Policy ForumInternational Migration

International migration under the microscope

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Science  20 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 897-899
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6545

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  • RE: A socio-environmental perspective on international migration
    • William R. Burnside, Postdoctoral fellow, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, Annapolis, MD, USA
    • Other Contributors:
      • Heather Randell, Postdoctoral fellow, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, Annapolis, MD, USA
      • Noelle Beckman, Postdoctoral Fellow, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, Annapolis, MD, USA
      • Jenny Zambrano, Postdoctoral fellow, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, Annapolis, MD, USA
      • Allison Howard, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

    We applaud Willekens et al. (27 May 2016) for highlighting our incomplete knowledge of international migration and for suggesting useful priorities for training and for data collection, availability, and modeling. We agree that this work is hindered by “fragmentation … along disciplinary lines” but argue that integrating the environmental context, causes, and consequences into migration research, teaching, and policy is necessary to understand international migration holistically.

    Researchers increasingly recognize the environmental drivers of migration (1, 2), but we know much less about the environmental consequences, including how those consequences might, in turn, influence migrants themselves. Migration can affect the environment of the origin, the destination(s), and the migration route. Vegetation, biodiversity, water, and soils can be altered, influencing ecosystem function and human welfare. Effects along the route may be particularly relevant for international migration in this era of mass refugee movement and tightening borders, as migrants become stuck, sometimes for years, in “temporary” settlements. For example, the migration of an estimated 1.5-2 million Rwandan refugees to the DRC during the 1994 genocide led to massive deforestation for fuelwood use in and around Virunga National Park (3, 5). This deforestation increases risks of erosion, mudslides, and assault of women and children, who must travel further to gather wood (3, 4, 5).

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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