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The number of international migrants has grown faster than the world’s population

UNICEF Day for Children 2012

12.01.2016 - The number of international migrants* (persons living in a country other than where they were born) reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41% increase since 2000, according to new data presented by the United Nations today. This figure includes almost 20 million refugees**.

The new UN dataset, “Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision,” shows that the number of international migrants has grown faster than the world’s population. As a result, the share of migrants in the global population reached 3.3% in 2015, up from 2.8% in 2000. There are, however, considerable differences between large regions of the world.

·         In Europe, Northern America and Oceania, international migrants account for at least 10% of the total population.

·         By contrast, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, fewer than 2% of the population are international migrants.

·         In 2015, two out of three international migrants lived in Europe or Asia.

·         Nearly half of all international migrants worldwide were born in Asia.

·         Among major regions of the world, Northern America hosts the third largest number of international migrants, followed by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania.

·         Between 2000 and 2015, Asia added more international migrants than any other major region, or a total of 26 million additional migrants.

2015 International Migrant Stock


·         Where do international migrants live (by region)?

o   Two thirds of international migrants live in Europe (76 million) or Asia (75 million)

o   54 million live in North America;

o   21 million in Africa;

o   9 million in Latin America and the Caribbean;

o   8 million in Oceania

·         Where do international migrants live (by country)?

In 2015, two thirds of all international migrants were living in only 20 countries.

o   USA - 47 million;

o   Germany – 12 million;

o   Russia – 12 million;

o   Saudi Arabia - 10 million;

o   UK – 9 million;

o   UAE – 8 million

·         Where are international migrants from (by region)?

In many parts of the world, migration occurs primarily between countries located within the same geographic zone. However, a substantial majority of international migrants living in Northern America (98 %) and Oceania (87%) were born in a major region other than the one where they currently reside.

o   104 million (43%) of international migrants were born in Asia;

o   62 million (25%) in Europe;

o   37 million (15%) in Latin America and the Caribbean;

o   4 million (2%) in North America;

o   2 million (1%) in Oceania

·         Where are international migrants from (by country)?

o   India - 16 million;

o   Mexico - 12 million;

o   Russia - 11 million;

o   China – 10 million;

o   Bangladesh - 7 million;

o   Pakistan - 6 million;

o   Ukraine - 6 million

·         Who are international migrants?

o   48% are women;

o   43% were born in Asia;

o   25% were born in Europe;

o   median age is 39 years old;

o   15% are below 20 years old

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders last September at the United Nations, stresses the multidimensional reality of migration.

The Agenda calls on countries to implement planned and well-managed migration policies, eradicate human trafficking, respect the labour rights of migrant workers and reduce the transaction costs of migrant remittances. The Agenda also highlights the vulnerability of migrants, refugees and IDPs, and emphasises that forced displacement and related humanitarian crises threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said migrants need to be protected: “We need to take greater responsibility for protecting the lives of many thousands of migrants – men, women and children – who are compelled to undertake dangerous and sometimes fatal journeys. Those forced to flee should never be denied safe haven or rescue. Migrants, as all people, deserve protection and empathy.”


* Migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return. If they choose to return home, they will continue to receive the protection of their government.

** Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries.


UNRICs Related Links
·       International Migrant Stock 2015 Report 
·       UN Migration      
·      Migrants and Refugees Definition by UNHCR 
·       The EU Migration Dilemma

Photo Credits

- UNICEF / Giacomo Pirozzi


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