Global migrant numbers soar to 244 million

A mounted policeman leading a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia. The International Organisation for Migration said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe would likely exceed a million arrivals for the year in a
A mounted policeman leading a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia. The International Organisation for Migration said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe would likely exceed a million arrivals for the year in a matter of days.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jump of 40% from figure in 2000 due to desire for better lives, economic needs: UN

NEW YORK • The number of international migrants soared to 244 million this year, an increase of more than 40 per cent from the year 2000, as economic needs, global markets and a desire for better lives put more people on the move, the United Nations said on Friday.

Nearly half of the world's migrants were born in Asia, which has provided the most migrants - 1.7 million people annually - over the last 15 years, followed by Europe, according to a report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Separately, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe would likely exceed a million arrivals for the year in a matter of days. By last Wednesday, total boat arrivals had reached 956,456, with more than 80 per cent of them landing in Greece.

The number of migrants around the world will rise, fuelled by economic disparities, globalised markets and people seeking better lives, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said, presenting the report.

He called for stronger efforts to protect people from undertaking dangerous journeys as they flee their homes, and efforts to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

TRAGIC YEAR

2015 will be remembered as a year of human suffering and migrant tragedies.

MR WILLIAM LACY SWING, director-general of the International Organisation for Migration

He also said migrants should not be victimised nor made into scapegoats. "The many stories of their resilience, strength and heroism are too often eclipsed by xenophobia and pervasive anti-migrant sentiments," Mr Eliasson said.

Two-thirds of all international migrants live in just 20 countries, the report said. The largest number, 47 million, live in the United States, followed by 12 million in Germany, 12 million in Russia and 10 million in Saudi Arabia, the report said.

India had the largest diaspora, with 16 million people who had been born there living elsewhere, followed by Mexico, Russia and China, it said.

Meanwhile, the number of people forced to flee war is expected to far surpass 60 million this year, the UN Refugee Agency said on Friday, warning that violence around the globe is likely to push a record number of asylum seekers even higher in the coming year.

At least five million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in the first half of the year, adding to the 59.5 million displaced people recorded by the end of last year.

One in every 122 humans today is someone who has been forced to flee from home, the agency said. Most of the people on the move this year were displaced within their own country, but as many as 839,000 people fled across international borders in the first half of the year, more than a third of them trying to escape the war in Syria.

To make matters worse, the funds available to help the increasing number of people fleeing conflict had fallen far behind the level of need, Mr Antonio Guterres, the departing UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.

"It's clear humanitarian actors are no longer able to provide the minimum support both in relation to core protection and life-saving activities," he said.

The dangers facing those still trying to reach Europe - more than 30,000 refugees had arrived by boat in Greece last week - remained grave. Nearly 600 people have died this year on the so-called eastern Mediterranean sea route for migrants, according to the IOM.

In the latest incident, 18 people died and 14 were rescued late last Friday after a boat carrying migrants from Iraq, Pakistan and Syria trying to sail to Greece sank off the southern Turkish town of Bodrum, Dogan News Agency reported.

"2015 will be remembered as a year of human suffering and migrant tragedies," Mr William Lacy Swing, director-general of IOM, said in a statement on Friday.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Global migrant numbers soar to 244 million'. Print Edition | Subscribe