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The 10% of the Arabs who Struggle to Leave their Homeland

posted on: Nov 1, 2017

By: Noor Almohsin/Arab America Contributing Writer

At The Arab Center Washington DC conference on the 26th of October, Rami Khouri, a Professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut (AUB), discussed the dismantling of the Arab World. He said we should no longer say the Arab World; instead, we should say the Arab regions because they face different structural and social challenges such as housing, education, and employment etc.

Khouri classified people in the Arab countries into 4 major categories.

First, 10% of the population is the wealthy elite Arabs who gain political and economic power.

Second, 30% is categorized as the middle class hard working individuals who ideally serve in governments and live on pensions.

Third, 50% of the population is categorized as the poor, marginalized, and desperate individuals who are struggling to survive.

Finally, the 10% of Arabs who are immigrating to other countries, in particular, the United States.  This is the 10% who have lost hope in their homeland and want passionately to relocate for different purposes.

Historically, most Arab immigrants were from the Levant region, specifically, from Lebanon and Syria who left their homeland the first half of the century. The next phase included the Palestinians who fled after the Israeli occupation. 

Dr. Imad Harb, the Director of Research and Analysis at the Arab Center Washington DC, explained that Arab Immigrants started around the nineteenth century escaping from the tyrannical rule of Ottomans, where poverty and oppression were prevalent, especially, for the non-Muslim groups. 

Many early Arab immigrants migrated for a better life, work opportunities, and education for them and their children.

Arab Refugees

More recently, the spread of violence, repression, and wars in Arab countries lead to a tremendous number of Arab immigrants as refugees. These populations who are forced to escape their homes because of persecution or violent conditions are intensely seeking asylum in safer countries.

Because of wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen, the number of displaced Arabs doubled during the past decade; it reached 54 million in 2015 compared with 25 million in 2005.

For example, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the number of displaced Syrian refugees reached 12.5 million. In fact, refugees comprise 8% of migration internationally.  Some immigrants cross borders seeking protection and others migrate voluntarily for other reasons.

Photo: Devastated situations in Arab countries forced millions to escape their homes seeking a safer place. 

Reasons for Current Immigration

Recently, with deterioration in the economic, social, and political structures that occurred in many Arab countries, Khouri mentioned that around 78% of young Arabs aspire to immigrate.

Youth under the age of 30 constitute the largest age group in Arab societies. Many of those young Arabs received a better education than the older generation, and that gave them high expectations that crashed with an unstructured distribution of power, including unemployment, underpayment, and undervalued jobs.

Young educated Arabs come with their dreams and hopes that encounter the patriarchal systems in Arab countries, where the older generation still holds control of the political and economic systems. Hence, they (the younger generation) hopelessly feel unable to bring changes in their own societies.

In addition to political and economic frustrations, some have interests in exercising civil rights activities in modern societies or to freely express their views that oppose those of their states. Most of these democratic practices are not activated, neither appreciated; in fact, they are faced with intolerance in most Arab countries. Let alone those young individuals who adopt ideas that lead to backlash or social isolation.

This situation becomes even harder when oppression is institutional. Dr. Harb stated, “Lack of freedoms and democracy and the imposition of an oppressive political culture [where] States are not for the service of the people but for serving elite interests” destroy simple people’s aspiration and isolate them from being effective and productive in their own communities.

These obstacles cause multilayered frustration among Arab youth in their homeland and create the feeling that well-educated young Arabs are no longer a future asset but rather a burden to their societies. To those young Arabs, immigration becomes the only possible solution, which probably would spike up the 10% of Arab immigrants that Khouri talked about.

Rapid and drastic changes are occurring in Arab countries at the political, economic, and social structures. These changes affect and diversify the reasons of Arab migration over time.

The immigration of Arabs is no longer limited to the Levant region, instead, more people from North Africa and the Gulf States seek to leave their homeland for different reasons. Whether to escape for their lives as refugees, seek better life opportunities, or simply exercise their freedoms without intimidation across borders, these immigrants go through hardship and take risks of alienation from their homeland.