Forced Displacement in the Middle East and North Africa Region: Research Report
In our previous report, we discussed migration trends in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an emphasis on inward and outward migration. In this report, we delve into a far more pressing issue facing the region today; forced displacement. In fact, the MENA region produces 32.5 million displaced persons, divided between 16.5 million IDPs and 15.2 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR and UNRWA, in addition to other categories of displaced persons. Forced displacement includes a number of categories such as refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and stateless persons, among others. This issue is not new in the region, with protracted displacement (meaning displacement for three consecutive years) being a common issue. Today, the region is home to some of the most pressing and protracted displacement issues in the world, affecting Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and others.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is “Someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. They a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” Furthermore, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center at the UNHCR, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are “Persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.”
Countries in the MENA region do host a large number of refugees and displaced persons. More specifically, they host about 25.6 million displaced persons in total. Despite this large number, MENA countries remain somewhat unable to fulfill the even-more pressing supply of displaced person in the region, which is currently at 32.6 million refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers, and stateless persons, who are displaced due to wars, conflicts, and disasters. Meaning, MENA states continue to struggle in terms of providing services along with the economic pressure accompanying hosting displaced persons. Furthermore, despite their tremendous capacities, the Gulf countries with the exception of Yemen, only host 0.7% of all displaced person in the region, with a large number of this percentage is in fact, stateless persons. A stateless person is defined, according to UNHCR, as a “person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”
Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and IDPs by Country of Origin
West Asia Region
Home to the region’s most protracted conflicts, the West Asia subregion currently has produced approximately 25 million persons in displacement. Syria, alone, has produced 13.2 million persons currently in displacement, divided between 6.6 million refugees, 118,435 asylum seekers, and 6.5 million IDPs, 29% of those IDPs have been displaced in 2019 alone. Palestine came second with 7.45 million persons currently in forced migration from Palestine. Of those 7.45 million, 7.2 million are refugees currently under direct UNRWA mandate, 11,523 asylum seekers, and 243,000 IDPs. It is also worth noting that more Palestinian houses were demolished in East Jerusalem in 2019 than in any of the past 15 years. Iraq ranked third highest, as it produced 2.3 million persons currently in forced migration, divided between 344,460 refugees, 302,721 asylum seekers, and 1.6 million IDPs, 6.5% of whom were displaced in 2019.
Turkey currently has produced approximately 1.3 million persons in forced migration, whereby 83,271 are refugees, 46,934 asylum seekers, and 1.1 million IDPs. Then, Iran produced 736,168 persons currently in forced migration, divided between 129,676 refugees, 86,087 asylum seekers, and 520,000 IDPs, the majority of whom are disaster induced. Furthermore, Lebanon produced 26,055 persons currently in forced migration, whereby 5,801 are refugees, 8,024 are asylum seekers, and 7,200 are IDPs, 60% of whom were displaced in 2019 alone. Jordan came last with the least number of persons in forced migration, 9,095 persons currently in displacement coming from Jordan, whereby 2,384 are refugees, 4,711 are asylum seekers, and 46 are disaster induced IDPs.
West Asia has witnessed a number of pressing conflicts, including the 9-year-long ongoing war in Syria, the occupation in Palestine, the various armed conflicts in Iraq, and the migration of Afghanis fleeing armed conflict into Iran.
North Africa Region
North Africa subregion currently has produced approximately 3.9 million persons currently in forced migration, with Sudan, alone is the origin country for 82% of those currently in forced migration. As such, there are currently 3.2 million Sudanese in forced migration, divided between 734,947 refugees, 71,959 asylum seekers, and 2.4 million IDPs, 15% of those have been displaced in 2019 alone. Libya has produced 473,050 persons currently in forced migration, whereby16,033 are refugees, 5,975 are asylum seekers, and 451,000 IDPs, 48% of whom have been displaced in 2019 alone. Egypt ranked third highest, producing 109,299 persons currently in forced migration, divided between 27,506 refugees, 16,370 asylum seekers, and 65,004 IDPs. Mauritania currently has produced approximately 52,603 persons in forced migration, whereby 37,423 are refugees, 8,580 are asylum seekers, and 6,600 are IDPs.
Then, Algeria produced 15,284 persons currently in forced migration, divided between 4,514 refugees, 7,463 asylum seekers, 3,200 IDPs, the majority of whom are disaster induced. Furthermore, Morocco produced 13,410 persons currently in forced migration, whereby 4,637 are refugees, 8,313 are asylum seekers, and 200 are IDPs. Lastly, Tunisia has produced 4,778 persons currently in forced migration, whereby 2,068 are refugees, 2,664 are asylum seekers, and 32 are IDPs.
Ultimately, North Africa has witnessed a number of conflicts contributing to forced migration, including the armed conflict in Libya, the partition of Sudan, the Arab Spring movements in the region, and the issues in the countries in the Sahara.
The Gulf Region
With the exception of Yemen, the Gulf region enjoys a rather safe and secure setting, culminating in a low number of displaced persons. In fact, only 11.4% of the total number of displaced persons in the MENA were displaced from the Gulf region, with Yemen, alone producing 99.75% of those currently in forced migration from the Gulf region. Moreover, there are currently 3.7 million Yemenis in forced migration, divided between 36,518 refugees, 34,312 asylum seekers, and 3.6 million IDPs, 11% of whom were displaced in 2019 alone. Saudi Arabia came in second with 3,461 total persons in forced migration from the Kingdom, whereby 1,762 are refugees, 1,413 are asylum seekers, and 260 disaster induced IDPs. Kuwait came in third, producing 2,715 total persons currently in forced migration, divided between 1,300 refugees and 1,405 asylum seekers. Oman currently has produced approximately 2,174 persons in forced migration, whereby only 42 are refugees, 58 are asylum seekers, and 1,100 are IDPs.
