Forced Migration in the Arab Countries

20 November, 2022

The ACRPS has published Forced Migration in the Arab Countries, by multiple authors and edited by Ghassan Elkahlout. The book (672 pp.) includes a bibliography and general index. No region in the world is more severely affected by forced migration currently than the Arab countries. Due to chronic issues of poverty, intensifying and accelerating wars, worsening environmental transformations and climate change, and urban migration, the region hosts 32% of refugees and 38% of the internally displaced despite accounting for only 5% of the world population. This book may be regarded as a contribution to the understanding and analysis of the forced migration phenomenon in Arab states, which it addresses via three themes. The first sheds light on legal aspects related to refugees and the displaced. The second addresses various dimensions of the issues of forced migration and displacement and investigates possible solutions. The final theme analyses European experiences with handling forced migration from Arab countries.

At the level of legal protections, the authors argue that the governments of the developed world presently employ the language of burden-sharing in the handling of refugees. However, according to Hathaway, this rhetoric reinforces a kind of global apartheid, as most refugees are from the less-developed world. Some Western states have distorted the true objective of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, despite its shortcomings, by claiming that its sole concern is to define the obligations for refugee protection at the “final destination”: in other words, that it is acceptable that refugees be routinely sent to any other state that will accept them, without exposing them to the risk of refoulement (i.e., compulsory return to their home countries). These governments use a set of incentives and pressures to compel states likely to serve as final destinations to accept similar deals, while other governments of the developed world resort to modifying the status of refugees who arrive unexpectedly as irregular migrants, despite that the Convention stipulates the contrary.

Moreover, international refugee law is considered the slowest developing field of international law. Its instruments have seen no update since the context following the end of World War II, and its legal protections have not kept pace with international human rights and criminal law. Given that the study concerns not how states treat foreign refugees but how they have caused a global refugee crisis, the authors argue that the most effective mechanisms for protecting refugees are those unrelated to UN human rights treaties. Instead, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has proven more effective than all other regional systems, as its decisions are binding to member states.

The migration of Iraqi refugees to Europe, especially to the Netherlands, has coincided with political instability, a series of authoritarian regimes, internal and external wars, and foreign occupation in Iraq. The 1990s saw the inflow of the greatest number of refugees into the Netherlands, and the Iraqi population of the country rapidly increased; they remained the largest new group until 2016, when Syrian refugees surpassed them. Through an analysis of the socio-economic structure of the Iraqi community in the Netherlands, the authors found that there was great variance compared to other immigrant communities, and most starkly compared to the native Dutch population. Yet they argued that this gap is likely to narrow with time, as the second-generation immigrant population grows larger and Dutch society continues its shift toward multiculturalism.

In the case of Germany, the arrival of a large number of Muslim and Syrian refugees in 2015-2016 was a second turning point for migration into the country, the first being the inflow of Turkish workers in the 1960s on account of labour shortages. This made Syrians the second-largest Muslim minority in the country after Turks. The birth rate collapse, which poses a risk to the future of German economic development, contributed to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open her country’s doors to refugees. This historic decision was based on (a) the German economy’s ability to receive migrants and set them on a course toward social integration, and (b) the lessons the German government learned from the first immigration wave, when no such integration policy existed. The primary opposition to the decision is rooted in a cultural argument against migration that asserts that Muslims cannot integrate into Western society because their religion cannot keep pace with modernity. The authors propose two factors that will determine the outcome of this debate and the future of integration in Germany. The first is the role of the German economy in the integration process, in line with Merkel’s thinking. The second is refugee behaviour: as the German press publishes success stories about refugees and their contributions to the German economy, opponents of integration weaponise every crime or terrorist act by immigrants against the policy.

Read Also