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date: 19 January 2021

Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration in the Middle Eastfree

  • Zeynep SahinZeynep SahinDepartment of Politics and International Relations in the University of Southern California


Since the second half of the 1940s, the Middle East has experienced intense migrations. In 2005 alone, the region received a total of approximately 6 million refugees. Migration flows to and from the Middle East have been linked to nationalist movements and ethnic conflicts. However, these relations have received little attention from scholars. Scholarly work on migration in the Middle East that has accumulated between the early 1950s and the late 1980s falls into two broad categories in terms of subject matter: Jewish migration to Israel and the Palestinian refugees, and migrations to labor-short countries of the Gulf and Europe. New trends in the literature on migration in the Middle East can also be identified, including those relating to the gender aspects of migration, population displacement and resettlement, return migration, and the relationship between migration and security. Although the field has made significant progress—the scope of the literature with respect to subject matter has broadened from the 1980s onward, and the methods used by scholars have become more sophisticated over the years—there are some shortcomings that need to be addressed. A number of important issues, such as citizenship or economic dynamics, remain unexplored. Since labor migrations to and from the Middle East are central to economic development, a focus on the evolution of migration may shed light on numerous relevant themes.


Since the nineteenth century, the Middle East’s ethnic, religious, and linguistic heterogeneity has provided the basis for numerous nationalist movements. Some of these have come into conflict with states and majority populations, resulting in ethnic conflicts. Armenians, for example, fought against the Ottoman state in the later nineteenth century, which led to their mass expulsion. The right of autonomy has been claimed by Kurdish nationalist movements in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran since the early twentieth century. In each country, the ongoing ethnic conflicts led to forced migrations and internal displacement. The Jewish nationalist movement that emerged in Europe led to similar consequences for another Middle Eastern society. The creating of a Jewish homeland in 1948 led to the dispersal of Palestinians, who became the largest refugee population in the world. Migration flows to and from the Middle East have been intertwined with nationalist movements and ethnic conflicts. Migration is a crucial component in the political processes of the region, being both prime mover and consequence. However, these relations have received little attention. The primary focus of the existing scholarship on nationalism in the region has came from history, concentrating mostly on Arab nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Haim 1962; Cleveland 1971; Dawn 1973; Clements 1976; Sivan 1987; Khalidi 1991; Abukhalil 1992; Kramer 1993). Since the 1980s, scholars have focused on single case studies (Gershoni 1981; Coury 1982; Beinin and Lockman 1987; Khoury 1987; Taspinar 2005; Çagatay 2006). It is argued that diverse histories and socioeconomic dynamics have led the different forms of nationalism and nationalist movements in the region. It is unlikely to be coincidental that studies about Palestinian and Kurdish movements have constituted a large body of the post-1980s literature on the region (Muslih 1988; Ruether 1989; Olson 1996; Vali 2003; Ahmed 2007). As Jankowski and Gershoni (1997) have argued, “nationalism has not been the exclusive motor of communal identity and activism in the Arab world” but it has been the motor of numerous migrations, and their outcomes, between the 1940s and today. This review essay will attempt to fill this lacuna. It is argued that the themes associated with the migration usually revolve around the nationalist movements and ethnic conflicts in the region. Bearing in mind that this is a developing region, economic dynamics must also be considered. Since labor migrations to and from the Middle East are central to economic development, a focus on the evolution of migration may shed light on numerous relevant themes.

Since the second half of the 1940s, the Middle East has experienced intense migratory movements. According to the United Nations (UN) World Migrant Stock Database, which includes Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Occupied Palestinian Territory, and Iran, the region totaled 26 million international migrants in 2005. The number of refugees was around 6 million for that same year. The number of migrants is far higher here than in other developing regions. The region includes countries with heavy emigration such as Lebanon, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, and oil-rich countries identified as the immigrant countries, as they rely on labor migration for their economic development. According to the UN Migrant Stock Data, the percentage of migrant population constituted more than one-half of the total population in three of the region’s countries in 2005 (Qatar 78.3 percent; UAE 71.4 percent; and Kuwait 62.1 percent). In four other countries, Bahrain, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, the percentage of migrant population was over 30 percent.

Migration in the Middle East has been accelerating in response to economic push and pull factors, including the appeal of Gulf countries for Arab and Asian workers, and the appeal of Western Europe for Middle Eastern workers. Besides economic factors, war and international politics have influenced migration in the Middle East since World War I. Humphrey (1993) and Tabutin et al. (2005) have argued that the ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle Eastern diasporas in Europe, North America, and Australia is an indication of the level of ethnic conflict that occurred in the process of carving out nation-states from a multiethnic empire under the impact of European colonialism. There are many examples of how wars and political crises have led to emigration. The Arab–Israeli Wars in 1948 and 1967 led to the migration of Jewish people as well as the dislocation of the Palestinian population. The 1967 war led to the relocation of Egyptians both internally and externally to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (Antoun 2005). Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and the resulting Gulf War of 1991, mass population dislocations occurred. In one year, it is estimated that between 4 and 5 million people were uprooted. The mass population movement influenced neighboring Turkey and Iran in particular, and other Middle Eastern countries in general. Many of these refugees later returned to Iraq. Since Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia had a huge migrant labor population, 2 million laborers returned to their countries of origin, including many from Asia (Russell 1992:721). The ongoing conflicts following the liberation of Kuwait generated the dramatic refugee flow from Iraq.

The argument presented here is as follows. International migration has always been a crucial issue for the economy, politics and social fabric of the Middle East. Academic interest increased with research on Jewish settlement and Palestinian refugees after the Arab–Israeli conflict in the early 1950s. Collecting available statistical data on populations, J. Clarke (1972) edited some of the earliest research from a geographical perspective. His country-by-country survey provided a comprehensive picture of a wide variety of demographic conditions. The impact of large-scale international labor migration on social and economic structures in both labor-receiving and labor-sending countries has encouraged researchers of diverse disciplines, international organizations and research institutions to address the issue in the 1970s. Despite the magnitude of regional and international migration, migration studies could not be institutionalized as a distinct interdisciplinary field. The definition of subject matter, the role of theory, and the methodologies employed varied according to the tradition of various disciplines. Hollifield and Brettel (2007) have reported that similar to their counterparts in the US and Europe, social scientists studying the region do not approach immigration from a shared perspective, but from a variety of competing theoretical and ideological viewpoints.

Migration studies of the Middle East can be divided into two periods. The first period started in the early 1950s and continued until the early 1990s. Dramatic changes in the patterns of migration and the development of migration theory in the early 1990s initiated a considerable change in research, theory, and methodology. Literature on transnationalism and attempts to reconsider the state’s role in migration helped scholars deal with these shortcomings after 1995. This evolution drew heavily on the growing intersection of anthropology and political science with migration studies. This essay will discuss the research and literature that appeared over the period from the early 1950s to the late 1980s. This work can be differentiated from later literature with respect to subject matter and the role of theory. The subject matter of the former literature falls into two broad categories: first, topics related to the Jewish migration to Israel and the Palestinian refugees; and second, the migrations to labor-short countries of the Gulf and Europe.

