Middle East migration patterns defy generalization

Middle East migration patterns defy generalization
Construction workers in Dubai. The Gulf has become a labor migration hub in the region. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 05 February 2020

Middle East migration patterns defy generalization

Middle East migration patterns defy generalization
  • Strife-torn Middle East and North African countries are one of the biggest contributors to migration flows
  • GCC countries continue to draw migrant workers with their attractive job opportunities and decent living standards

DUBAI: The Arab region has been a major contributor to global migration flows due to its history of strife and conflict. However, different parts of the same region also house a disproportionate number of the world’s migrants, refugees and displaced people.

This paradox has been underscored by the UNHCR’s “International Migrant Stock 2019” report, which shows that globally the number of migrants has touched the 272 million mark, an increase of 51 million since 2010.

Given that 272 million is the equivalent of 3.5 percent of world population, it is no surprise that migration patterns and trends have emerged as a major issue on the international community’s agenda.

As for the Arab region, it was hosting more than 38 million migrants and refugees in 2017, according to UNHCR’s latest “Situation Report on International Migration in the Arab Region,” with two out of five workers identified as migrants.

This part of the world has long been plagued by poverty, instability, droughts and conflicts. But it is also too diverse to be conveniently pigeonholed in terms of political and economic geography. 

Migrant workers continue to be drawn to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc by attractive job opportunities and decent living standards, in marked contrast with high unemployment and poor living conditions in their home countries.

The UNHCR puts the total number of migrants in the GCC countries at over 25 million, making the bloc the labor-migration hub of the Arab region.

People from Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq consider moving to one of the six GCC countries in the hope of a better life, according to Kimberly Gleason, associate professor at the American University of Sharjah’s business department.

She said people from North African countries, Jordanians and Iraqis are most likely to look for opportunities in the GCC bloc, “particularly in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.”

“These countries (Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq), with their flat or deteriorating economic conditions and insufficient opportunities, are pushing out an entire generation of educated males,” said Gleason.

She believes that the relatively high total fertility rates of these countries are a contributor to the unsustainable unemployment levels. The problem is compounded by weak economic foundations, which hinder the creation of jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

One piece of good news is that several countries in the Arab region have been supporting workers’ rights, expanding legal protections for migrants that outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, religion or national origin.

An example is the UAE’s increased protections for domestic workers under Federal Law No. 10 of 2017, which guarantees employees 30 days of paid leave and 30 days of sick leave, round-trip tickets home every two years, restrictions on daily hours worked and the prohibition of any type of physical abuse.

But there are downsides, too. The demographic realities of the Arab region mean there is a surplus of workers, Gleason said, adding that this is at odds with the situation in Europe, for instance, where there is a need for both skilled and unskilled foreign workers.

The proportion of migrants and refugees as a fraction of the total population of the Arab region has steadily increased over the past three decades — from 6.3 percent in 1990 to 9.2 percent in 2017.

While the increase can be partly explained by inflows of economic migrants, the biggest driver of the phenomenon is all too obvious: The precarious political and security situation in Arab countries such as Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The institutional shortcomings of these fragile states make it difficult for political differences to be resolved in a peaceful manner. Gleason said that the resulting violence and strife is a major generator of refugee flows within the Middle East and across the world.

In 2017 alone, more than 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence. In the Middle East, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have found themselves hosting some of the world’s largest refugee communities relative to their national populations.

In mid-2018, the UNHCR said that 8.7 million out of the 20.2 million refugees under its mandate worldwide originated from the Arab region. About 29 percent (2.5 million) of these refugees stayed in the region, while close to 70 percent moved to other parts of the world.




Violence and political insecurity in Arab countries including Libya, Syria and Iraq have fueled a rise in economic migrants and refugee numbers. (AFP)

The movement of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa countries is unlikely to stop over the next three to five years, but the rate will not be the same as before, Gleason said. The factors that will come into play are the outcome of the Syrian war and impact of climate change.

“If the Syrian situation is resolved so that males can return home without being conscripted or jailed, there will be a reversal of refugee flows,” said Gleason, who described the human displacement there as “an orchestrated demographic shift by the Assad regime.”

From a global perspective, the number of migrants will increase due to geopolitical volatility and chronic instability in different parts of the world, said Laura Petrache, a senior adviser at Migrant Integration Lab.

Additionally, the world’s poorer communities will continue to be spurred into migration by dreams of a better future in foreign countries, as well as by fears of being affected by the impact of climate-change, such as rising sea-levels, extreme weather events, drought and water scarcity.

Petrache said the surge in migration is a “highly sensitive issue” that is fueling intense political and public debates, adding that the lack of adequate responses from governments has left hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants feeling vulnerable.

The problem is amplified by the fact that one out of every seven international migrants is below the age of 20, and three quarters of migrants are of working age (20-64 years).

Petrache said that the GCC bloc is at a “historic crossroads” as far as labor and migrations are concerned.

“Labor migration has played an important role in helping the countries of the Gulf grow into one of the world’s most economically developed regions.” 

Pointing out that migration and forced displacement are priority areas for many G20 countries, Petrache said: “If managed well, labor migration can still play a decisive role in the development agenda of both the receiving as well as sending countries.”

In conclusion, she added: “The need for sustainable and resilient solutions for refugee and migration issues will keep policymakers busy for years to come.”


Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
Lebanese soldiers patrol as they try to enforce a total lockdown in the southern suburbs of Beirut as a measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
Updated 3 min 41 sec ago

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
  • Hospitals are running out of space and supplies as infections continue to rise
  • All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed

BEIRUT: Many doctors specializing in bacterial and infectious diseases expect a further jump in the number of people of infected with COVID-19 next week in Lebanon with hospitals exceeding their capacity.

On Sunday, the total number of laboratory-confirmed infections exceeded a quarter of a million people in the country.

In the first 17 days of the year 67,655 new cases were recorded, and the lockdown period is expected to be extended for at least 10 more days.

Suleiman Haroun, head of the Lebanese Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The epidemiological scene in Lebanon reflects part of the reality, not all of it. The real situation will be worse yet.”

He said: “All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed. Hospitals have exceeded their capacity.”

Pulmonologist and intensive care specialist Dr. Wael Jaroush said: “I have never seen anything like what I see in the hospitals now. I never imagined that I would ever go through such an experience. There is no room for patients in the emergency departments.

“They are dying in their homes. Some of them are begging to buy oxygen generators, new or second hand.

“The price of a new one is normally $700, yet people are selling used devices for about $5,000, and some patients are forced to buy them in foreign currency, meaning that the patient’s family buy the dollar on the black market for more than LBP8,000.”

Jaroush said that patients were infected with the virus because of mixing with other people at the end of last year and in the first 10 days of January. He expected that their number would increase during Monday and Tuesday. He would wait to see if the numbers declined on Wednesday and Thursday.

He said that 10-liter oxygen bottles and smaller ones are out of stock “because of the high demand on them, either for storage due to lack of confidence in the state, or because they are not available in hospitals.”

“As a doctor, I come across patients who tell me that they bought the oxygen bottle two months ago, for example, and put it in their homes, just as they did when they resorted to storing medicines.”

He pointed out: “These oxygen bottles do not last long. A COVID-19 patient who cannot find a vacant bed in the hospital and is asked to find oxygen and stay at home needs 40 or 50 liters of oxygen. So when the 10-liter oxygen bottle runs out, the patient dies because his heart stops. This is happening now and some patients have died in their homes.”

Jaroush said: “The cardiologist Dr. Mustafa Al-Khatib suffered from COVID-19 yesterday and could not find even a chair in the emergency department. Since yesterday we doctors have been trying to find a place for him so that he can have a blood test and a scan for his lungs. This is our situation.”

On Sunday, it was announced that the Military Hospital in Beirut also exceeded its capacity. The hospital cares for military personnel and their families.

This prompted its management to take 23 rooms in a private hospital that was damaged in the Beirut port explosion last August. The Lebanese Army Works Regiment is working to make it available within days to accommodate cases that need intensive care.

In addition to the lack of capacity, there was also a lack of medical supplies.

Activists on social media circulated calls to secure oxygen bottles that are needed for patients in hospitals that are needed for patients.

The search for hospital beds has caused disputes between the Lebanese Red Cross paramedics and some hospitals.

Georges Kettaneh, Lebanese Red Cross secretary-general, said: “The Red Cross responds to all crises in the country, especially COVID-19, and from the beginning we demanded hospitals to be ready. It was expected that disputes would arise between the Red Cross and some hospitals due to the decision of the Minister of Health in the caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, to receive all cases in hospitals.”

Assem Araji, the head of parliament’s health committee, said: “Despite the sanctions that the Ministry of Health decided to impose on some private hospitals that did not respond to the request to open departments to receive patients, certain hospitals did not comply. We have reached a catastrophic stage that calls for national responsibility.”

Araji expressed his belief that “a complete lockdown for 11 days is not sufficient to limit the spread of the virus. Rather, it should be closed for three weeks, as recommended by the World Health Organization.”

Many well-known figures in Lebanon have died of the coronavirus during the past days.