5 charts that bust some myths about migration

refugee crisis

© UNICEF/Khaled Akacha On 7 February 2020, a girl holds a younger child as children and families flee from southern Idlib and western Aleppo to the northern part of Idlib and Aleppo in Syria.

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Marie McAuliffe, PhD, Head of Migration Policy Research Division, International Organization for Migration

  • There is widespread misinformation about international migrants and migration, especially in Europe and North America.
  • The United States, Germany and Saudi Arabia are the top destinations for international migrants.
  • Most international migrants in Asia and Africa move within the region in which they were born.
  • Cross-border displacement is pronounced and complex in Africa.

Few issues have been as dominant and enduring in political and public discourse as migration. Around the world, but especially in Europe and North America, international migration has come into sharp focus in recent years, becoming one of the most prominent political wedge issues.

Media reports on migration are often unduly negative, and key issues in migration have too often been hijacked by those who peddle misinformation and disinformation on migrants and migration.


At a time when “fake news” is increasing and more countries are adopting nationalist frameworks, the data and information in the recently released World Migration Report 2020 provides a more accurate picture of international migration and displacement.

Here are five charts dispelling migration misinformation.

1. Where do international migrants come from and where do they live?

Historically, the United States has been the major destination country for international migrants. This trend continued in 2019, with an estimated 51 million international migrants living in the country, the largest population of them in the world. Despite the highly politicized negative rhetoric on migrants, the US has been the most significant destination country for decades, with many migrants positively and disproportionately contributing to aspects of American life.

Germany and Saudi Arabia, both with around 13 million international migrants in 2019, were the second- and third-largest destinations for international migrants, with displacement from Syria driving much of the recent increase in Germany’s international migrant population.

India, Mexico and China topped the list of countries with the largest number of migrants living abroad in 2019. More than 40% of international migrants worldwide were born in Asia, with India alone the origin of 17.5 million.

Top 20 destinations (left) and origins (right) of international migrants in 2019 (millions)
The top destinations and origins of international migrants in 2019, in millions
Image: World Migration Report 2020

2. Migration patterns are not uniform and vary across regions.

As migration has gained prominence in recent years, it has become increasingly clear there is either a lack of understanding or, at times, deliberate misrepresentation of some migration trends. A common assumption, for example, is that most African international migrants leave the continent. The data shows otherwise. Most international migrants in regions such as Africa and Asia are not headed to Europe or Northern America, but move within the region in which they were born.

Migrants to, within and from Africa, 1990-2019
Image: World Migration Report 2020

3. What do the main migration corridors show?

The largest migration corridor in the world (Mexico to the United States) did not emerge recently. Contrary to popular media and political representations, Mexican emigration to the United States has occurred over many decades.

But the second-largest corridor in the world, Syria to Turkey, has developed only recently. The conflict in Syria has resulted in mass displacement, forcing millions of Syrians to leave their country. An estimated 3.7 million Syrians were residing in Turkey in 2019.

Meanwhile, other large corridors, such as the one between India and Pakistan, are partly due to historical events such as the mass displacement during the 1947 partition.

Top 20 migration corridors from Asian countries, 2019
Image: World Migration Report 2020

4. Which countries host the largest number of refugees?

Developing countries continue to host the majority of refugees globally. Of an estimated 25.9 million refugees globally in 2018, developing regions hosted the vast number (84%). Turkey and Germany were the only two countries out of the top five refugee hosts that were not developing countries, with the former hosting the largest number of refugees in the world (3.7 million), many of whom are Syrians. Turkey was followed by Pakistan, which was home to around 1.4 million refugees (mostly Afghans), while Uganda hosted the third-largest number (1.1 million).

Number of refugees by top 5 host countries as of 2018 (millions)
Number of refugees by top five host countries, 2018 (millions)
Image: World Migration Report 2020

Syria is by far the largest origin country of refugees in the world (6.7 million). But in 2010, Syria was the third-largest host country of refugees in the world, hosting more than 1 million refugees, mainly from Iraq.

5. Cross-border displacement is complex in regions such as Africa.

While cross-border displacement remains significant in many parts of the world, it is especially pronounced in Africa. The intractable conflict in South Sudan, which has dragged on for years, produced the largest number of refugees on the continent in 2018, with most hosted in neighboring Uganda.

What is especially striking, however, is that several countries producing large numbers of refugees, such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, also hosted significant refugee populations. This underscores the complexity of displacement in regions such as Africa. To a lesser extent, these dynamics can also be seen in Asia, particularly in Iraq.

Top 10 African countries by total refugees and asylum seekers, 2018
Image: World Migration Report 2020

What is the World Economic Forum on Africa?

With elections taking place in more than 20 African countries in 2019, the world’s youngest continent is facing a new era.

Held under the theme ‘Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ the 28th World Economic Forum on Africa will convene more than 1,000 regional and global leaders from government, business, civil society and academia.

The event (held 4-6 September 2019) will explore new regional partnerships and entrepreneurial and agile leadership to create pathways for shared prosperity and drive a sustainable future.

Participants will discuss ways to accelerate progress on five transformative pan-African agendas in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, addressing the African Union’s Agenda 2063 priorities.

Read more about the Forum’s Impact in Africa and our launch of a new Africa Growth Platform to scale the region’s start-ups for success.

Read our guide to how to follow #af19 across our digital channels. We encourage followers to post, share, and retweet by tagging our accounts and by using our official hashtag.

Become a Member or Partner to participate in the Forum’s year-round annual and regional events. Contact us now.

What is clear from these seven charts is that international migration is not only complex and influenced by both historical and contemporary factors, but that migration patterns are also different across regions and countries. Understanding these dynamics is important for anyone interested in getting a clearer and less myopic picture of international migration. Importantly, a broader and more complete understanding is key to dispelling migration myths, especially in our current age when airwaves are saturated with untruths masqueraded as facts.

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  1. Merci pour les informations, je suis une veuve refuges congolaise,svp aider moi,je vie en ouganda

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