Migrants sent home $445 billion in 2016, lifting millions out of poverty - report

LONDON, June 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Migrants working in rich countries sent home almost half a trillion dollars in 2016, helping to lift families out of poverty by providing financial stability, access to education, housing and healthcare, according to a global report.

About 200 million migrants, half of whom are women, sent $445 billion to their families in Asia, Latin America and Africa in 2016, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said on Wednesday.

The total amount of remittances, which is estimated to reach $450 billion in 2017, has risen by more than 50 percent in the past decade, IFAD said.

"It is a truly a global phenomenon in which people, due to lack of opportunities, have to leave their families behind to provide for them," said Pedro De Vasconcelos, IFAD policy advisor and author of the report.

"Migration should be an option, a choice. But for 200 million people, it's a necessity," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

17 PHOTOS
Reuters 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, migrant crisis
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Reuters 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, migrant crisis
A Syrian refugee holds onto his children as he struggles to walk off a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Lesbos September 24, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee kisses his daughter as he walks through a rainstorm towards Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Syrian migrants cross under a fence into Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. Bernadette Szabo: Rail tracks, unguarded, line the border with Serbia. Most refugees used the tracks, a few miles long, as a highway into Hungary. I arrived at the border every day at 6.00 AM. The crossing was the only spot still not blocked. A triple coil of razor wire was up everywhere else as Hungary prepared to fence off the border. The rail crossing was easy enough but many migrants chose to jump the fence to avoid the police waiting a few hundred metres inside. The razors were not too sharp to handle with heavy gloves. Dozens of other photographers and I paced the fence, some way from the rail tracks. Among the shrubs we could make out the contours of migrants waiting for the right moment. Everyone watched everyone else. We watched the refugees, who watched the police, who watched us. It was like an elaborate board game. It was more than just waiting. The people on the other side of the fence filled the atmosphere with strange, unspeakable tension. This family decided they had waited enough. They started for the fence. Aware of the stakes, they lifted the razor wire, looked around, then went for it. Once across they vanished in the woods. I never saw them again. Photographing the migrants was the ultimate test of staying out of the story: observe keenly, wait, shoot. Donât cut the wire, donât invite the refugees in, donât alert the police. There was little human contact with the thousands of refugees scaling the fence. You learnt nothing about them. They came and went. But those who walked along the tracks stopped and talked. They accepted water or the odd chocolate bar. They even shared stories - stories that will haunt me forever. There is no way to shake the emotional impact. Once I put the camera down and had time to reflect it all came back. You have to let the story wash through you to remain human. REUTERS/Bernardett Szabo
Hungarian policemen stand by the family of migrants as they wanted to run away at the railway station in the town of Bicske, Hungary, September 3, 2015. A camp for refugees and asylum seekers is located in Bicske. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An Afghan migrant jumps off an overcrowded raft onto a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos October 19, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a life tube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Amoun, 70, a blind Palestinian refugee who lived in the town of Aleppo in Syria, rests on a beach moments after arriving along with another forty on a dinghy in the Greek island of Kos, crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, August 12, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An Afghan migrant is seen inside a bus following his arrival by the Eleftherios Venizelos passenger ferry with over 2,500 migrants and refugees from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, October 8, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Migrants make their way on foot on the outskirts of Brezice, Slovenia October 20, 2015. Slovenia's interior ministry raised the possibility on Tuesday of setting up physical barriers along its southeastern border if the numbers of migrants increased. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee tries to catch his breath as he stands in a crowded line to get registered in the national stadium of the Greek island of Kos, August 12, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Macedonian police officer raises his baton towards migrants to stop them from entering into Macedonia at Greece's border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, August 22, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian policemen to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A policeman tries to stop a migrant from boarding a train through a window at Gevgelija train station in Macedonia, close to the border with Greece, August 15, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Syrian refugees walk through the mud as they cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Immigrants are escorted by German police to a registration centre, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, October 20, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Michael Dalder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An overcrowded inflatable boat with Syrian refugees drifts in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece after its motor broke down off the Greek island of Kos, August 11, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Most remittances ($117 billion) came from the United States, followed by Europe ($115 billion) and the Gulf states ($100 billion).

Total migrant worker earnings are estimated to be $3 trillion annually, of which approximately 85 percent remains in the host countries. The money migrants send home averages less than one percent of their host country's gross domestic product, IFAD said.

The report said families back home receive an average of $200 a month, which makes up 60 percent of the household income.

Using the steady flow of remittances, families can buy food, get housing, go to school, access healthcare, improve sanitation, or even invest in a business and have some savings, the report said.

De Vasconcelos said relying on remittances is a symptom of poverty in developing nations that pushes people to find economic opportunities abroad.

He said helping families use the money more productively could help reduce poverty, and in turn, prevent people from migrating in the first place.

"Remittances are a symptom, but (they) ... can be used to have a long-term positive effect in the economies where these funds are going," he said.

Ways to maximize remittances include getting private companies to reduce money transfer fees to poor remote areas, providing financial literacy to families, or promoting climate insurance to those in rural areas so they can cope better with disasters like floods, cyclones or droughts, the report said. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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