While it is hard to examine the use of theory in the context of the first subject, studies of labor migration pave the way for theory. In terms of the use of theory in literature, this review essay focuses on economic theory, which was employed to discuss the cause and effect relations of labor migration in both sending and receiving countries. The literature that has emerged since the 1990s involves a wider range of topics than earlier work. While topics related to the Jewish settlement of Israel and the Palestinian refugees remains salient, some neglected issues have been recognized. The feminization of Middle Eastern migration, replacement and return migration, and state responses to both emigration and immigration are among those addressed in the current literature. In terms of the use of theory, recent studies have found migration system theory more dynamic and comprehensive. Moreover, the general tendency toward transnationalism and the role of the state in migration studies has influenced those scholars who study migration and the Middle East after the mid-1990s.

Pointing to recent topics such as the migration–security relationship and transit migration, this essay will point to future directions in research, theory and methodology in migration studies of the Middle East. The last section of the essay will highlight a critical consideration of important elements, such as citizenship issues or immigrant integration in the receiving countries, which remain unconsidered and are closely related to nationalism.

Jewish Migration and Palestinian Refugees in the Early Literature 1950–90

The first category of research started to grow when Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel between 1948 and 1951. Although studies were highlighting the population movements, they provided important accounts of factors underlying this migration. The nationalist movement and ethnic conflicts were an indispensable part of former literature. The Jewish population in Palestine doubled with over 600,000 new immigrants who would be citizens of the nation-state produced by the nationalist movement. About half of these immigrants had been refugees from Nazi concentration camps and had been displaced. The other half emigrated from the surrounding Arab countries (Kruger 2005; Kaplan 2008). Tabutin et al. (2005) report that Israel hosted nearly 3 million voluntary Jewish immigrants from various countries, including the Soviet Union, Ethiopia, European countries, the Middle East, and North Africa.

While the establishment of the state of Israel attracted Jewish immigrants, this development resulted in the expulsion of the Arab Palestinian population. There are no well-founded data on the number of Palestinians leaving their homes at the beginning of 1949. The most reasonable estimate in many studies is around 700,000. Of these about 240,000 moved to three neighboring states, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria (Gilbar 1997:11). Formidable communities also emerged in Iraq (4,000), Egypt (7,000–10,000), Kuwait (nearly 400,000 until the 1991 Gulf War), Saudi Arabia (150,000), other Gulf states (65,000) and the United States (100,000) (Kimmerling and Migdal 1993:187). The June 1967 war resulted in another outpouring of 150,000–250,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza (Russell 1992:719; Gilbar 1997:11; Tabutin et al. 2005:579). G. Talhami (2003), H. Cohen (2005), and N. Masalha (2000) have elaborated the means of expulsion, noting Israel’s determination to expand Jewish settlement, concentrating the internal Palestinian refugees in towns or villages that were distanced from strategically important areas, introducing absentee law, the legal confiscation of absentee property, and refusing to allow the internal refugees to return home. According to the UN statistics, the number of registered Palestine refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.6 million in 2008, and continues to rise due to natural population growth. Palestinians have been the world’s largest refugee population since 1948. UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) statistics shows that Afghans and Iraqis have followed the Palestinians. The number of Afghan refugees had reached almost 3.1 million and the number of Iraqis had reached 2.3 million at the end of 2007.

The Jewish mass migration to Israel and the integration of various Jewish communes comprised the fundamentals of the scholarship on Middle East migration since the 1950s. The first studies about Jewish migration to Israel came out of the disciplines of demography, sociology and anthropology (Eisenstadt 1955; Kanovsky 1967; Willner 1969; Eisenstadt et al. 1970). Research institutions, such as the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister’s Office, carried out research on the Jewish population in the Diaspora and in Israel to address migratory movements, population dynamics, urban and rural settlement, future developments and their implications from biblical to modern times (Bachi 1974). Using American sociological literature, the absorption of immigrants in Israel was examined in a comparative manner. Eisenstadt (1955) and Eisenstadt et al. (1970) provided analyses of the distinction between the refugee mentality of the Jewish community in Palestine before 1948 and the refugee mentality of the more recent groups emigrating from Europe. They suggested that differences in the mentalities of these two communities were reflected in forming the new social order and the state bureaucracy of Israel. Drawing on the comparison between immigration to Israel and immigration to other settlement countries, they found that attitudes of individual migrants or communities have been the key determinants for successful integration. In addition to the issues relevant to the mass migration to Israel between 1948 and 1951, and integration of Jewish immigrants into the new country, the population policies of Israel became major topics of research. Government policies were examined to make projections about the population of Israel in the future and to suggest alternative immigration and fertility policies related to the ability of the Jewish state to survive in the prolonged conflict with its Arab neighbors (Friedlander 1975; Bachi 1976; Friedlander and Goldscheider 1979; Gilbar 1997).

From the Jewish side, mass migration and its consequences demanded new research on these new challenges; from the Palestinian side, the emergence of the Palestinian refugee problem and its impacts on the societies of the region urged scholars to conduct additional research. Since 1948, the refugee problem has been at the heart of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Historians have developed some approaches to the origin of the problem. According to mainstream Israeli historiography dealing with the Israeli state’s pre-history, “the Palestinians fled from their villages and towns in 1948 under orders from their leaders and their number was equal to the number of Jews who left Arab countries for Israel” and the Palestinians’ right of return is an unacceptable maximalist claim, threatening the presence of Israel (Masalha 2003:2). For instance, the Jewish historian D. Kaplan (1951) has claimed that the refugee problem is an abnormal problem, and even the recognition of Palestinians as internal refugees in Arab countries would provide better understanding of the problem. In the 1990s and the 2000s, mainstream Israeli historiography has been criticized by Arab and some Jewish historians for misleading historical and ideological orientations (Morris 1987, 2004; Masalha 2000, 2003; Shlaim 2001; Pappe 2006a, 2006b). They have claimed that the refugee problem emerged because of Israel’s two objectives: (1) to clear the land for Jewish settlers and immigrants, and (2) to establish a homogenous Jewish state.

The life of Palestinians in refugee camps and in host countries had received significant attention. Theories and methods from sociology and anthropology dominated these studies as well. For instance, relying on interviews and participant observations, Y. Ben-Parath and E. Marx (1971) described the layout of the refugee camp, Jalazon, and its formal organization. They sought to investigate to what extent traditional social patterns persisted. The involvement of international organizations, mainly the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), paved the way for research examining their impact and their policies. From a political science perspective, E. Buehrig (1971) has argued that UNRWA’s education program did not erode the political nature of the refugee problem. According to his analysis, UNRWA has enhanced Palestinian consciousness, thus increasing the competence of the Palestinians to manage their own future. The agency was accused of being overtaken by the political character of the refugee problem.

