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Relying on data from a variety of sources, this article sketches the main trends of international migration during 1965–1996, thus documenting the changes that both the character and the direction of international migration have undergone over the course of time. In doing so, it provides a quantitative basis to assess the validity of certain common tenets regarding the evolution of migration at the end of the twentieth century.

The article concludes that the changes observed are generally less striking than usually claimed, although major historical events, such as the end of the cold war and the transformations it entailed, have had a determining influence in shaping many of the key migration movements occurring since 1985.

In particular, migration originating in the former Eastern bloc countries increased markedly and the dynamics of population mobility within the former Soviet space underwent important modifications. In addition, the end of the bi-polar era allowed the resolution of some long-standing conflicts that permitted the repatriation of large numbers of refugees.

However, the proliferation of ethnic or civil conflict that has accompanied the nation-building process in several regions has led to a series of forced migration movements. These developments plus the social, economic and demographic differentials that persist between countries at different levels of development have continued and will continue to fuel international migration.

By reviewing the quantitative evidence available at the regional level, this article sets recent developments in perspective.