Middle Eastern Conflict and Crises Drive Emigration and Displacement

Middle Eastern migration is heavily influenced by political dynamics, but more often by conflict. The region has become synonymous with waves of refugees — Palestinians fleeing Israeli occupation in 1948; Iraqis escaping various conflicts, and more recently, Syrians escaping civil war.

Like other Middle Eastern countries that have experienced protracted conflict, Lebanon’s is a different migration narrative. Lebanon is a country of emigration; its diaspora is larger than the number of Lebanese in Lebanon. Despite several waves of Lebanese pursuing immigration pathways to Europe and North and South America, Lebanese emigrants have not been burdened with the label of ‘refugees’, likely because most who fled were at least middle class and benefited from extensive networks abroad. The current economic crisis combined with the devastating impact of the August explosion has caused another surge of emigration. While leaving is relatively uncomplicated for the many Lebanese nationals who have much-coveted second citizenships, others without this luxury are weighing up their options, including citizenship-by-investment.

Alternatives for others in the region are less promising. As the Syrian conflict approaches its 10th year, the situation remains bleak for most displaced Syrians, particularly those hosted in neighboring countries. UNHCR and other international donor funding repeatedly falls short, and resettlement quotas have significantly reduced. In attempts to stem spontaneous migration, EU countries have used the Covid-19 outbreak as a further reason to protect (close) their borders from new arrivals, leaving Syrians in limbo — not welcome in the countries that currently host them, the EU, or the US. Without financial resources, displaced Syrians have no choice but to remain where they are.

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