March 8, 2012

Faith on the Move - The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants

Muslim Migrants

fonm-300x200The main regional destinations for Muslims are different from their origins. About a third of Muslim migrants have gone to Europe, while less than 10% of Muslim migrants have come from Europe. At the same time, nearly half of Muslim migrants have come from the Asia-Pacific region, where only about one-in-five Muslim migrants have moved.

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There has been a rough balance, however, between Muslim emigration and immigration in the Middle East-North Africa region as a whole. About a third of Muslim migrants have come from the Middle East-North Africa, and a similar percentage have ended up there, including many who have moved from one country to another within the region.

The greatest number of Muslim migrants have come from the Palestinian territories (more than 5 million). By the U.N.’s reckoning, this group includes Palestinian refugees and their descendants.6 A large number of Muslims also have left Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Much of the migration out of these countries was prompted by the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in the years following the withdrawal of the British Raj in 1947. However, even today, people continue to move between countries in the area, with Muslims generally migrating to Pakistan and Bangladesh while Hindus tend to move to India. Significant numbers of Muslim migrants also originate from Afghanistan, Turkey and Morocco. Unlike the migrants on the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal), who have mostly crossed into neighboring countries, many Muslim migrants from North Africa and Turkey have moved farther away, including to Western Europe.

Saudi Arabia has been the top destination country for Muslim migrants, most of whom are workers from nearby Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and the Philippines. Russia’s Muslim migrant population (about 4 million) comes mainly from neighboring states (such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan) that were once part of the Soviet Union. Nearly half of Germany’s foreign-born Muslim immigrants (estimated at more than 3 million) have been from Turkey, but they also include substantial numbers from Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Morocco and Iran. France’s Muslim immigrants (about 3 million) are primarily from the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Regional conflicts in Iraq and the Palestinian territories largely account for the influx of Muslims to Jordan (nearly 3 million) and Syria (about 2 million). Similarly, decades of conflict in Afghanistan help to explain the high number of Muslim migrants in Pakistan (about 2.5 million) and Iran (more than 2 million).7

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Footnotes:

6 The United Nations includes cross-border refugees in its estimates of the number of migrants living in each country. Generally speaking, refugees are people who have fled from violence, famine or disaster in their home country. In the case of Palestinian refugees, however, the U.N. also considers their descendants (including the second, third and fourth generations) to be refugees – and therefore international migrants – even if they were born in the country where they now reside. If descendants were not counted as international migrants, the number of Muslim migrants from the Palestinian territories would be much smaller than 5.6 million. This is especially the case since the U.N. considers nearly 2 million people living in the Palestinian territories to be refugees (and hence, by definition, international migrants). The Palestinian territories are the only locality where the origin and destination of international migrants are identical, according to the U.N.’s definitions. (return to text)

7 For more detail on the global distribution of Muslims, see the Pew Forum’s January 2011 report, The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030. (return to text)