The number of migrants living in the Middle East has more than doubled between 2005 and 2015 from about 25 million to around 54 million, largely due to armed conflict and the forced displacement, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from United Nations agencies.
Pew Research Center, which recognizes itself as a 'fact tank', in its report said that some of this growth was due to individuals and families seeking economic opportunities but the majority of the migration surge, especially after 2011, was a consequence of armed conflict and the forced displacement of millions of people from their homes, many of whom have left their countries of birth.
The report recognized as “migrants” the people moving across international borders for whatever reason (including refugees and asylum seekers and other international migrants) and people forcibly displaced from their homes but remaining inside their country of birth (internally displaced persons).
The rapid rise in the number of people looking for safe havens and new livelihoods has transformed the Middle East into the region with the fastest growing international migrant and forcibly displaced population in the world over the last decade, the analysis said.
The migrant population of Middle East increased by about 120 per cent between 2005 and 2015. This far exceeds increases in the combined international migrant and forcibly displaced populations over the same period in continental Africa (91 per cent growth), Latin America and the Caribbean (77 per cent) and the Asia-Pacific region (26 per cent).
Migrant populations in Europe and North America grew more slowly over the period 2005-2015 (about 20% in each region), even though Europe received a record 1.3 million asylum seekers in 2015 – many from the Middle East. Within the Middle East, the migrant share of the region’s population grew from 7% in 2005 to approximately 13% in 2015. Put another way, about one in ten people living in the Middle East today is an international migrant or a forcibly displaced person.
This growth in the Middle East’s migrant population is largely the result of two factors – conflict and economic opportunity. Armed conflict in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, has displaced millions of people since 2005. This increase in the number of displaced people, including those displaced within their own birth countries, accounts for the majority (60 per cent) of the growth in the Middle East’s migrant population between 2005 and 2015.
Second, economic opportunity, much of it concentrated in oil-rich Persian Gulf countries, has attracted millions of non-displaced, international migrants seeking jobs, mostly from countries outside of the Middle East. Some 40 per cent of the growth in the Middle East’s migrant population between 2005 and 2015 can be explained by such economically motivated migration.
The migrant share of national populations is not uniform across the Middle East. In 2015, among some of the Persian Gulf states, migrants make up an overwhelming majority of national populations in the United Arab Emirates (88 per cent), Qatar (75 per cent) and Kuwait (74 per cent). Most of these migrants are non-displaced, international migrants.
The migrant share of the population is smaller but still substantial, in countries like Jordan (41 per cent), Syria (40 per cent) and Lebanon (34 per cent), with most being displaced migrants, some of whom were born in these countries and others who have crossed international borders as refugees or asylum seekers.
In some countries, migrants made up a much smaller share of national populations in 2015. Countries like Turkey (4 per cent) and Iran (3 per cent) have low shares of its population that are either internally displaced persons due to conflict or international migrants, even though millions of migrants live inside their borders.