Conceptualization has remained a distinctively politicized aspect of the relevant research due to the ongoing disagreements about historical facts. The identification of Palestinians, whether as refugees, displaced persons, or migrants has been an enduring debate among scholars, policy makers, and international organizations. UNRWA defined Palestine refugees as the persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and those who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli conflict. However, the situation has become much more complex since 1948.

Changes in the Literature on Jewish Migration and Palestinian Refugees after 1990

Studies examining the mass immigration of Jews to the state of Israel continue to be produced. However, the focus of the research has shifted from the role of individual immigrants and communities to the role of state policies on immigrant integration (Morris 1987, 2001; Shlaim 2001; Hacohen 2003). D. Hacohen (2003) has argued that Israel’s early immigration policies were shaped by various institutions and organizations as well as by individuals. Since the fall of the communist bloc triggered a Jewish migration from the ex-USSR to Israel in the 1990s, several studies have focused on the main aspects of this immigration wave (Buwalda 1997; Morozov 1999; Gitelman 2003; 2007).

In contrast to the relative lack of attention to Palestinian refugees in the older literature, after the 1990s the unsolved problem of refugees has attracted researchers from various disciplines. The history of the refugee problem has remained a main topic area. Novel approaches concerning methodology and historiography have been useful in the recent literature for overcoming the absence of Palestinian documentary records. Masalha (2005) has written that oral history could be the major means of reconstructing the history of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced Palestinians. Oral history is perceived as having similar importance in reconstructing the Palestinians’ history as in the recollection and collective memorization of the Holocaust. In a similar vein, Pappe (2006b) has argued that the studies addressing the issue should incorporate the history and approach of the actors who were absent in the official narratives such as women, children, peasants, workers, town dwellers and farmers.

In addition to the studies about the history of the problem, the impact of the refugee issue on the Israeli-Palestinian question and the rights of refugees has become a primary subject. Case studies comparing the Palestinian refugee problem with other refugee problems have provided an enriching perspective for both refugee and diaspora studies. For example, in Palestinian Refugees: Pawns to Political Actors, Talhami (2003) has examined the impact of the refugee issue on the larger Palestinian political picture. The book presents a general outline of the history of refugees as refugees, and not as guerrillas or a transformed Palestinian elite.

The issue of Palestinian right of return remains a significant puzzle, which was addressed both by academics and policy makers after 2000 (Aruri 2001; Ginat and Perkins 2001; Dumper 2006, 2007; Brynen and El-Rifai 2007). The studies have addressed many questions about the historical roots of the Palestinian refugee problem, Israeli perceptions of the problem, the practical feasibility of return, and the role of state actors and institutions in the solution of the problem including the United States and the European Union. For instance, Palestinian Refugees (2007), edited by Brynen and El-Rifai, addressed the absorption policies of a possible Palestinian state, highlighting that a significant number of Palestinians may choose to reside in a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza regardless of whatever other residential options may or may not be offered to them. The book has presented various findings about the anticipated social and economic impacts of refugee repatriation and some possible policy options to deal with these.

The literature growing after 1990 has given considerable emphasis to framing the Palestinian refugee problem within a broader context. Methodologically, comparative studies have started to replace case studies. For instance, in Palestinian Refugee Repatriation: Global Perspectives, Dumper (2006) examined the extent to which international practices in refugee repatriation can be transferred to the Palestinian context. Acknowledging distinct features of Palestinian–Israeli conflict, Dumper criticized the previous literature that portrays the Palestinian refugee problem as exceptional. This perspective might be an impediment to the formulation of policy options that should draw on international experience. In order to see how the insights and lessons learned may apply to the Palestinian case’s present similarities, Dumper (2007) examined the experience of the international community in dealing with other refugee situations. He argued that there is transferability of international experiences, although some areas of the conflict require context for specific solutions. Aiming to contribute to such possible solutions, the recent literature has highlighted important steps of resolution rather than the history of the problem. However, the endurance of the Palestinian refugee problem raises many questions about the life of refugees for investigation. For instance, the life of refugee children raised in the camps is one of the issues that have received the attention of researchers. Palestinian children and adolescents living both within and outside of refugee camps in the Middle East are the foci of Children of Palestine (Chatty and Hundt 2005). This work tries to move beyond the stereotypes and Western-based theoretical approaches in analyzing the refugee problem. The study team brought together researchers from anthropology, sociology, political science, education, and psychiatry. In addition, the study tried to include all countries hosting Palestinian refugees in addition to the West Bank and Gaza. The research on the Palestinian refugees has been more interdisciplinary and more inclusive in terms of the diverse geographies of the refugees.

Literature on Migration to Labor-Short Countries of Gulf and the West

The literature on labor migration in the Middle East is influenced by the theoretical developments in the field of migration studies. Various methods are employed to arrive at a better understanding of the topic. Two of the three main approaches used in the field of international migration are closely related to the Middle East. Until the late 1990s, scholars found economic theory and migration systems theory more applicable than historical structural theory in examining the international labor migration of the Middle East.

With respect to method, two tendencies have dominated the studies: macro-economic reviews and case studies. Using economic theories has led researchers to choose methods by referring to the tools of economic modeling. Both methods are heavily dependent on quantitative and aggregated data, including statistics on population, economic indicators such as relative wages, savings, remittances, and consumer price indices (Serageldin et al. 1985). Researchers have used data drawing on official statistics, surveys, and interviews. Individual migrants and migrant families have been used as units of analysis. The aim is to present the state of migration and to forecast labor flows. In particular, organizations and research institutes have been interested in macro-level economic analyses. Case study methods, which have appealed to many scholars, have been used to investigate the impact of labor migration on a country. These case studies have enabled discussions of the developmental, economic, and socio-psychological implications of emigration and immigration by highlighting families, villages, and communities.

Labor Migration to Western Countries

Workers from colonial North Africa made up part of the labor migration to the Western European countries after World War I. By 1921 there were over 36,000 workers from colonial Algeria in France (Humphrey 1993:5). In the 1960s and 1970s, North African countries and Turkey had been attractive sources for meeting the labor demands of Western European countries. While many Lebanese and Syrians went to the US, workers from North African countries and Turkey went to France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands as a result of bilateral agreements. High unemployment rates in receiving countries, which increased the demands for citizenship rights by workers from colonies, and the realization that temporary workers were looking for more permanent settlement, prompted restrictive immigration legislation (Humphrey 1993). Although labor migration reduced its pace after the oil crisis in 1973, family unification, clandestine entries, and the migration of refugees from the Middle Eastern countries to Europe have continued. In 2000, eight Western countries (Germany, Australia, Belgium, Canada, US, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden) harbored 6.5 million migrants from the Middle East, accounting for a very large share of the total migrants in Europe. Europe has played a dominant role as a host region due to the historical ties, its earlier migration policies and its geographical proximity (Tabutin et al. 2005).

