On the occasion of International Migrant’s Day, ARDD would like to take the opportunity to shed light on the recently published 3rd Situation Report on International Migration by the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, addressing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) in the context of the Arab region. The report includes valuable statistics and factsheets on trends and developments and concludes three challenges faced in the region that must be confronted in order to utilize the GCM as a tool towards better governance of international migration from a people-centered approach. Within this document, ARDD’s Al Nahda Center analyzes the report to identify further needed efforts in influencing migration policies to improve the situation for migrants in the region, and ultimately offers feedback and recommendation for the way forward.
Migration and displacement trends and developments in the Arab region
The report presents us with an overview of the latest migration and displacement trends in the Arab region and sub regions. The facts and figures reflect the first GCM objective: to use migration data as a basis for evidence-based policies. Highlights of the data demonstrate that within the Arab region, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are receiving most migrants and these countries continue to be a large labour migration hub with the highest number of migrant workers as a proportion of the total workforce worldwide in 2017. The report furthermore includes information on remittances to and from the region: the largest amount of remittances at $38.6 billion in 2017 were received by the Mashreq countries (72% of all remittances sent to the Arab region). The top Arab receiving country in 2017 was Egypt, followed by Lebanon. An analysis of the main drivers of migration and displacement in the Arab region showed education to be an important factor. Another interesting outcome is that numbers show that Jordan has had the largest number of refugees and migrants in the Mashreq sub region since 1990, rising steadily from 1.1 million in 1990 to over 3.2 million in 2017. Starting in 2012, Lebanon became the country with the second largest refugee and migrant population in the sub region.
Further into the report, details of changes in migration governance in the Arab region on a domestic legislation and policy level are discussed whilst acknowledging the limitations of the research in scope and methodology to that of adopted policies, not discussing the implementation of those policies. Taking these limitations into consideration, it is the analysis following the trends and developments that deserves proper attention as the realities on the ground are what the GCM objectives ultimately wish to reach and influence.
Challenges for application of the GCM in the Arab world
The analysis of the policy implications regarding the GCM, building on the findings in the report, concludes in three main challenges identified to the application of the GCM. Before discussing these challenges it should be noted that the policy implications focus on three priority areas, namely:
1) migrants’ full inclusion and their right to access basic services with an emphasis on access to health;
2) addressing and reducing vulnerabilities of migrants;
3) preventing and combating smuggling and trafficking of migrants.
According to the report, the first challenge is that the proportion of nationals abroad and migrants residing in Arab countries, compared to the total population, is 2/3 times higher than the world’s average. This challenge requires a deeper and country-specific understanding of what moves nationals to leave the Arab region and how to shape society in a way that nationals are more inclined to stay. Additionally, several Arab countries are – due to their convenient geographical position to the “West” – used as crossing point by mixed migration flows originating in Africa and Asia destined for Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. To follow these journeys of migration is valuable in enabling the preservation of Arab identity in the process of integration in a new country.
The second challenge speaks to the gaps in governance of migration in Arab countries that result in status vulnerabilities. The report highlights the vulnerabilities of migrant and domestic workers due to the kafala sponsorship system that prevails in the Arab region and sheds insights on the status of women in national legislation and the consequences on their rights, and the rights of their children. Aside from progress made on documentation work in the region, gaps in laws and policies governing access to nationality and citizenship on the one hand, and long-term residency for migrant communities on the other as remaining obstacles in reducing status vulnerabilities. The report points out that these issues require civil society mobilization around reducing barriers to citizenship, implementing non-discriminatory nationality legislation and ensuring recognized residence status with rights-guarantees for migrants. Another factor forming an obstacle in this context is the sensitivity of discussing status vulnerabilities in many Arab host countries, as confronting related issues risks being counterproductive for humanitarian organizations in not obtaining permission to carry out operations in the country.
Thirdly, challenges in the implementation of the law allow for unlawful practices. These problems stem from the second challenge: gaps in the migrant legal framework on a national level. The consequences of lacking documentation and existing gaps in the domestic legal system were identified as an increased risk of a growing paperless population and risks for numerous migrants with irregular status at risk of becoming victims to organized crime perpetrated by migrant smugglers and human traffickers along the routes of mixed migration across the entire Arab region. Low-income migrant workers moreover risk being subjected to illegal and exploitative working conditions imposed by employers. These vulnerable individuals face limitations in accessing justice and redress due to their evident invisibility as it pertains to legal instruments.
In relation to the difficulties in documentation due to gaps in legislation, another significant obstacle to implementation of the GCM in the Arab region is recognized in the report as a knowledge gap caused by a data deficit concerning the facts and figures of migration in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. As a consequence, countries cannot conduct informed policymaking on migration largely due to a severe lack of data on the situation in the country and region. It is therefore argued that filling the knowledge gap should be an absolute priority for migration stakeholders to have meaningful indicators that can enable the identification of issues, the design of policies, and the monitoring of outcomes. This report lays a first foundation with updated migration data on the region and is to be complemented and, where necessary, improved in accuracy and country-specific aspects by the countries themselves in the region.
This review of the migrant’s issue in context of the Arab Region provides stakeholders working in the region with valuable and accurate information in this regard, presenting a new opportunities for these stakeholders and host countries to update and upgrade their approaches and policies in line with the GCM objectives.
However, ARDD observes that no reference is made in the report to the potential of already existing regional legal instruments – such as the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam – that can stimulate implementation and fill the gaps for the lack of normative international instruments. Arab states might be more receptive to Arab agreements and ARDD therefore strongly recommends making use of and promoting parallel legal provisions in these regional instruments, in line with Al Nahda spirit.
Further, although the important role and impact of civil society to implement the GCM provisions is mentioned throughout the report, ARDD recognizes the reliance on donors for their work as another challenge preventing implementation of the GCM in the Arab region. Building upon the challenge in funding, an aspect crucial to civil society organizations (CSOs) for the continuity and consistency in their services to gather to the needs of migrants according to the provisions of the GCM, ARDD argues that local and regional CSOs and NGOs should be prioritized in allocating funds. Not only will this ease the competition in raising funds, it also provides an opportunity for the Arab region to play a more active role in shaping its migration policy translated into a fitting manner to the region’s needs.
In conclusion, the importance of the data and analysis in the report serves stakeholders to put the situation in the context of migration within the region into perspective and supports ARDD’s Al Nahda Thought Center efforts to understand youth and their decision-making processes regarding aspirations for the future in terms of migration in the Arab region.
 Mashreq countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Syrian Arab Republic, Egypt, Iraq and the State of Palestine.