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Global migration trends

Women account for 48 per cent of the global international migrant stock (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision), and 72 per cent of the global migrant stock are of working age, though the share and the average age varies widely across regions. In 2015, South-South migration exceeded South-North migration by two percentage points, representing 37 per cent of the total international migrant stock.

Conflict- and disaster-induced displacement

It is estimated that 78.8 million people are displaced worldwide by conflict and natural disasters. Estimates are made of both flows, number of displace over a time period, and stocks, number displaced at a fixed point in time.

By the end of 2015, a stock of 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations (UNHCR, 2015 in Review). This reflects an increase in absolute terms of 5.8 million people over 2014, and represents the greatest level of forced displacement ever recorded. The total figure includes 21.3 million refugees, (16.1 million under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA), 40.8 million internally displaced persons and 3.2 million asylum-seekers.

IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix system, a tool tracking displacement in countries affected by conflicts or natural disasters, tracked over 15 million people caught in conflict and natural disaster across 23 countries during 2015. In 2015, 8.6 million people were newly  displaced by conflicts. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, a civil society organisation, estimated that 19.2 million people were displaced by natural disasters over the course of 2015, based on flow data and not directly comparable with the previous (stock) figures.

Irregular migration

Irregular migration is difficult to quantify or measure, given its clandestine nature, the lack of data sources and of a universally agreed definition, and its highly dynamic character. The most recent global estimate of irregular migration, produced by the UNDP, suggests that there were at least 50 million irregular migrants worldwide in 2010. It should also be noted that irregular migration may comprise a mix of both migrants and refugees using the same routes and means of transport.

IOM reports an estimated 363,348 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain. Deaths in 2016 totalled 5,082 compared with 3,777 in 2015. The over 1,500 deaths in the final quarter of 2016 – almost 17 per day – were the highest fourth quarterly total since tracking began three years ago. Worldwide in 2016, at least 7,540 migrants died or went missing during migration, according to the IOM. The number of apprehensions along international borders - one of the most reliable indicators of irregular migration has increased substantially when looking at the European Union. According to Frontex, irregular arrivals to Europe almost tripled between 2013 and 2014, from about 100,000 to 283,000; the number increased six-fold between 2014 and 2015, with over 1.8 million irregular arrivals registered, both by land and sea.

Forced and voluntary return

During 2015, UNHCR reported that some 201,400 refugees returned voluntarily to their countries of origin, with 57 per cent of those receiving UNHCR assistance. Comparing figures over the past 20 years, 2015 witnessed the third-lowest level of global refugee returns recorded by UNHCR, with smaller numbers being recorded only in 2010 and 2014. However, this figure does not reflect all returns from OECD countries, many of whom maintain independent databases.

In 2015, the 28 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland registered a total of 175,220 individuals being forcibly or voluntarily returned to their countries of origin or third countries , according to figures by Frontex (Frontex Annual Risk Analysis Report 2016). The number of voluntary returns exceeded that of forced returns. This represents an almost 9 per cent increase over 2014 figures (161,309) and the highest number recorded since 2011. However, when compared to the large fluctuations in irregular border crossings and apprehensions across EU countries, the number of actual returns has remained fairly stable. Notably, for the first time since 2012, the number of voluntary returns as recorded by Frontex exceeded that of forced returns (81,681 over 72,473).