IOM's regional office for the Middle East and North Africa and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) launched the 2019 edition of the Situation Report on International Migration in the Arab Region on December 4, 2019 in Cairo | Credit: ESCWA
IOM's regional office for the Middle East and North Africa and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) launched the 2019 edition of the Situation Report on International Migration in the Arab Region on December 4, 2019 in Cairo | Credit: ESCWA

The Arab region comprising 18 countries hosts 15% of all migrants and refugees worldwide; it is currently seeing "unprecedented levels of migration." Despite these high levels, the majority of migrants and refugees stay within the region. To date, Europe has received only 14% of all refugees originating from Arab countries.

According to the latest 2019 Situation Report on International Migration in the Arab Region from the UNHCR, in mid-2018 the UNHCR recognized 8.7 million refugees originating from the Arab region; over nine million refugees have sought protection within the region. The Arab region is also the originator of about 14% of those refugees who make their way to Europe.

The report was launched on December 4 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA).

The third edition of the report analyzes migration and displacement patterns in four subregions, comprising 18 Arab countries with over 400 million inhabitants: the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates); the Maghreb states (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia); Mashreq countries (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria); and the least developed countries, or LDCs in the region including (Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen).

Here's an overview of the report with some of its most important findings:

'Unprecedented' international migration

  • According to the report, the Arab region is presently witnessing "unprecedented levels of migration as a region of origin, transit, and destination." Since 1990, more migrants and refugees have been residing in Arab countries (38 million) than Arab nationals residing abroad (29 million). Moreover, the proportion of migrants and refugees as part of the total population in the Arab region has steadily increased over the last three decades - from 6.3% in 1990 to 9.2% in 2017.
  • In 2018, two out of five refugees worldwide, or 8.7 million, came from the Arab region; almost 30% of them stayed in the region.
  • Over 9 million refugees have sought protection in the region, including 3.7 million under UNHCR mandate and 5.4 million Palestinians registered with UNRWA.
  • In 2017, the Arab region hosted over 38 million migrants and refugees, up from less than 20 million in 2005.
  • It's also higher than the total number of migrants and refugees (29 million) who originated from the Arab region in 2017, up from approximately 11.5 million in 1990.
  • The migrant and refugee population has been growing at a slower rate since 2015 than it had been in the period from 2000 to 2015.
  • France hosts nearly three million migrants and refugees from the Arab region. It is the sixth largest country globally for hosting migrants and refugees from the region.
  • Roughly three in four migrants (74%) resided in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, see above) countries in 2017, followed by Mashreq nations (19%).
  • There were 370,676 stateless persons in the Arab region in 2018, according to UNHCR data.

Number of refugees from the Arab region in top 10 countries of destination in 2018 | Source: UNESCWA / UNHCR

Labor migrants** in Arab region

  • Non-Arab Asian countries were the origin of 56% of migrants in the Arab region in 2017, most of them migrant workers.
  • Labor migrants in the Arab region make up 15% (nearly 24 million) of all labor migrants globally (around 164 million); almost all of them (22.7 million) lived in GCC countries.
  • In the Middle East, two out of five workers, or 40%, are migrants - the highest proportion of all global sub-regions.
  • In the Middle East and in North Africa, 8 out of every 10 migrant workers are men.

Remittances to and from the Arab region.

  • People in Arab countries are major recipients of remittances: In 2017, labor migrants elsewhere sent $54.1 billion home, or roughly 9% of global remittance inflow.
  • That's almost double the amount the region received in official development assistance and in net foreign direct investments.
  • The Mashreq subregion was the main recipient: Over two thirds went to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
  • In terms of outflows, around 27% ($121 billion) of all global remittances in 2017 came from the Arab region almost all of that was sent from GCC countries.

Top five countries of destination for migrants and refugees from the Arab region in 2017 | Source: UNESCWA

Drivers of migration and root causes of internal displacement

  • Conflicts and environmental pressures have led to internal displacement of some 15 million people - mainly in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
  • Except for Lebanon, all countries saw an increase in the number of migrants and refugees within their borders since 2015.
  • Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Syria are also among the top 10 countries of destination for migrants and large populations of displaced persons due to ongoing conflicts.
  • Jordan and Lebanon continue to have the highest global rates of refugees relative to their national populations.
  • Syria was the country with the highest conflict-induced displacement in the world in 2017 with increases of around 460,000 IDPs in 2016 reaching a total of 6.8 million in 2017.
  • In Iraq, there were over 2.6 million IDPs in 2017, or almost 7% of the total population.
  • The number of IDPs in Palestine decreased by almost 24% from 2016, reaching around 230,000 in 2017.
  • With an IDP population of 2 million in 2017, Yemen has experienced a seven-fold increase in displacement since 2015 owing to conflict.
  • In terms of disaster-induced displacements, almost all of them occurred in the LDC subregion; that was mainly due to a severe drought in Somalia that displaced close to 900,000 people.Refugees from Arab countries by region of destination | Source: UNHCR/UNESCWA

Policy developments and migration governance

Based on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), the report aso outlines policy developments and international efforts regarding migration governance in the Arab region:

  • Labor migration: Although GCC countries "made efforts" to protect migrant workers' rights, the so-called kafala system "still puts migrant workers in particularly vulnerable situations."
  • Irregular migration: While some migrants can now leave the country without having to pay a penalty, the integration of these migrants has been "limited."
  • Human trafficking has been the subject of "numerous policy responses," but human and administrative resources are "insufficient to combat criminal networks assosciated with migrant smuggling."
  • Admission and residency procedures: Some policy responses "restricted the rights of refugees and the services they are entitled to" due to pressure from the "protracted nature of displacement."
  • Inclusion and access of migrants to basic services: In most Arab countries, restrictive nationality laws and legislation on migrants' naturalization caused "subpopulations of non-citizens" to have "limited or no access to fundamental rights and basic services."
  • Vulnerabilities in migration: Particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, said kafala system entails risks for migrant domestic workers due to their "exclusion from labor laws."

**Labor migrants, or migrants workers, are defined as "international migrant individuals of working age (15 and older) who are either employed or unemployed in their current country of residence"

 

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