Human Migration Subject Aid

Authoring Institution

A short guide to some key resources and readings on the topic of human migration


Movement of human beings from one location to another is a long-standing characteristic of the species. Today, voluntary migration often occurs when people have options and skills that they will be able to exercise better in a new place. Many countries, including the U.S., encourage and promote this movement. Involuntary or forced migration occurs when people flee from or are displaced by natural disasters, social or political repression, economic stress, human trafficking and other hardships. Migration can be internal – when people move from one place to another within a country, or it can involve immigration – when people migrate from one country to another. The human rights of migrants, as well as the policies, programs, and conditions of their migration and resettlement are all subjects of theoretical and applied ethics.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) play an integral role in all stages and facets of human migration. STEM can play a causative role – such as creating the weapons  used in protracted conflicts that displace over 60 million people each year. STEM can also play a mitigating role – such as the development of drought tolerant crops that provide food for people who would otherwise be forced to migrate from encroaching drought, to surveillance technologies for monitoring and intercepting human traffickers or rescuing migrants stranded at sea. STEM ethics also has a significant role to play in the creation of smart, resilient, inclusive cities that provide sustainable livelihoods to all people in an increasingly urbanized world. Engineers, chemists, social and behavioral scientists and health care providers involved, either directly or indirectly, in human migration are also engaged, and should be fluent in the ethics that are the context for this migration.

See also: Social and Political Conflict

Subject Overviews

Wellman, Christopher Heath, "Immigration", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =<>. Accessed August 12, 2016. First published March 6, 2015.

There are a variety of important issues surrounding the morality of immigration, including difficult questions regarding the definition and moral status of refugees, the circumstances (if any) in which it is permissible to use guest workers, what obligations a rich country incurs when it actively recruits skilled workers from a poor state, the rights of irregular migrants, and whether there are any limitations on the selection criteria a country may use in deciding among applicants for immigration. This entry addresses each of these topics, first reviewing the most prominent arguments on both sides of the central debate in this area, whether states have the moral right to exclude potential immigrants.

Nordas, Ragnhild and Nils Petter Gleditsch. 2007. "Climate change and conflict." Political Geography, 627-638. Accessed August 30, 2016.

The prospect of human-induced climate change encourages drastic scenarios about food and water shortages. A number of claims about the conflicts that may then occur have surfaced in recent public debate. Climate change has so many potential consequences for the physical environment that a large number of possible paths to conflict could result. However, the causal chains suggested in the literature have so far rarely been substantiated with reliable evidence. Given the combined uncertainties of climate and conflict research, the gaps in knowledge about the consequences of climate change for conflict and security appear daunting. Social scientists are now beginning to respond to this challenge. The authors present some of the problems and opportunities in this line of research, summarize the contributions in this special issue, and discuss how the security concerns of climate change can be investigated more systematically.

Biermann, Frank, and Ingrid Boas. "Preparing for a warmer world: Towards a global governance system to protect climate refugees." 2010. Global Environmental Politics 10.1: 60-88. Accessed August 30, 2016.

The authors argue that the climate refugee crisis requires special attention to developing and implementing a global governance regime.  They present a set of principles such a regime must satisfy.

Ryerson, James. 2016. “Ivory Tower: Deep Thinking About Immigration.” The New York Times Book Review, Sunday July 31.  Accessed August 12, 2016.

Ryerson reviews three recent books.  Philosopher David Miller, Strangers in Our Midst, argues that states have the right to close their borders, except where human rights are threatened.  Historian Douglas C. Baynton in Defectives in the Land suggests that conventional views about the acceptability of selective versus restrictive immigration policy often have been discriminatory in practice.  Historian R. Scott Hanson in City of Gods uses the example of Flushing New York to demonstrate the promises and drawbacks of pluralism, particularly with respect to religious diversity, cooperation, and unity.

Policy or Guidance

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. 2002. Research Ethics in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: National Academies Press Added February 10, 2016.  Accessed August 10, 2016.

Special ethical issues arise when research is undertaken in settings and on populations subjected to conflict and forced migration.  This workshop summary identifies many of these issues, and delineates the many ways in which researchers, research, and research participants may be harmed or made less safe.

UN Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population  Division. 2013. International Migration Policies Report. New York: United Nations. Accessed August 13, 2016.

This report describes Government views and policy priorities related to immigration and emigration, and how these have evolved along with changing international migration patterns for 196 countries. It provides information on levels and trends in international migration, policies to influence the level of immigration, policies to promote immigration of highly skilled workers, policies to foster the integration of migrants into the host society, including naturalization policies, and other policies designed by Governments in countries of origin, such as policies on emigration, acceptance of dual citizenship, policies to encourage the return of citizens, and measures to promote involvement of diaspora in countries of origin. The report also discusses issues related to irregular migration, human trafficking and refugees. It contains a substantial list of references.

UN Habitat, Habitat III, The New Urban Agenda, United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), Quito, Ecuador. October 2016.  Accessed and Added December 1, 2016.

By readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions; reduce inequalities; promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development; improve human health and well-being; foster resilience; and protect the environment. (2016 Quito Declaration, Annex Item 5).


OEC Bibliography on Skilled Migration.  Added December 15, 2015.  Accessed August 12, 2016.

Guidelines, books, and articles about in particular the migration of health care and professional workers from poorer to richer countries.

See Bibliography, in Human Migration, Wikipedia,  Accessed August 12, 2016.


Reviewed by Garrick Louis, December 2, 2016.

Rachelle Hollander. . Human Migration Subject Aid. Online Ethics Center. DOI: