More than half of young Arabs want to emigrate

Students at a graduation ceremony at the University of Rabat in February. A survey found 70 percent of young Moroccans wanted to leave the country. (Reuters/File photo)
Updated 24 June 2019

More than half of young Arabs want to emigrate

  • Some 70 percent of young Moroccans express desire to leave their country
  • The Gulf is the number one choice for Egyptians, Yemenis, and Sudanese

LONDON: More than half the young people in much of the Arab world would like to leave their home countries, a survey conducted by BBC Arabic has found.

That number has jumped by more than 10 percent for those aged 18-29 since 2016, according to the Big BBC News Arabic Survey 2018/19, conducted with the Arab Barometer research group. The survey received responses from more than 25,000 people aged 18 and over in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan, and Lebanon.

One of the survey’s most striking figures showed that 70 percent of young Moroccans were thinking about leaving their country. 

Almost half of those surveyed in Sudan, Jordan and Morocco — and a third of those in Iraq — are considering emigrating. Although Europe is the overwhelming choice for North Africans, the number of people in other countries in the region who want to go to Europe has fallen since previous surveys. 

The Gulf is the number one choice for Egyptians, Yemenis, and Sudanese, whilst North America is top of the wish list for people in Jordan and Lebanon.

Participants in the survey “seem to be turning away from Europe and towards North America and the Gulf, and that’s perhaps because the Gulf has been opening its doors a little bit more in recent years,” said Rosie Garthwaite, senior producer at BBC News Arabic. 

The number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea and seek refuge in Europe surged in the last eight years — peaking in 2016. Many of those migrants were fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, but there were also large numbers of Afghans, North Africans and people from sub-Saharan Africa making the journey.

Overall, there has been an increase in the number of people who are considering emigration since 2013 in Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, the survey said. However, there has been a decrease in the number in Palestine, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, and Lebanon. Rates in the latter have “declined substantially over the past decade,” the survey said. 

Often the desire to leave is fueled by a decline in the economic situation in the region, the report stated: “Economic factors are the predominant reason for emigration followed by corruption, and men are more likely than women to consider emigrating, especially in Egypt.” 

Arab countries had the highest youth unemployment rates in the world in 2018, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Conflict and instability in Yemen, Palestine, Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Iraq has increased economic deterioration.

The ILO says that around 20 percent of people aged 15-24 in Morocco were unemployed in 2018, and according to the survey a significant minority of people there “want more rapid or sudden (political) change, particularly young people.”

In Jordan and Lebanon, economies have been battered by the fallout from violence in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Jordan has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has the second-highest share of refugees compared to population in the world. At the same time, tax hikes introduced to meet International Monetary Fund (IMF) targets to reduce Jordan’s debt burden triggered widespread protests in 2018.

Since 2011, Lebanon has taken in 1.5 million Syrians and Palestine refugees from Syria, accounting for 30 percent of Lebanon's population, the world’s highest concentration per capita of refugees according to the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department.

Meanwhile, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya featured in the 10 most corrupt countries in the world according to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2018.

Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

Updated 22 July 2019

Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

  • A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies

GABES: A putrid odour lingers outside a morgue in Tunisia’s coastal city of Gabes as dozens of bodies of would-be migrants to Europe pulled out of the sea await burial.
A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place.
More than 80 drowned migrants have been retrieved from Tunisian waters — most of them victims of a deadly July 1 shipwreck that left only three survivors.
Fished out of the sea between the port city of Zarzis and the tourist island of Djerba in the south, their bodies were brought to Gabes hospital — the only facility in the region capable of taking DNA samples.
Under pressure from civil society groups, Tunisian authorities have stepped up efforts to systematically collect the DNA of each unidentified drowned migrant, hospital director Hechmi Lakhrech told AFP.
The samples could well be the only hope of informing the victims’ families of their fate, he added.
In the basement morgue, staff use surgical masks or simple scarves to fend off the stench of bodies stacked one top of the other on the floor.
Since July 6, the numbers have “overwhelmed” the morgue’s 30-body capacity, said Lakhrech.
With just two forensic doctors and two assistants, not to mention a lack of equipment, the facility is struggling to keep them properly stored, he added.
After forensic tests, the bodies are kept at the morgue until a burial site is found, which in Tunisia is complicated, according to Gabes governor Mongi Thameur.
Many municipalities have refused to allow the drowned migrants to be buried in their cemeteries.
“Some fear the bodies carry cholera, and others refuse to bury people in Muslim cemeteries if their religion is unknown,” he told AFP.
It comes down to “a problem of mentality and also of humanity in some cases,” he said, adding that many people needed to be “sensitised.”
At the Bouchama cemetery, the only one in Gabes to have so far accepted migrant bodies, 16 graves dug off to the side lie empty.
“My parents are resting here, I don’t want non-Muslims to be buried by their side,” said one local resident.
In front of the hospital, the stifling midday heat beats down as 14 white bags are carefully loaded onto the back of a garbage truck.
Once loaded, it will make the two-hour journey to Zarzis, where an improvised cemetery flooded with the bodies of migrants for several years is now full, and a new one has just been opened.
Each grave is marked with a simple plaque bearing the victim’s DNA file number and burial date.
“On July 12, we collected 45 bodies in one day!” said Zarzis deputy mayor Faouzi Khenissi, calling it a “phenomenal problem.”
The city has taken in the bodies “because we have this culture, we can’t just leave the remains unburied,” he said.
Zarzis is a hotspot for illegal departures to Europe and Khenissi says some of the city’s own youth have also been victims of the wrecks.
Municipal workers and officials take shifts volunteering after work to conduct the burials.
After three hours of prep under the blazing sun, 14 bodies are buried alongside the 47 others already laid to rest at the new site, just outside a shelter for rescued migrants.
Mongi Slim of the country’s Red Crescent called for “international mobilization” to address the issue which “does not concern Tunisia alone.”
“The country is already struggling to take care of rescued migrants, but even more so for those who’ve died.”