The literature evolved from historical analyses of the influence of colonialism on North African societies. Then, economic theories are found beneficial in drawing macro-economic reviews of migration from the Middle East to Western Europe, and in investigating linkages between economic development and migration. After the theoretical contributions of transnationalism, questions about the influences of labor migration and return migration have been addressed. World Bank Papers were focused on the economic dimension of migration. Works like Simulating Flows of Labor in the Middle East and North Africa (1985) analyzed labor flows among 19 countries located in Western Asia and Northern Africa. The paper developed a systemic approach to defining certain parameters or movements, and used relevant economic models (Serageldin et al. 1985:2–3).

In addition to economic theory, the historical structural approach has been helpful in discussions of labor migration from the Middle East to Europe. Drawing on arguments from Marxist political economy, the historical structural approach was used to address the migration of the 1970s. The approach placed emphasis on the unequal distribution of economic and political power. It showed the mass recruitment of labor by capital to be a tool of unequal hegemonic relations (Castles and Miller 2003). The approach differs from other economic theories discussed below. Rather than portraying migration as voluntary or individual interest-based action, the historical structural approach showed that labor migration contributes to the dominance of first world powers. The legacy of colonialism, the result of wars, and the regional inequalities that followed, show how migration should be explained by historical and structural factors. The historical structural approach was criticized for failing to explain the frequent breakdown of migration policies as well as its inadequate attention to the role of individuals and groups (Castles and Miller 2003). The first study to use some arguments of the historical structural approach was Geographic Interpretation of International Migration: A Case Study of the Maghreb. By incorporating economic theory and the structural historical approach, Anne and Allan Findlay (1982) examined the emigration from Maghreb. From an economic viewpoint, they explained emigration as no more than a convenient means of reducing labor surpluses in each country in the region during the 1960s. They argued that the geographical analysis of international migration provided evidence of structural disequilibria in the economy.

Case studies were less able to address the complexity of the migration phenomenon than macro reviews of the region. While macro reviews focus on the economic dimensions of labor migration, the case studies raised thoughtful questions about the social and political aspects of the issue. In order to provide a broader view, case studies develop middle-range theories, incorporating economic theory, and the historical structural approach to explain causes of emigration and social theory to recognize its social implications. Unat’s study (1976) of Turkish labor migration to Europe between 1960 and 1975 was the earliest on the topic. The book sets the various dimensions of the large-scale migration by raising critical questions about Turkish administrative structures and German state policies; emigration’s impact on national development; and the possible negative implications for migrants and the nation as a whole.

Labor Migration to Gulf Countries

The rise of oil prices in 1973 generated an economic boom and rapid international migration to the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). A massive influx of foreign labor migration was observed in the region in a short time span. While there were approximately 885,000 migrant workers in the six member states of the GCC in 1970, the number increased to 5 million, which represented 70 percent of the GCC labor force, in 1985 and 12 million in 2005 (Russell 1992:720; UN 2006).

As Seccombe showed, the absence of reliable labor market data and the restriction on research in the host countries made new research difficult. In this context, much more research had been conducted in the labor-exporting countries than in the labor-receiving countries. Although studies started in the form of the simple quantification of labor flows, concerns regarding the social, economic, and cultural consequences of international migration grew over time.

The impact of large-scale international labor migration on social and economic structures in both labor-receiving and labor-sending countries has pushed academics, international organizations and research institutions to address the issue (Choucri 1977; Seccombe 1985). Farrag’s studies in 1974 and 1979 are important for presenting a statistical scale of migrant workers abroad (cited in Seccombe 1985:336). In a similar vein, in 1976 the Japanese Cooperation Center for the Middle East published a study that analyzes regional labor shortages in the early 1970s and forecasts domestic labor demand and supply in the 1980s in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Several regional conferences on labor migration organized by research institutions showed the increased attention to the topic, especially the direction and scale of migration. As Seccombe discussed in his review article, the papers had an economic-determinist perspective in terms of their focus on economic pull factors and the implications of labor migration for economic development. The establishment of the International Migration Project (IMP) under the auspices of the World Employment Program of the International Labor Office (ILO) accelerated research on labor migration in the Arab world.

Role of Economic Theories

Studies heavily employed economic theories to explain the causes and effects of the issue. They concentrated on the economic factors driving the migration. Economic theories are built on general theories such as the tendencies of people to move from densely to sparsely populated areas, or from low to high income areas, or those that link migrations to fluctuations in the business cycle (Castles and Miller 2003:22). Economic theories are often known as “push–pull” theories. They assert that some factors in the origin countries push people to emigrate, while some advantages in receiving countries attract these people to immigrate. As Castles and Miller point out, push factors include demographic growth, low living standard, lack of economic opportunities and political repression. Pull factors include demand for labor, availability of land and good economic opportunities and political freedoms. Beyond the economy, economic theories have influenced sociology, social demography and other disciplines. Economic theories are likely to be ahistorical and individualistic. They build their assumptions on the idea that individual migrants are the key actors of migration. Studying migration at the individual level could use an analytical model sharing the economic assumptions of a utility-maximizing decision-making process (Sell 1987). Instead of treating migration as a process, it is treated it as a single act, a means of leaving the origin country and settling in the receiving country.

A prominent academic journal, International Migration Review, published the first article about labor migration in the Middle East in 1977. Lawrence Hadley examined the migration of Egyptian human capital to the Arab oil-producing states. Based on econometric modeling, Hadley used a cost–benefit analysis to evaluate the profitability of exporting the human capital of Egypt. The cost–benefit model used data on remittances to illustrate that the export of human capital is profitable from the perspective of the welfare of Egyptians nationals and the general economic development in Egypt.

Addressing the political and cultural factors influencing migration, Choucri, who published the second article in the same journal in 1977, argued that international migration in the Middle East harbors political and economic effects that may be potentially explosive. Besides focusing on economic factors, Choucri highlighted political and cultural factors influencing migration. Egyptian state policies are used to explain continuity and change in migration patterns. Using economic theory, the author highlighted pull factors such as higher wages, greater employment, and greater access to social services, which attract people to oil-rich Arab countries. Non-economic factors such as cultural similarity, Egypt’s role of political leadership and as the cultural pace setter in the region were taken into consideration to examine new migration in the Middle East (Choucri 1977). Moreover, Choucri showed us how migration becomes, for both donor and recipient, an indirect and often inadvertent instrument of foreign policy. Since the beginning of intra-regional migration in the mid-1970s, political factors have also influenced migration. The sending and receiving countries did not hesitate to use population movements as a political threat. The 1977 article is significant due to its effort to anticipate losses and gains of labor migration for Egypt in economic and sociopolitical terms. It is interesting that instead of sending–receiving or home–host dichotomies, Choucri used the donor and recipient country dichotomy. The conceptualization illustrates that recently arrived manpower was a great contribution to the economies of labor-scarce countries. Choucri’s article was followed by the publication of International Migration Project coordinators Birks and Sinclair’s two major books in 1980: International Migration and Development in the Arab Region and Arab Manpower: The Crisis of Development. The main arguments of these books are that the system of labor migration is full of advantages for all parties.

