In 2010, the number of international migrants residing in African countries reached nearly 19.3 million, a 21 percent increase from the 16 million migrants recorded in 1990, according to estimates from the UN Population Division. While a small percentage of these international migrants (defined as persons residing outside their country of birth or nationality, including refugees) come from other regions of the world, such as Asia and Europe, the vast majority are people moving to different countries within the African continent itself.
The changes in the stock of international migrants in Africa are based on a number of factors: labor migration fluctuations within the continent; significant refugee movement due to wars, famine, or other internal strife (from Sudan and Somalia for example), which affects neighboring countries; and even data collection improvements in the past few decades.
Of the five African regions (Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, and Middle Africa), three have experienced an increase in the international migrant population during the past two decades.
Western Africa: This region, which posted the largest migrant gain, saw a 74 percent increase from 4.8 million in 1990 to 8.4 million in 2010. The countries within Western Africa with the biggest growth in migration were nearly tied in their percent increases: Benin saw a 204 percent hike (from 76,000 to 232,000) while Burkina Faso saw a 203 percent increase (from 345,000 to more than 1 million). Conversely, between 1990 and 2010, Sierra Leone and Senegal experienced a decline of 31 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the number of international migrants.
Southern Africa: This region has experienced a 50 percent uptick in the size of its international migrant population since 1990. The region’s most populous country, South Africa, gained more than 638,000 migrants in the past two decades; there were nearly 1.9 million international migrants residing in South Africa in 2010. The country with the highest percent increase between 1990 and 2010 was Botswana (a 317 percent increase) and the country with the largest decline was Swaziland (down 43 percent).
Middle Africa: While this region has not seen a steady increase over the years (international migrants were more plentiful in 1995 than in 2010), Middle Africa experienced an 11 percent growth between 1990 and 2010: from 1.5 million to 1.6 million, with the largest country increase occurring in Chad (up 422 percent) and the largest decline in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (down 41 percent).
The remaining two African regions experienced a decline.
Northern Africa: While 2011 data may show a larger decrease in certain countries in this region, due to the tens of thousands who moved during the Arab Spring upheaval, Northern Africa experienced a 12 percent decline in migration from 2.3 million in 1990 to 2 million in 2010 (but an increase from a decade earlier by some 80,000 migrants). Since 1990, the countries with the largest percent declines were Sudan (41 percent) and Morocco (15 percent).
Eastern Africa: This region hosted 5 million migrants in 2010, down from 5.9 million in 1990, a 15 percent decline. Countries that saw the highest declines were Somalia (96 percent, from 633,000 migrants in 1990 to 23,000 in 2010) and Burundi (82 percent), while others’ migrant population increased since 1990 including Rwanda (539 percent) and Kenya (402 percent).
Worldwide in 2010, the regions that hosted the largest number of international migrants were Europe (33 percent of the 215.8 million global migrants), Asia (28 percent), and the Americas (27 percent). Learn more about who moved within and between Africa and other world regions with our updated World Migration Map (WMM). The WMM data tool — based on the World Bank’s data — charts the sending and destination regions of migrants to and from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania.