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Refugees and migrants a global issue: UN Deputy Chief

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- With 70 million more people living overseas in 2015 than in 2000, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, told journalists here Tuesday that migration should be seen as a global issue.

"We have a polarized debate on refugees and on migrants and what we at the UN have to do in these situations is say, firstly this is a global issue," said Eliasson.

New data -- titled Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision -- released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs here Tuesday, shows that the number of people living overseas has increased from 173 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2015. Although refugees dominated the headlines in 2015, the data also shows that at just under 20 million, they made up less than 10 percent of overall migrant numbers.

Elliasson said that while most migrants live in Europe or North America, most refugees are in developing countries -- including millions of Afghans in Pakistan and Iran; millions of Syrians in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan; and half a million Somalis in Kenya.

Lebanon, with a population of just 4 million, has taken on over a million refugees, more than the European Union, which has a population of 500 million, said Elliasson.

Elliasson acknowledged that countries which had taken large numbers of refugees relative to their populations were experiencing challenges.

"Unfortunately we have a situation that is challenge to both those who leave their countries but also to us that receive them," he said. In particular he said that the countries neighboring Syria needed support to continue providing education to refugee children.

He also acknowledged the current debate about the role of migrants in the European countries which have received the most refugees per capita, Germany and Sweden.

"It's not something where you immediately say -- we want to close the doors -- but rather -- here is a challenge, we know it's difficult, but let's try to manage and do it right," he said.

Elliasson also highlighted the positive aspects of migration, including remittances -- money migrants send to their home countries -- and benefits for maintaining population in countries where population is decreasing.

"In Europe, the size of the population would have fallen between 2000 and 2015 in the absence of positive net migration," he said.

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