The number of migrants worldwide is at a high point: 244 million in 2015, over 40% more migrants than in 2000. While some of the migrants move by choice, a substantial number are not so lucky. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calculated that 65.3 million were forcibly displaced “as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations,” the highest number since the end of World War II. And this number is on the rise: 12.4 million people were newly displaced in 2015. Of the 65.3 million, 21.3 million were considered refugees.
There are several trends in current international migration. An overwhelming majority of migrants (71%) migrated to high-income countries, while less than 4% migrated to low-income countries. Related to these statistics, the majority of migrants have gone to Europe, Asia, and North America, the wealthier areas of the world. However, there have been increases in migrations to all continents since 2000, although the increase in migrations to Oceania, Africa, and Latin America has been less pronounced. The United States has by far the most international migrants (47 million compared to the second-largest host, Germany, with 12 million).
Most migrants do not come from low-income countries (only 10%), however, but middle-income ones (65%). Almost half of all migrants (104 million) came from Asia, followed by sizeable numbers of migrants from Europe (62 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (37 million), and Africa (34 million). Most migrants from Asia, Europe, and Africa moved to another country in their continent of origin. The largest cross-continent migrations were from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America (26 million), Asia to Europe (20 million), and Asia to North America (17 million).
The largest number of refugees from one country is the 4.9 million from Syria (23% of refugees worldwide). The ongoing civil war in Syria has created a massive outpouring of migrants and refugees that has affected the surrounding region. Turkey was by far the largest host of refugees (2.5 million), and Lebanon and Jordan were also in the top six countries for hosting the most refugees. Substantial internal conflicts in a host of other countries, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, have also created prodigious numbers of migrants.
While many refugees and migrants remain in countries geographically close to their place of origin, many thousands have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, which increased rapidly starting last summer. Although they come from several countries in Africa and Asia, the vast majority have come from Syria. Over one million people made the dangerous crossing in 2015, with over 850,000 of them crossing from Turkey to Greece. While most migrants do not have Greece or Turkey in mind as their final destination, these two countries, the former wracked by a severe debt crisis and the later having recently endured an attempted coup, have had to take the brunt of the waves of migration from Syria. Although there have been heroic actions by some, many, both in Greece and the rest of Europe, simply don’t want the migrants, even leading to the rise of reactionary forces. While the European Union and Turkey have been working together to address the migrant crisis, it is undoubtedly a quagmire for the region.
Although there have been many problems, Turkey and Greece should be admired for the amount of action they have taken, considering their own internal circumstances. The crucial role of Greece and Turkey and the additional stress of maintaining thousands to millions of migrants has often been overlooked by media. While both countries are at their limit, other more powerful nations need to step up and take a larger role in the global migrant crisis. Because of chance geographic location the Syrian migrant problem has become largely that of Turkey and Greece, but the trends and numbers illustrate a much larger global issue, one which the globe, not the beleaguered governments of a few states, will have to solve.