(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of international migrants soared to 244 million this year, an increase of more than 40 percent from the year 2000, as economic need, global markets and a desire for better lives put more people on the move, the United Nations said on Friday.

Nearly half of the world's migrants were born in Asia, which has provided the most migrants - 1.7 million people per year - over the last 15 years, followed by Europe, according to a report by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Europe has seen nearly 900,000 refugees and migrants so far this year, about half of them Syrians fleeing war in their homeland, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said earlier this month.

The number of migrants around the world will no doubt rise, fueled by economic disparities, globalized markets and people seeking better lives, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said presenting the report.

He called for stronger efforts to protect people undertaking dangerous journeys as they flee their homes, and efforts to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

He also said migrants should not be victimized nor made into scapegoats.

"The many stories of their resilience, strength and heroism are too often eclipsed by xenophobia and pervasive anti-migrant sentiments," Eliasson said.

Two thirds of all international migrants live in just 20 countries, the report said.

The largest number, 47 million, live in the United States, followed by 12 million in Germany, 12 million in Russia and 10 million in Saudi Arabia, it said.

India had the largest diaspora, with 16 million people who had been born there living elsewhere, followed by Mexico, Russia and China, it said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, additional reporting by Sebastien Malo. Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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