In the early 1980s, the World Bank started to give attention to the topic, fundamentally to forecast migration flows in the mid-1980s. Similar to earlier studies, economic theories are employed to examine labor migration. One of the first studies was Labor Migration from Bangladesh to the Middle East (Ali et al. 1981). It examined the costs and benefits of the labor migration to Gulf countries that started in the mid-1970s. Taking individuals as the key actors of the migration process, the paper addressed the characteristics of the migrants from Bangladesh. From an economic viewpoint, it highlighted the remittances and their impact on the national economies. Since Bangladesh was competing with other South Asian countries in terms of labor supply to the Gulf region, the report proposed that Bangladesh is a good choice for meeting Middle Eastern labor needs. In a similar vein, drawing heavily on both the International Migration Project and World Bank reports, Pennisi (1981) examined the expansion of East Asian labor flows to the Middle East. Pennisi discussed opportunities for, and constraints against, the development of coordinated bilateral and multilateral labor market policies in the Arab region.

The 1983 conference on Asian Labor Migration to the Middle East led to the introduction of new studies focused on contract workers, their families and communities. These studies demonstrated that net flows of Asian labor to the region since 1975 have been considerably higher than estimates by the International Migration Project or World Bank (Seccombe 1985). Beginning in the mid-1970s, the number of Asians increased because of labor demand, wage levels, and political factors.

Role of Migration Systems Theory

The inadequacy of economic theory and the historical structural approach led to the emergence of a new approach, migration systems theory. The new theory aims to consider the whole spectrum of population movement to elucidate the interactions between different types of migrant flows or different types of migration status (Portes and Borocz 1989; Kritz et al. 1992). At the heart of the systems approach is the concept of a migration system constituted by a group of countries that exchange relatively large numbers of migrants (Kritz et al. 1992). The approach proposes that economic (wage and price differentials, regional blocs) and political (exit, entry, and settlement policies, international relations) structures define the systems within which international migration flows are likely to occur. The systems approach adds network theory to analysis, aiming to trace distinct processes occurring between macro conditions, policies and potential migrants. It views networks of dynamic relationships and variable social arrangements rather than static sets of kin and friend (Kritz et al. 1992). Network theory was made more advanced by recognizing institutions as the agents of migration networks like individual migrants. The systems approach also calls attention to changing linkages and feedback mechanisms between countries in the migration system.

Studies on migration and the Middle East have tended to employ network theory and the migration systems approach to discuss regional dynamics as well as international migration. Although labor migration to the Gulf was used to analyze things from an economic viewpoint in the 1980s, in the 1990s the network and migration systems approach started to play a fundamental role in the analysis. Influenced by network theory, Sell (1987) developed the social process perspective to explain Egypt’s emigration. In his study, treating migration as a process, Sell (1987) argued that labor demand and state policies constitute official channels of immigration. Although Sell focused on unofficial channels for immigration employment as a significant part of the process, he asserts that labor market and state policies keep their critical role. The last phase in the social process perspective model is the emergence of immigrant communities (Sell 1987). Gilbar’s 1997 study of Palestinian and Egyptian societies is an example of the migration systems approach. Gilbar raised questions about how demographic and political developments had intertwined with the labor migration in the region from the early 1950s till the early 1990s. Although the nation-state is considered a prime actor in contemporary migration theory, especially with regard to its role in policy formation and control of flow, the prolonged situation of Palestinian refugees requires an analysis comparing one nation-state with one community.

Migrant sending states in South Asia have been interested in labor migration. The migration systems approach and network analysis provided theoretical and methodological tools for addressing labor migration from the sending countries’ perspective. For example, in their edited book Labor Migration to the Middle East, Eelens et al. (1991) focus on the several dimensions of labor migration that have occurred from Sri Lanka to the Gulf since the end of 1970s. In order to address the topic more comprehensively, they looked at the recruitment process, the policy of the Gulf states, and the socioeconomic conditions of the Sri Lankan migrant workers. In terms of feedback, the study focused on the impact of labor migration on Sri Lankan society by focusing on its implications for social stratification and social mobility. The analyses treat the impact of the phenomenon on household structure, marriage stability and the well-being of children. Unique characteristics of Sri Lankan labor migration, such as the large percentage of its migrants who are women, led the authors to treat gender as an independent issue. They analyze the socioeconomic position and religious status of Sri Lankan Muslim women migrating to the Gulf as well as the impact of female migration on the country of origin.

The historical structural approach paves the way for addressing neglected issues such as the role of nation-states. In this context, examining large-scale migration from Pakistan to the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s, Addleton (1992) argued that migration altered the character of development in Pakistan through its influence on consumption, employment and investment patterns. He discussed the reduced role of the nation-state in effectively promoting national unity and in creating a centralized economy. Despite an enduring emphasis on economic determinants, the role of political and historical ties is neglected in the analysis.

In the migration systems theory, villages emerged as the new unit of analysis in the early 1990s. Nada (1991) has investigated the process of contemporary international migration among rural Egyptians between 1968 and 1988 by highlighting villages as units of analysis. She discussed the influence of international migration on the socioeconomic development of village life in rural Egypt. The main argument presented in the study is that rural migration and the return of migrants has helped improve and modernize life in rural Egypt.

New Trends in the Literature on Migration and the Middle East

As Hollifield and Brettel (2007) have noted, interest in international migration in the social sciences has tended to ebb and flow with various waves of emigration and immigration. The early 1990s were the years for migration waves in the Middle East, driven by the dramatic events and massive displacements that resulted from wars and ethnic conflicts. The consequences of the Gulf War paved the way for changes in subject matter. These studies brought novel subject matter related to migration, such as displacement, resettlement and return migration. Moreover, the early 1990s were the years when the migration patterns of the Middle East changed dramatically. The feminization of migration is the most significant change that gained attention. Review articles were written to address influential changes in a short time period (Russell 1992; Shami and McCann 1993).

Despite the presence of various types of migration, the old literature treated Palestinian refugees and labor migration to the Gulf as unique. Refugee studies rarely viewed the issues relevant to Palestinian refugees as a part of the question it had been addressing. According to Talhami (2003), Palestinians have been excluded from most refugee studies because of the politicizing of the solution separating this refugee case from any other. In terms of migration studies, the Middle East could not offer promising insights. Migration theory in Europe and North America was suffering from ethnocentrism. Specific characteristics necessitated developing a regional, theoretical, and comparative framework for the study of migration in the Middle East. As Shami and McCann (1993) have suggested, the main blocs of possible frameworks had to be (or based on) the nature of the processes, the agents carrying out the processes including both man-made and natural, underlying causes, the implications and outcomes of the migration. Scholars from various disciplines aim to provide comparative studies (Gilbar 1997).

