Migration rise outpaces population growth

13 Jan 16

The number of international migrants has grown faster than the world’s population, new United Nations statistics have revealed.


Data from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs shows there are 244 million people worldwide living outside their country of birth, including 20 million refugees. This marks a 41% increase in the number of migrants since 2000.

Wu Hongbo, UN under secretary general for economic and social affairs, said the rising number of people living in a country other than the one they were born in reflects the increasing importance of international migration, which has become “an integral part of our economies and societies”.

“Well-managed migration brings important benefits to countries of origin and destination, as well as to migrants and their families,” he added.

Between 2000 and 2015, Asia, where almost half of all international migrants were born, added more international migrants than any other region – a total of 26 million.

The report said that in many parts of the world however, migration occurs primarily between countries located within the same geographic zone. In Africa, Asia, LAC and Europe the percentage of migrants who came from countries in the same region was 87%, 82%, 66% and 53% respectively.

In contrast, 98% of the migrants living in north America and 87% living in Oceania were born in another major region to the one in which they live today.

Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary general, noted that the migration figures do not include around 40 million people that are refugees within their own country. Of the 20 million that have crossed the border – originating mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia – most of them now reside in Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

In 2015, two thirds of all international migrants were living in only 20 countries, starting with the USA which hosts 19% or about one fifth of all the world’s migrants. This is followed by Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

In regional terms, nearly two-thirds of international migrants live in either Europe, which hosts 76 million migrants, or Asia, which hosts 75 million. North America is third, with 54 million.

Eliasson noted migration has been key to population growth, which is “sorely needed” in certain parts of the world.

“In Europe, the size of the population would have fallen between 2000 to 2015 in the absence of positive net migration,” he said. “So here is something related to what I would call the positive narrative about migration and refugees – the contribution to the demographics.”

He also noted that the money international migrants send back to their countries of origin is around two or three times bigger than all the aid and development funding in the world, and supports many health and education efforts worldwide. 

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