The share of the global migrant population forced to leave their homes is growing

Migrants on the US-Mexico border.
Migrants on the US-Mexico border.
Image: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
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The total number of migrants continues to rise in all regions of the world, according to a new UN report (pdf). That’s not so surprising given this ever more connected world. What is worrying, however, is that the percentage of those migrants who are forced to leave is also growing.

There are now an estimated 272 million people living somewhere other than their home country, some voluntarily and some forced, representing 3.5% of the world’s total population.

The largest number of migrants comes from India. Some 18 million Indians now live abroad. Mexico is a distant next with 12 million living outside the country. China comes in third with about 11 million. And who is hosting all these migrants? The US is always the perennial leader and this year is no different: 51 million migrants live in the United States. Germany and Saudi Arabia are the second most popular destinations. Both host about 13 million people.

The share of those migrants who are forced to leave their homes because of conflict, disaster, or other threats to their safety and livelihoods, meanwhile, is rising rapidly. In fact, between 2010 and 2017 the number of forced migrants increased annually by 8% while the number of traditional migrants increased annually by less than 2%. Nearly half of the forced migrant population now lives in either North Africa or the Middle East.

This continued rise in the number of migrants persists even as nations try to fend it off. Border walls and fences are going up in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, the US and Mexico. And regions, like the European Union and Latin America, are turning to harsh policies and controversial alliances to discourage such movement. Some of these moves, activists say, contravene international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more recently, the Global Compact on Migration.