Middle East’s Migrant Population More Than Doubles Since 2005

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of migrants living in the Middle East more than doubled, from about 25 million to around 54 million, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from United Nations agencies. Some of this growth was due to individuals and families seeking economic opportunities. But the majority of the migration surge, especially after 2011, was a consequence of armed conflict and the forced displacement of millions of people from their homes, many of whom have left their countries of birth.

The rapid rise in the number of people looking for safe havens and new livelihoods has over the past decade transformed the Middle East into the world region with the fastest growing international migrant and forcibly displaced population, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from United Nations agencies.

All told, the Middle East’s migrant population increased by about 120% between 2005 and 2015. This far exceeds increases in the combined international migrant and forcibly displaced populations over the same period in continental Africa (91% growth), Latin America and the Caribbean (77%) and the Asia-Pacific region (26%).

Europe’s and North America’s migrant populations also grew more slowly over the 2005-2015 period (about 20% in each region), even though Europe received a record 1.3 million asylum seekers in 2015 – many from the Middle East.

Within the Middle East, the migrant share of the region’s population grew from 7% in 2005 to approximately 13% in 2015. Put another way, about one-in-ten people living in the Middle East today are international migrants or were forcibly displaced.

This growth in the Middle East’s migrant population is largely the result of two factors – conflict and economic opportunity. Armed conflict in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen has displaced millions of people since 2005. This increase in the number of displaced people, including those displaced within their own birth countries, accounts for the majority (60%) of the growth in the Middle East’s migrant population between 2005 and 2015.

Second, economic opportunity, much of it concentrated in oil-rich Persian Gulf countries, has attracted millions of non-displaced international migrants seeking jobs, mostly from countries outside the Middle East. Some 40% of the growth in the Middle East’s migrant population between 2005 and 2015 can be explained by such economically motivated migration.

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