Arab Youth Look to a Future Abroad: A Growing Trend of Emigration From the MENA Region

Nearly half of Arab youth in the Levant and North Africa want to leave their home countries in search of better opportunities and stability, according to a recent survey
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Amani, an Egyptian dentist, wants to emigrate, knowing the challenges of leaving her home. “In the past, living in a strange country was difficult. Out of an entire family, one person would travel for a short time and return. Today, everyone travels. Half of my family is traveling, half of my friends have emigrated, and the rest are looking for ways to emigrate. None of them want to return.”

Half of my family is traveling, half of my friends have emigrated, and the rest are looking for ways to emigrate. None of them want to return.

She told The Media Line she was not worried about living in a strange country. “I know that wherever I go, my efforts will not go to waste, and my rights will be protected by law. I know I will have psychological and financial security, which will help me live away from home,” the 32-year-old woman said.

Issa Hababneh, a Jordanian taxi driver, also wants to emigrate. He would like to go to Sweden, where his son Younis emigrated three years ago with the help of an aunt who sponsored him. “If I could emigrate, I would leave tomorrow morning,” he told the Media Line.

If I could emigrate, I would leave tomorrow morning

Issa’s explanation was like Amani’s. “The economic situation here is bad, and at the same time, the government shows no respect for you. At least you work hard abroad, knowing you will be treated as a respected citizen.”

Wafa Saleh earned an Egyptian doctorate in aquatic animal health. She knows what she wants from life. “I have three types of jobs I want abroad. My problem is that I can’t find anyone to sponsor or recommend me for those jobs.”

George Bishara is a Palestinian from Bethlehem. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international business in the US and returned to Palestine to work as a television producer. After a while, however, the funding stopped, and he found himself in debt. He emigrated to the US, opened a restaurant, and met and married a woman from North Africa. They have a child and have no plans to return to Palestine.

These individuals are part of a much larger group of young Arabs who want to emigrate to Canada, France, Germany, the US, and the UK.

A recent study of Arab youth by ASDA’A BCW, a Middle East consultancy, found that 53% of youth surveyed in the Levant (including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Yemen), and 48% in North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, and Tunisia), reported a desire to emigrate, chiefly for economic reasons.

However, only 27% of youth in Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) say the same. Instead, most Gulf respondents said they would “never leave their country.”

The report is based on face-to-face interviews with 3,600 people aged 18 to 24, evenly split between males and females. SixthFactor Consulting conducted the poll in March and April 2023.

The survey report says this desire to emigrate “corresponds with the bleak economic outlook” in many Arab nations. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents in the Levant and about two-thirds (62%) in North Africa said their national economy is going in the “wrong direction.”

Gulf-based youth, by contrast, are optimistic, with 88% saying their country’s economy is headed in the “right direction.”

With youth unemployment in the Middle East exceeding 25%—the highest and fastest-growing in the world, according to the International Labor Organization—getting a job is understandably a priority for young Arabs. Among those who said they are actively considering emigration, nearly half (49%) said it was to “look for a job.”

Despite their economic fears, more than two-thirds (69%) of Arab youth believe their best days lie ahead of them, a 5% increase over 2022. Youth in the Gulf are the most hopeful (85%), followed by those in North Africa (64%) and the Levant (60%).

Compared with four years ago, youth optimism in the region is at its peak, with 57% today saying they will have a better life than their parents, compared with 45% who said this in 2019. Positivity is highest among Gulf youth (75%), followed by young Arabs in the Levant (52%) and North Africa (50%).

The respondents said that over the next ten years, they planned to start a career (18%), complete their education (17%), and pursue a personal interest they are passionate about (15%).

While the desire to emigrate is an escalating phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa, emigration from Lebanon and Palestine, especially among Christians, has existed for some time. The percentage of Christians in Palestine has dropped from 20-25% of the population in the early 20th century to less than 1% today.

The last official Lebanese census was conducted in 1932 and found that 53% of the country’s population was Christian. Today, Christians make up no more than 32% of the country’s people.

According to the Arab Barometer, “Lebanese are the most pessimistic” about their country’s economic future of any country in the region surveyed between 2020 and spring 2021.

Lebanese are the most pessimistic

The rising cost of living is the biggest challenge. Unsurprisingly, about half of Lebanon’s citizens (48%) seek to leave their homeland for better opportunities abroad. Many also cited corruption (44%), personal security (29%), and politics (22%) as their reason for wanting to immigrate. This suggests that Lebanon’s citizens are deeply frustrated by the political failings that led to the economic crisis.

According to a survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted in late January and early February 2020, Christians are more eager than Muslims to emigrate from the Palestinian territories.

Among respondents, 36% of Palestinian Christians favored emigration, compared to 21% of Palestinian Muslims. Most cite economics, but others said they sought educational opportunities abroad, safety, stability, less corruption, and greater liberty and religious tolerance.

The poll found other reasons for Palestinian emigration, including the Israeli occupation. Respondents complained about Israeli military checkpoints, attacks by Jewish settlers, and Israeli land confiscations. Most respondents told interviewers that the Israeli occupation aimed to expel them from their homeland.


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