Although empirical and historical analysis dominated previous studies on migration and the Middle East, these efforts rarely emphasized theory. Scholars became more cautious about theory in later studies. They employed theoretical frameworks to address parallel issues. Some theories, such as transnationalism (i.e., based on migration experiences in the West), have been found useful. However, conceptual agreement has remained elusive. Studies continue to define the same migration issue, such as the Palestinian refugee problem, on the basis of differing concepts. According to some studies, for example, the Palestinian issue is characterized as a refugee problem or forced migration, while in other studies it is defined as internal migration or voluntary migration. When new concepts such as internal displacement were introduced, some studies started to use them, resulting in conceptual abundance rather than consensus. Lack of conceptual clarity impacts upon the ongoing character of the problem. The way in which one or more concepts are used may play a crucial role in deciding policies or producing agreements.

Despite its ethnocentrism, advancements in migration theory have had considerable impact on research about the Middle East. The enthusiasm of cultural and social anthropologists for the concepts of transnationalism and globalization has influenced studies on migration and the Middle East since 1990. It has particularly been useful for writing micro-social history. Shami (1996) argued that the concepts of transnationalism and globalization enable us to look at both the dynamics of regionalism and global changes in the Middle Eastern context. Due to the search for a theoretical framework in the literature, transnationalism has appealed to scholars who are interested in multidisciplinarity. The literature on transnationalism provides a broad perspective, focusing on multiple actors involving migration in the course of time and space. It considers migration as a process having intertwined complex steps. The literature questions the one-way assumption of migration definitions, stressing the interplay or interrelations of the two places, and the migrant networks among migrants. For instance, in Iranian Refugees and Exiles since Khomeini (1991), edited by Fathi, the authors aimed to develop a theoretical model that could be helpful to understanding the stages and dimensions of the Iranian migration experience. They have examined the applicability of some of the conceptual categories proposed in the migration literature such as forced migration, displacement, exile, and resettlement in addressing Iranian exiles and refugees abroad.

The transnationalism literature came with methodological suggestions. Since transnationalism grew out of anthropology, it offers ethnographic methods to study migration. However, Middle Eastern scholars have had a suspicion that ethnography tends to misrepresent the societies when the subject is forced migration and the subjects are female migrants from the Middle East. Interestingly, Middle Eastern societies are usually portrayed as static and deeply traditional in many examples of ethnographic studies (Shami 1996). On the other hand, ethnography provides a means for scholars to go further in single case studies. The method enables us to trace the impact of migration in small research units such as communities, villages and families. Employing transnationalism theory and method, Antoun (2005) conducted an in-depth anthropological case study of the experience of transnational migration of villagers in Kafr al-Ma, Jordan. The study, entitled Documenting Transnational Migration, draws on the data gathered in nine research trips over a period of 39 years, often dealing with several generations of the same family in the same community. In addition to its methodological contribution, the study substantially differs from previous ones with respect to its subject matter. First, Antoun’s longitudinal research offers a record of both change and continuity in the life of transnational migrants. Second, Antoun observes that immigrants experience difficulty integrating into the society of their respective host countries. He enumerates, for example, the considerable problems encountered by Jordanian immigrants in the process of cultural adaptation. Similarly, Khedler (2007) designates a town, namely Ettadhamen in Tunisia, as a unit of analysis to assess transnational movements between Middle East countries and Western countries. He employs ethnographic research techniques to investigate the motivations of Tunisian men emigrating from such a town to Italy. He finds that in addition to some personal motivations, social networks and media motivate men from this town to emigrate.

While anthropology has suggested the ethnographic method for exploring the cultural and social impact of migration on small research units, sociology has suggested social network analysis for investigating the complex sets of relationships in the process of migration and integration. Monsutti (2005) has combined insights of transnationalism with basics of network theory in his study exploring Hazaras, the oppressed minority population from central Afghanistan who immigrated to Iran. According to Monsutti, the money-transfer networks and social networks simultaneously are created in both receiving and sending communities. Like analysis of immigrant experiences in Iran, transnationalism and network analysis have been used to examine experiences of those who had to emigrate mainly to Europe, Canada, and the US. In 1991, Fathi edited a volume exploring the experiences of Iranian refugees and exiles in France, the US, and Canada. The articles employed theoretical frameworks from migration literature, diaspora studies, and transnationalism. In 2005, Spellman focused on the Iranians in Britain through the lens of transnationalism and diaspora literature. Under the twin influences of ethnographic methods and network analysis techniques, current research has become more specific. Der-Martirosian (2007) highlighted the economic integration of Iranian male immigrants in Los Angeles (1987–8), and has found significant effects of ethnic and kinship ties during initial and settled phases. The networks and transnational practices enable us to investigate both the initial phase of the migration experiences and the survival strategies of immigrants in the host countries.

The transnationalism literature has been criticized for its ignoring of the state by stressing only flows and networks. It was clear that bringing the state back into the field would provide better understanding of a range of issues including numerous migration types, issues related to citizenship, and bilateral relations between receiving and sending states. Cesari (1992) noted that between France and the Maghreb countries, specifically Algeria and Tunisia, transnational space is emerging within which persons, as well as goods and religious and political values, circulate both ways. State authorities in Algeria and Tunisia attempted to recognize and benefit from this mixed French-Maghrebean space for developing relations between Europe and the Maghreb. In her comparative research, Brand (2006) went further by focusing on the sending states policies toward emigration and their nationals abroad. Taking the country cases of Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan, the book explores the relationship between the government of sending states, emigration processes and communities of emigrants. The research shows that transnationalism literature is applicable to address some neglected issues such as sending states’ ongoing influence on citizens abroad from a theoretical perspective. Although postmodernists have criticized political scientists for always ending up reproducing the conventional nation-state point of view, studies such as Brand’s have suggested that the state maintains its sovereignty and resilience by adopting new policies and tools.

Gender and Migration

Women have been the subject of academic literature from the 1970s onward. The impact of migration on migrants’ wives who stayed home was examined particularly in the Egyptian and Lebanese contexts (Azzam and Shaib 1980; Khafagy 1984; Taylor 1984). However, female labor immigration to the Gulf was a relatively novel phenomenon in the 1990s (Ismail 1999; Sabban 2001; Shah 2004). Mostly, Asian women from the Philippines and Sri Lanka have taken up positions in domestic services, and to a much lesser extent in health and educational services. Investment in export manufacturing zones in Dubai, as well as other parts of the Middle East such as Egypt and Morocco, lead to a pattern of feminization in labor migration (Humphrey 1993). Middle East Avenue (1993) by Brochmann marked this new intellectual agenda. Focusing on female labor migration from Sri Lanka to the Gulf countries, Brochmann (1993) argued that the causes and consequences of female contract-labor migration are different from those of male migration.

