Record Migration Underpins Global Turmoil as UN General Assembly Meets

New data shows migration to rich countries hit record level last year amid Syria refugee crisis

Britons voted to leave the European Union. Donald Trump became the Republican presidential candidate. Voters punished German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a series of regional defeats. All these events in the past three months are the by-product of a backlash against immigrants.

A new report released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirms that migration to its members is climbing again, having tailed off in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis. Preliminary data show 4.8 million people migrated permanently to OECD countries in 2015, a 10 percent increase on the previous year and surpassing the previous record set in 2007. At the same time, there were a record 1.65 million asylum seekers in OECD countries last year, double the 2014 numbers.

OECD Migration

The U.S. is the largest recipient of these new entries, totaling more than one million in 2014, followed by Germany, which took in 574,500 new permanent migrants (a 23 percent increase). Bear in mind that Germany is a quarter the size of the U.S. If one looks at how many migrants a country takes as a share of the population, Luxembourg and Switzerland are the standouts. 

Let's take a closer look at the free movement of people in the EU, one of the pillars of the 28-nation bloc that has come under attack. It ultimately accounted for around a third of the more than 4 million permanent migrants to the OECD in 2014. Factoring in temporary arrivals, the top three countries of origin for immigrants to the OECD in 2014 were China, followed by Romania and Poland.


Syria would likely feature prominently on the list, but is excluded "due to the great uncertainty as to flow levels to a number of countries, including Turkey," write the report's authors. The conflict in Syria is driving the surge in asylum seekers and is one of the key issues at this week's UN General Assembly.