PARIS (Reuters)- Christians far outnumber Muslims as migrants around the world, including in the European Union where debates about immigration usually focus on new Muslim arrivals, according to a new study issued on Thursday.
Of the world’s 214 million people who have moved from their home country to live in another, about 106 million (49 percent) are Christians while around 60 million (27 percent) are Muslims, the study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said.
Only 3.6 million Jews around the world have moved across international borders, the study said, but that is 25 percent of the world’s Jewish population, by far the highest proportion on the move of any faith group.
“Many experts think that, on the whole, economic opportunities - better jobs and higher wages - have been the single biggest driver of international migration,” it said.
“At the same time, religion remains a factor in some people’s decisions to leave their countries of birth and their choices of where to go.”
The study defined migrants as people living in another country in 2010 for over a year, including estimates of illegal immigrants and long-term refugees including Palestinians and their descendants.
“Perhaps contrary to popular perception, ... Christian immigrants outnumber Muslim immigrants in the European Union as a whole,” the report said, indirectly referring to far-right parties that have long campaigned against Muslim newcomers.
Of the 47 million migrants in the EU, 26 million (56 percent) are Christians, double the 13 million Muslim migrants, who make up only 27 percent of the total, it said.
The gap narrows when intra-EU migration - for example, Christian Greeks to Germany or French-born Muslims to Britain - is excluded, but Christians migrating from outside the EU still outnumber non-EU Muslim migrants by about 13 million to 12 million.
The United States is the leading destination for Christian migrants, who account for 32 million (74 percent) of its 43 million-strong foreign-born population. Two-thirds of them are from Latin America.
“The United States has received about as many immigrants from Mexico alone (more than 12 million, including both legal immigrants and unauthorized ones) as any other nation has received from all sources combined,” the study said.
The U.S. is also the world’s top destination for Buddhists, many from Vietnam. “About five percent of U.S. immigrants are Muslims, a much lower share than in Europe,” it added.
Saudi Arabia is the top destination for Muslim migrants, mostly workers from other Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and the Philippines.
While nearly half of all Muslim migrants come from the Asia-Pacific region, the largest single group - over five million - is made up of migrants and their descendants from the Palestinian territories, the study said.
Israel takes in the most Jewish migrants, many of them from Russia and Ukraine, followed far behind by the U.S., Canada and Australia.
The United Nations estimates that about three percent of the world’s population are migrants.
“If the world’s 214 million international migrants were counted as one nation, they would constitute the fifth most populous country on the globe, just behind Indonesia and ahead of Brazil,” the study said.
Reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by Tim Pearce