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The list of countries with the biggest share of the native-born population living in the diaspora reveals stories of war and displacement but also of economic stagnation and a lack of perspectives. In regions where small countries are common and remoteness is added as a factor, for example in the Caribbean or Oceania, living in the diaspora is the most widespread. Out of all sovereign countries with at least 750,000 inhabitants, Caribbean nation Guyana had the biggest share of its native-born population – 36.4 percent – living abroad. Jamaica comes fifth at 28.6 percent. Taking into account independent countries of all sizes, island nations dominate the top spots of the ranking with up to half of their populations having settled in other countries. Polynesia was the region with the highest overall diaspora share in 2020, at 28.7 percent, followed by the Caribbean at 17.7 percent.
Another group of nations which commonly appears among the countries with the biggest diasporas are those in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. After the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, many people left in search of better economic opportunity, for example to Western Europe. Bloody civil wars in the following years compounded these effects in some places. This is today seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 34 percent of the population lives abroad, as well as in Albania, where that figure stands at 30.7 percent.
Countries currently or recently embroiled in war also have large diasporas as a result. This applies to Syria, where around 30 percent of a population of 28 million now live abroad, as well as South Sudan (21 percent). Countries that are being severely mismanaged by their governments include Eritrea at an 18.5 percent diaspora share and Venezuela at 16.6 percent. An even bigger diaspora can be found in El Salvador at 20.4 percent. A civil war ended in the small Central American country in 1992, but gang violence has prevailed. The biggest diaspora driven by conflict, however, is seen in a non-sovereign territory, as more than 45 percent of those born in Palestine currently reside abroad, according to the U.N. figures.
Some wealthy countries and territories also have highly mobile populations, for example the United Arab Emirates or Hong Kong. In Western Europe, Portugal was the country with the biggest diaspora, followed by Ireland. Both countries have experienced low economic growth and opportunity.
This chart shows the percentage of the native-born population living abroad in 2020, by country.
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