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Economic Migrants

Economic migrants leave their country of origin in search of economic opportunity in other countries. In the countries where Catholic Relief Services works economic migration is a necessity rather than a choice, as rapid economic change has eliminated employment and at times basic survival. While economic migration is a global issue, it is an acute concern in Latin America as millions move within and out of the region. Globally, the expansion of restrictive migration policies and increasingly harsh enforcement measures has resulted in the criminalization of migration, militarization of borders and a growing violation of the most fundamental rights of immigrants.

Human Trafficking

As defined by the United Nations, human trafficking means "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

Trafficking in people has exploded in recent years. A significant proportion of people who are the victims of trafficking originate as economic migrants, refugees and IDPs with few legal alternatives to migration. Human trafficking is a $10-billion-plus growth industry with conservative estimates ranging from 700,000 to 2 million people—primarily women and children—trafficked into labor slavery or sexual exploitation annually. Read more about human trafficking.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), internally displaced persons (IDPs) "are people or groups of individuals who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural- or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border."

In 2007, UNHCR estimates approximately 26 million internally displaced persons worldwide, with the highest levels in Colombia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Uganda and Somalia. IDPs are similar to refugees, in terms of the reasons for displacement and hardships experienced—but they remain within their own country of origin. IDPs are particularly vulnerable as they often remain in close proximity to armed conflicts and groups that caused their displacement, and there are few international legal or institutional systems in place to respond to their protection needs.


According to the United Nations, a refugee is defined as a person who has a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" and who "is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 11 million people worldwide were considered refugees in 2007, the largest populations originating from Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia. After several years of declining, the number of refugees has grown over the last two years due to increased armed conflict.

The majority of refugees in the world today have limited prospects for long term solutions to their plight. Refugees often are unable to return in safety to their own homes, integrate into neighboring countries or access the declining option for asylum and refugee resettlement in traditional refugee-receiving nations.

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