The migrant’s life

Refugees from Syria land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from from Turkey. (Angelos Tzortzinis, AFP)
Refugees from Syria land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from from Turkey. (Angelos Tzortzinis, AFP)

Migration, refugees and asylum seekers have often dominated political debate in 2016. From Europe to North America migration has been a political hot potato, often seen as a key issue when it comes to electing public officials, while back at home South Africa again faced a spate of xenophobic attacks in 2015.  

According to the UN’s Migration Report 2015 (the 2016 report is yet to be released), the total number of international migrants grew to 244m in 2015, an increase of 41% from 2000’s total of 173m.  

Between 2013 and 2015, the growth rate was 5%.  

By the end of 2015, there were an estimated 76m international migrants living in Europe, 75m in Asia, with North America in third place with 54m and Africa in fourth with 21m.  

Voluntary migration

In its People On the Move report, released at the beginning of December, McKinsey Global Institute points out that while “refugees might be the face of migration in the media”, 90% of total migrations were voluntary, and mostly for economic reasons.   

The sum of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families was $581.6bn in 2015, according to the UN’s report.   

Of this, 75% went back to developing countries and is equivalent to three times the amount of foreign aid received by these countries.  

In 2015, India received $70bn in remittances, followed by China ($64bn), the Philippines ($28bn) and Mexico ($25bn). The money mostly flows from the USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia.  

Importantly, the amount of international migrants as a percentage of the global population has remained around 2% to 3% for a long time. In 2000 it was 2.8%, in 2013 it was 3.2%, last year it was 3.3%. This means that 96% of the world’s population still resides in their country of birth.  

Fleeing to safety

According to McKinsey, a total of 10% of migrants are “refugees and asylum seekers who have fled to another country to escape conflict and persecution”.   

For those who are forced to migrate, the journey is often fraught with danger. According to the UN’s report, 2015 saw an additional 5.8m people forcibly displaced due to persecution or conflict, the highest level of forced displacement ever recorded.  

By the end of 2015 the world was hosting 21.3m refugees, a 55% increase on 2011, mostly driven by the continuing escalation of the Syrian conflict. It also, according to McKinsey, hosted 3m asylum seekers.  

In 2015, at least 5 600 migrants lost their lives or went missing while migrating, with 3 370 of these dying in the Mediterranean, a 12% increase on the death toll in the region in 2014, according to the UN.  

About 800 migrants are estimated to have died or gone missing in Southeast Asia in 2015, 482 in Africa, and 341 at the US and Mexico border.  

It is estimated that the Syrian refugee population is above 4.9m, the Afghanistan refugee population sits at over 2.7m and the Somalian refugee population sits at over 1m.  

Globally, 1.8m people were given refugee status in 2015, compared with 1.2m in 2014. The major hosts of refugees are Turkey (2.5m) and Pakistan (1.6m), Lebanon (1.1m) and Jordan (628 000).  

Almost one in three first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, an 11% increase on 2014. Almost one in five of these was unaccompanied by an adult, a 300% increase on 2014. 

This is a shortened version of an article that originally appeared in the 15 December edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

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