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Global migration – a statistical snapshot

19 December 20161 comment

More than 7,000 migrants have perished or disappeared in 2016, more than in any other previous recorded year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

An IOM survey on migration routes across the world found 7,189 migrants and refugees have died so far this year. Of the total, 4,812 migrants were lost in the Mediterranean, in the midst of the greatest migration crisis in Europe since 1945.

In the past two years, nearly 1.5 million migrants and refugees have poured into continental Europe, mostly from war-torn regions in Africa and the Middle East. For those who come by sea, the Mediterranean routes have proved particularly dangerous.

To maximise profits, smugglers often pack as many migrants as possible into makeshift vessels. In the event of mechanical difficulties or the bad weather common in the winter months, few of these migrants can swim. Rescue agencies frequently discover capsized boats with scores of drowned migrants nearby.

The startling statistic has been revealed this week along with the IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet for 2015, which gives a snapshot of global migration trends.

The factsheet reveals the number of international migrants worldwide — people residing in a country other than their country of birth — was the highest ever recorded, at 244 million (up from 232 million in 2013).

It also estimated that the majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workers. These trends have led migration to be included, for the very first time, in the global development framework. The internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are now driving policy-planning and implementation across borders and sectors.

Despite the record raw number, international migration — as a proportion of world population — has remained fairly constant over the past decade, at around 3 per cent.

While female migrants constitute only 48 per cent of the international migrant stock worldwide, and 42 per cent in Asia, women make up the majority of international migrants in Europe (52.4 per cent) and North America (51.2 per cent).

South-South migration flows (between developing countries) continued to grow compared to South-North movements (from developing to developed countries).

In 2015, 90.2 million international migrants born in developing countries resided in other countries in the Global South, while 85.3 million born in the South resided in countries in the Global North.

Germany became the second most popular destination for international migrants globally (in absolute numbers), following the United States and preceding the Russian Federation, with an estimated 12 million foreign-born residing in the country in 2015 (against 46.6 million in the U.S. and 11.9 million in the Russian Federation).

As a proportion of the host country’s population, however, numbers of international migrants continue to be highest in Gulf nations. The foreign-born population makes up 88.4 per cent of the total population in the United Arab Emirates, 75.7 per cent in Qatar and 73.6 per cent in Kuwait.

Close to one in five migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities, according to the IOM report.

International migrants make up over a third of the total population in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London, and at least one in four residents in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born.

2015 saw the highest levels of forced global displacement recorded since the end of World War II, with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people across various regions of the world – from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia.

The world hosted 15.1 million refugees by mid-2015 – a 45 per cent increase compared to three and a half years ago and largely due to continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, now well into its 5th year.

Some 8.6 million persons were newly displaced in 2015 alone.

In 2015, Germany also became the largest single recipient of first-time individual asylum claims globally, with almost 442,000 applications lodged in the country by the end of the year.

The number of asylum claims worldwide almost doubled between the end of 2014 and the first half of 2015, from 558,000 pending applications at the end of 2014 to almost 1 million by the end of June 2015. This figure continued to increase, rising to about 3.2 million pending asylum applications globally by the end of 2015.

By the end of 2015, the EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, more than double the number registered in 2014 (563,000), and almost double the levels recorded in 1992 in the then 15 Member States (672,000 applications).

The increase in 2015 is largely due to higher numbers of asylum claims from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis).

Almost one in three first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, an 11 per cent increase compared to 2014 levels; also, almost one in five of these were judged to be unaccompanied by national authorities – the highest number since 2008 and a three-fold increase on numbers registered in 2014.

Still, the vast majority of refugees continue to be hosted by developing countries, particularly those that are proximate to the refugees’ countries of origin: for instance, the bulk of the Syrian refugee population is hosted by Turkey (2.2 million), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (almost 630,000), according to figures recorded in December 2015.

Also, most forced displacement globally still occurs within countries’ borders, with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014 – from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

2015 was a deadly year for migrants – though not as deadly as 2016.

More than 5,400 migrants worldwide were estimated to have died or gone missing in 2015.

New estimates for the number of migrant workers globally show that the large majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workers.

Migrants have higher labour force participation than non-migrants, particularly due to higher labour force participation rates for migrant women relative to non-migrant women.

The IOM Factsheet shows remittances continue to climb globally while remittance-sending costs remain relatively high.

The total worth of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to an estimated $601 billion in 2015 – over two thirds of which were sent to developing countries.

In Tajikistan remittances constituted over 40 per cent of the country’s GDP. But average remittance transfer costs were still at 7.5 per cent5 of the amount sent.

This remains higher than the 3 per cent minimum target set in the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Remittance transfer costs are particularly high in Sub-Saharan Africa – now standing at 9.5 per cent on average.

The IOM Factsheet found that public opinion towards migration globally was more favourable than commonly perceived – with the notable exception of Europe.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist