugee populations in the region.
A key feature of the region is the significance of Statelessness and its nexus with migration. Aside from ethnic groups that are not recognized as citizens in their countries of residence, there is the issue of second-generation migrants not registered at birth by their parents, in an irregular situation, and are at risk of Statelessness. Moreover, Stateless persons – in the absence of a national identity document – often have no access to international travel documents and therefore no option but to resort to irregular migration channels. Their status often limits their social and economic opportunities and makes them more vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers.
The region as a whole is highly susceptible to recurring natural hazards, as well as environmental degradation and the detrimental impacts of climate change. Environmental and climate change-induced displacement and migration are becoming increasingly common phenomena in the region and are expected to continue to increase to challenging proportions. These factors all demonstrate the need for the development of multi-sectoral approaches to migration management.
South and South-West Asia. Every year, over 1.5 million workers migrate abroad from South Asia alone, mostly to the Gulf region to perform low-skilled, temporary work. In the labour migration context, many countries in the sub-region are important countries of origin, while India and Pakistan are also classified as countries of destination and transit. Migration flows from South Asia to Europe are mostly composed of highly skilled migrants. Given the porous nature of borders in the region, there is also a trend of irregular, undocumented movements.
As the long-term impacts of the global financial and economic crisis begin to be felt across South and South-West Asia, avenues for regular means of migration are likely to decrease, which may lead potential migrants to perceive irregular channels as an easier option despite the risks involved. With pressures on the local economy and the labour market in destination countries, the global economic slowdown is leading to job cuts or restricted recruitment of foreign workers. In addition, the Arab Spring challenged the power of incumbent leaders and resulted in turmoil in Libya, leading to the massive evacuation of migrant workers from that country to South and South-East Asia. This has prompted governments in South and South-West Asia to develop strategies for coping with the effects of changes in the labour market in destination countries due to economic or political crises, as well as exploring longer-term support for the rehabilitation of affected workers and finding new job opportunities abroad (by 2050, South Asia will have the largest workforce in the world). Additionally, there are a large number of internally displaced persons migrating within their own countries due to conflict, rural-urban disparities and environmental factors.
East and South-East Asia. The search for a better life and economic opportunities within and outside the region continues to be the primary reason for migratory movements in the East and South-East Asian sub-regions. The potential emergence of a more integrated, interdependent regional market among countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is helping to drive the momentum towards the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015. Throughout the East and South-East Asia sub-regions, governments have been working to more effectively regulate the movement of professionals and migrant workers, while also ensuring better protection of low-skilled labourers. Cognizant of growing cross-border, intraregional and interregional mobility, governments and key actors alike are acknowledging the need to enhance migration management and increase bilateral and multilateral dialogue and cooperation.
Irregular migration and human trafficking remain challenges across the sub-region, with the most common forms being irregular labour migration movements, trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, sometimes through foreign marriages. Migration-related public health challenges continue to be a concern for governments, particularly with emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.
Natural disasters and conflict in certain areas also pose ongoing threats to populations in the region and have resulted in the displacement of a huge number of people, leaving many in a highly vulnerable situation. Governments are increasingly supportive of disaster risk-reduction and disaster management initiatives throughout the region.
Oceania. This region hosts more than 6 million international migrants. It remains a sub-region of immigration, with more people entering than leaving. The positive migration balance is largely towards Australia and New Zealand, which remain attractive destination economies. Temporary work schemes for Pacific Islanders in both countries increase the number of temporary migrant workers, particularly in New Zealand, which remains the leading destination for migrants from the Pacific Islands. However, the migrant population is increasing across the sub-region, with the Federated States of Micronesia having the highest number of migrants as a percentage of its population. The bulk of the 1.5 million emigrants from the region originate from the Pacific Islands (37 per cent), and it is mostly intraregional.
Emigration outside Oceania is mainly directed towards the United States and the United Kingdom. Irregular migration to the two principal destination countries (Australia and New Zealand) is mainly due to overstayers who entered these countries as tourists, while concerns relating to boat arrivals continue to be high on the political agenda in Australia.