Although many refugee studies about the Middle East exclusively focus on male refugees, some studies challenge this generalization. Bauer (1991) has examined Iranian women refugees/exiles in Turkey and West Germany. She found that the adaptation of female refugees/exiles who emigrated alone depends on their class and family background, education, the formation of networks and friendships during the migration, the policy of host states, and migrant status.

Studies focusing on gender have contributed to the literature both because they have led to the development of a multilevel approach and because they point to neglected actors, women, in the terrain of migration. They aim to combine micro-level analyses of communities, households, and individuals with the macro-level analysis of international and national factors.

Population Displacement and Resettlement

Population displacement and resettlement entered the literature in the early 1990s. Displacement and resettlement are defined as the processes of collective dislocation and/or settlement of people away from their normal habitat by a superior force (Shami and McCann 1993). Although early literature neglected forced migration, the region has been hosting many “peoples without a country,” such as Kurds, Armenians, and Palestinians.

Some of the authoritarian policies of Middle East countries combined with the consequences of the Gulf War to produce displacement and resettlement of Kurds and Palestinians up to and beyond the 1990s. Since the displacement was a worldwide problem, some Western countries, international and nongovernmental organizations became interested in these issues. They conducted research to address problems relevant to displacement and develop policy responses. Research establishes that the mass displacement has become a serious threat to the security and stability of the Middle East, and Africa in particular. Thus, edited volumes or reports about displacement and resettlement have tended to include a chapter about the issue in the Middle East (Ember et al. 2004; Alborzi 2006; Kacowicz 2007).

In this context, survey research conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council and Global Internally Displaced People Project (2002) in 48 countries finds that the main factors of displacement include armed conflict, generalized violence, the systematic violation of human rights, and the displacement or dislocation of people as a primary or political objective of either government or rebel forces. All of the factors are relevant to the political scene of the region. The study provides information about the displacement in the Middle East. It notes that the region has the least internally displaced persons compared to other regions, accounting for 1.5 million as of early 2002. The vast majority of them are in Iraq among ethnic Kurds, Turkmens, and Assyrians as a result of Iraqi government politics against non-Arab citizens since the 1970s and factional Kurdish infighting. The ongoing crisis in Iraq has led research to address the problem of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons by exploring their status in Iraq and host countries, progress and shortfalls of international response, and the problems of return (Alborzi 2006; Middle East Institute 2008).

It is clear that the state returned to discussions as a crucial actor of migration processes. Introduction of the state has enriched arguments concerning the dynamics and implications of migration in the Middle Eastern context. The state plays a direct or indirect role in displacement of people through civil or international wars, along with the use of force against ethnic-religious minorities or government-led development projects. Since the nation-state controls the entry of people through legislative, institutional, and administrative tools, it is still the main agent of resettlement.

Return Migration

The Gulf crisis demonstrated that migration and international politics are inseparably intertwined in the region. It is estimated that 250,000 Jordanians mostly of Palestinian origin and about 160,000 Egyptians had to leave Kuwait after the conflict. In addition, several hundred thousands of Yemenis left Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s (Tabutin et al. 2005:576). The unavoidable return of migrant workers from the Gulf has triggered research about the numerous implications of return migration in the origin countries. The financial and political risks of reliance upon labor export have been reconsidered. Due to the Gulf countries’ labor force demands consequent to return migration, replacement migration became a new trend, sustained until the mid-1990s. The reasons for the emergence of this trend differed from regime to regime, but usually stemmed from a general unease about foreign laborers’ growing sense of entitlement, particularly Arab-origin immigrant laborers (McMurray 1999).

Both return and replacement migration could not be attributed only to the Gulf War. Return migration is defined as a specific type of migration by the Development Research Center on Migration, Globalization and Poverty (2003). Studies found that the act of return could be driven by several factors. Skilled professionals and entrepreneurs sometimes return to their origin countries so that they might contribute to its development (Jain 2006). Migrant workers returning from Western European countries after a certain time might be an example. For instance, Cassarino (2000) has examined the patterns of resource mobilization and the strategies for survival developed by some Tunisian entrepreneur-returnees.

Moreover, the return of rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants occupies a place among the reasons of return migration. Refugees coming from Iraq and Iran whose applications were rejected by the Western European states have to return to their origin countries. Analysis of the process of return and replacement, and the consequences, might contribute to the academic literature as well as having significant policy implications.

Future Directions

There have been considerable changes in the research, theory, and methodology from early 1990 onward. Major advances and shortcomings in the field help us to think about the how studies in migration and the Middle East will be shaped in the future.

Kapiszewski (2001) has noted that the gathering of demographic and other statistical data is something very new in this part of the world. Despite the magnitude of migration into and out of the Middle East, the field is still suffering from a lack of accurate empirical data. There is a serious problem of readily accessible, trustworthy data. To fill the empirical gap, Tabutin et al. published a comprehensive survey study in 2005 on the demography of the Arab world and the Middle East from the 1950s to 2000. In this study, international migration constituted a separate section. But the study still suffered from lack of data. Since demographic indicators such as migrant stocks, net migration rates, refugee population, and the number of transit and illegal migrants are valuable inputs for every research project, the demographers’ contribution has been, and continues to be, very important for future studies.

The literature continued to put the emphasis on the factors provoking migratory flows from the Middle East countries to the Western European countries. Bodega et al. (1995) explore the case of emigration from Morocco to Spain, and argue that important demographic, socioeconomic and political-religious differences within the sending countries in the Middle East and the Europe lead migratory flows. In a similar vein, based on data drawn from Egypt, Morocco and Turkey for households with family members living abroad, Dalen et al. (2005) have examined the role of remittances in the emigration intention of family members. They have found that each country presents a different story about driving forces behind the remittance behaviors.

In contrast to postmodernist assumptions that magnitude of international migration is a manifestation of the decline of the state, research shows that states will keep their central role in discussions regarding migration. Migration scholars tend to focus on government policies toward emigration, immigration, and transit migration. Particularly, the dynamics of migration policy changes in receiving and sending countries are beginning to be addressed. The focus has shifted from the impact of an international migration regime and globalization to security concerns, initiating more restrictive policies (Feiler 2003).