Bahrain produced a total of 701 persons currently in forced migration, divided between 557 refugees and 144 asylum seekers. Furthermore, The UAE produced 559 persons currently in forced migration, whereby 155 are refugees, 184 are asylum seekers, and 220 are IDPs. Lastly, Qatar has produced 73 persons currently in forced migration, whereby 36 are refugees and 37 are asylum seekers.
Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and IDPs by Country of Asylum
West Asia Region
In terms of hosting displaced persons, West Asia hosts 74.7% of all displaced persons in the MENA region. Syria, which produced the highest number of displaced persons is also the host country to the largest number of persons. In fact, Syria currently hosts 6.6 million displaced persons within its borders, with a large percentage of which attributed to IDPs in addition to 18,817 refugees, 18,654 asylum seekers, and 160,000 stateless persons. Turkey hosts close to 4 million displaced persons currently, with 3.7 million of whom are refugees couple with 311,719 asylum seekers, in addition to IDPs. Iraq ranked third highest, hosting 3.1 million displaced persons, whereby 283,022 are refugees and 14,035 are asylum seekers in addition to about 1.8 million IDPs. In fourth, Jordan hosts approximately 3 million displaced persons, whereby 2.95 million are refugees and 52,562 are displaced persons. Lebanon, moreover, hosts 1.44 million displaced persons, 1.42 million of whom are refugees coupled with 16,423 asylum seekers. Additionally, Iran hosts 979,476 displaced persons, the vast majority of whom are refugees, mostly from Afghanistan.
North Africa Region
North Africa hosts 14.3% of all displaced persons in the MENA region. Similar to West Asia, Sudan in North Africa hosts the largest number of displaced persons just as it has produced the largest number of displaced persons too. Currently, Sudan hosts about 2.96 million displaced persons, 1.07 million are refugees and 17,622 are asylum seekers. Egypt ranked second highest with 314,937 displaced persons currently hosted in Egypt, 246,749 of whom are refugees coupled with 68,184 asylum seekers. Libya currently hosts about 270,379 displaced persons, 8,794 of whom are refugees and 47,414 are asylum seekers. Moreover, Algeria hosts currently 103,276 displaced persons, the majority of whom are refugees (94,350) coupled with 8,926 asylum seekers. Moreover, Mauritania hosts 84,322 displaced persons, 83,919 are refugees and 1,131 are asylum seekers. Then, Morocco hosts 7,775 displaced persons divided between 5,940 refugees and 1,835 asylum seekers. Finally, Tunisia came in last with 1,330 displaced persons hosted within its borders, 1,066 of whom are refugees and 256 are asylum seekers
The Gulf Region
The Gulf region hosts 10.6% of the total number of displaced persons in the MENA region. Discounting Yemen, the six other states only host 0.7% of the total displaced persons in the region despite their financial capabilities to host more. Yemen hosts 2.5 million displaced persons divided between 264,369 refugees and 8,814 asylum seekers in addition to a large number of IDPs. Kuwait hosts 93,670 displaced persons, 673 are refugees, 981 are asylum seekers, and 92,000 are stateless persons. Saudi Arabia hosts 72,436 displaced persons, 266 of whom are refugees and 2,170 are asylum seekers in addition to 70,000 stateless persons. Further, UAE hosts 7,782 total displaced persons divided between 1,184 refugees and 6,506 asylum seekers. Qatar hosts 1,482 displaced persons whereby only 190 are refugees and 92 are asylum seekers in addition to 1,200 stateless persons. Oman hosts 564 displaced persons divided between 308 refugees and 256 asylum seekers. Finally, Bahrain hosts 319 displaced persons, 263 of whom are refugees and 56 are asylum seekers. It is worth mentioning that GCC countries, including Qatar, have relaxed the rules for existing expats who do not have the means of renewing travel documents / passports to prevent them from further displacement.
Conclusion: Broad Trends
In analyzing raw UNHCR, UNRWA, and IDMC data, we find that forced displacement in the MENA region is more or less localized per sub-region. Meaning, most displaced persons either remain within the borders of their countries or flee to the most neighboring states. West Asia is the sub-region where the vast majority of forced displacement occurs and hosted. In fact, we find that the region produces 76.7% of all displacement in the region and also hosts and welcomes 74.7% of all displacement in the region. North Africa produces 11.9% and hosts 14.6% of all displaced persons in the MENA region while the gulf region produces 11.4% and hosts 10.7% of all displaced persons in the region. Furthermore, Yemen is the country where the majority of displacement occurs in the gulf region. Without Yemen, the remaining 6 states in the sub-region produce only 0.03% of displaced persons and welcome only 0.7%. Such an analysis shows a disproportionate action between the individual states when factoring their overall economic wellbeing, as states such as Jordan and Lebanon host far more displaced persons than their Gulf counterparts. At the same time, it is worth noting that many GCC states do provide sizeable financial aid to those hosting displaced person to further enable them to provide better services.