For a long time, the literature neglected the citizenship issues of the immigrants. Few studies address the status of migrant workers in these countries. The topic has been under close scrutiny in recent years with the influence of media and international organizations’ interests in migrants in the Gulf countries. In Nationals and Expatriates, Kapiszewski (2001) initiated a discussion about the plural character of host countries in the Gulf region. He notes that there is no equality between expatriate groups and indigenous citizen groups, either in law or in daily practices. Antoun (2005) has furthered argument by suggesting that the inequality has been relevant for migrant nationals from other Arab states. Besides lack of cultural pluralism, the segregation of migrants physically and socially has been the norm in the relations of migrants and host countries’ populations. One year later, Jain (2006) looked at citizenship laws in the Gulf to analyze the condition of Indian migrants. Jain notes that the migrants in the Gulf are transitory as stringent residency requirements and the contractual nature of their work bar them from permanent settlement in these countries. Thus, the exclusion of migrants and systems of social stratification were institutionalized in terms of ethnicity/nationality and class. As exemplified in these studies, ongoing problems demonstrate that citizenship has to be distinctively taken into consideration in the literature.

The discussion of citizenship initiates discussions on the integration of immigrants in the Middle Eastern countries. Although transnationalism literature contributes to the discussion by focusing on the survival strategies of the migrants in the host countries, further research should pave the way for examining several aspects of immigrant integration. We have limited knowledge about the political, social, and cultural integration in the Middle East context.

The new migration types such as return migration, replacement migration, and internal migration began to be discussed in the 1990s. The complexity and dynamic character of migration will always generate novel types and subtypes. For instance, Antoun (2005) pointed to migration for higher education as one of the neglected types. He argues that richness of migrant experiences observed in migration for higher education indicates the impossibility of reducing migrant experience to a series of generalities. The concept of transit migration entered the migration policy discourse during the early 1990s. The United Nations Economic Commission defines transit migration as a migration type in which migrants immigrate with the intention of seeking the possibility there to emigrate to another country as the country of final destination (Duvell 2006). Some scholars have examined the transit migration pattern occurring in the neighborhood of Europe. In this context, those Middle East countries that have Mediterranean shores have become the subject of inquiry. Icduygu (2006) has listed Turkey, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia as transit states, while Fargues and Bensaad (2007) have added Yemen, since it is a gateway for those immigrating to Gulf countries. The transit state’s policies on immigration control have brought problems for those states and receiving countries of Europe. This new pattern has raised questions that have been investigated by scholars (Roman 2000; Boubakri 2004; Duvell 2006; Icduygu 2006).


A survey of the literature demonstrates that the field has made significant progress. The scope of the literature in terms of its subject matter has broadened from the 1980s onward. Variations in theories, moving from economic theory to transnationalism, have enriched our discussions. The literature reflects the influence of nationalist movements on migration movements. Studies on the Middle East have contributed to broader migration theory as well as theories about the new forms of nationalism. The methods used in the field have become more sophisticated over the years. But the assessment offered in this essay also serves to identify some shortcomings.

A first shortcoming concerns conceptualization. It is hardly surprising that conceptualization constituted the crucial task for both theory testing and theory building. The introduction of new concepts occurred over time. The policy implications of the research have demonstrated that conceptualization plays a vital role in these discussions. Similar terms are used differently by particular countries, nongovernmental organizations and international bodies. The different usages, including those from statistics, led to difficulty in the reliability and accessibility of relevant data. In the long run, fragmented data resulted in problems of knowledge accumulation. The concepts of “foreign person” and “immigrant” are used interchangeably, although the former refers to a universe including asylum seekers, stateless people, foreign diplomats and consular personnel, and transit migrants. There is a similar conceptual problem in refugee studies. Many states hesitate to recognize the refugee status of those who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, resulting in a significant conceptual lag for academic studies.

In addition to this conceptual lag, refugee studies encounter other problems. Political crises in the last decade, particularly those in Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan, have generated and continue to generate many refugees. Unfortunately, the politicized aspects of the topics impede studies that go much beyond descriptive reports written by nongovernmental organizations. In-depth studies focusing on refugees and hosting states might provide richer data, enabling comparative studies. Also, studies on refugees might lead to significant policy implication.

Despite the role of several diasporas – those of Palestinians, Kurds, Iranians, Armenians – in Middle East politics, the number of studies addressing the diaspora populations living in the region has been low. Some studies, however, have emerged. For instance, Migliorino (2008) examines the Armenian community and their cultural integration in Lebanon and Syria. His study provides an extra dimension to studies on refugees in the region and studies on diaspora. It is noteworthy that incorporating the region into the global diaspora literature may enrich the relevant literatures and reveal unconsidered aspects of the long migration history of the Middle East.


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Links to Digital Materials

Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS). At, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Provides one of the most comprehensive libraries worldwide on migration, refugees, and ethnic groups. Houses 102 collections that are processed to the folder level and include detailed inventories. The online library is searchable using titles, author name, subject, etc. Provides links to other online resources relating to migration. Publishes International Migration Review, a leading peer-reviewed scholarly journal specialized in this subject.

Development Research Center on Migration, Globalization and Poverty. At, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Aims to do the research, capacity building and dialogue necessary for evidence-based and migration policies. Includes working papers, policy briefings, and newsletters. Key themes addressing in publications are modeling causes and consequences; links between migrations, rural poverty and livelihoods; social protection; gender and generations; health and education; rights. Provides studies on types of migrations. Creates Migration in National Surveys catalogue of existing household survey and census datasets that contain information about migration in developing countries, focusing on child migration in particular. Concentrates on Bangladesh and Ghana in 2008–9.

Migration Information Source. At, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Focuses on global analysis of international migration and refugee trends. It is a project of the Migration Policy Institute. Includes a country-based searchable database on migrant stock, flow, net migration, asylum, and naturalization data over time. Provides comparative analysis of trends across time and place. In addition to the World and City Migration Maps, Global Remittances Guide, Country Resources, and Asylum Data are useful for related research. The Glossary provides the formal definition of the concepts used in migration studies.

Migration Policy Institute. At, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Provides data on research programs about immigrant integration, US immigration, Europe immigration, migration and development, refugee protection. Offers media tools. US Congressional Resource Section focuses on the changes in US state policies toward immigration, by using formal documents and academic studies. Provides international data on current developments regarding international migration.

United Nations Refugee Agency website. At, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Provides basic facts about the current refugee crisis. Includes information about all international law documents, conventions, and declarations. Addressing the issue of world statelessness and internally displaced persons. Provides Statistical Online Population Database of standardized data on UNHCR’s populations of concern at country, regional, and global levels. Includes statistical year books from 1994 to 2006. The database on asylum claims in industrialized countries covers 2006 to 2008. Standards and Indicators Project provides evaluation indicators for 1995 and 2008. Has a link to Refugee magazine.

UN World Migrant Stock Data website. At http:/, accessed Apr. 26, 2009. Compiled data prepared by Population Division of the UN. Searchable database on migration statistics from 1960 to 2005. Provides separate data on regions and countries. Numbers of international migrants, male migrants, female migrants, population, growth rate of migrant stock, percentage of refugees to migrants are searchable.