More than half of young Arabs in Levant and north Africa pin hopes on emigrating
Bleak economic outlook and high unemployment behind desire to leave home countries, survey finds
More than half of young Arabs in north Africa and the Levant say they are actively trying to emigrate or considering leaving their home countries in search of better jobs abroad, research shows. The latest Arab Youth Survey by global communications agency Asda’a BCW, released on Thursday, found that 53 per cent of people aged 18-24 in Levantine countries — Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian territories — and 48 per cent of those in north Africa wanted to move abroad to find work. The figure drops to 27 per cent in the oil and gas exporting countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where living standards are higher than in the rest of the region. Canada tops the list of preferred destinations, with 34 per cent of those surveyed choosing the country. The US followed at 30 per cent, Germany and the UK were picked by 20 per cent each and France by 17 per cent. “The desire to emigrate corresponds with the bleak economic outlook in many Arab nations,” said Asda’a BCW, which has conducted the survey annually for the past 15 years. In the survey, 72 per cent of young Levantines and almost two-thirds of young north Africans said their national economy was going in the “wrong direction”. About two-thirds of respondents in both north Africa and the Levant said their governments did not have the right policies to address their most important concerns. Youths are the largest demographic group in the Arab world, with one in five people aged 15-24, according to UN figures. Youth unemployment at an average of 26 per cent is the highest in the world, the World Bank says. “The region is facing a youth bulge but governments have been unable to create enough growth to provide jobs that pay sufficiently to cover people’s basic needs,” said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayed, professor of political science at Cairo University. The unemployment rate and reasons for it varied, he said: “In some countries such as Lebanon, Tunisia or Libya there is political instability, while in others like Egypt or Algeria there is misallocation of resources and insufficient support for the private sector.” In Tunisia — where youth unemployment rose to 40.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2023, according to official figures — many young people said they wanted to leave the country. Hakim Hadidin, a 19-year-old in the final year of school, told the Financial Times: “Is there anyone who doesn’t want to leave? This country has never had a future, not since I was born.” Fellow student Malika Atwani said she wanted to move to France. “My family are fine with it because they want me to have a future.” Meanwhile, Lebanon has seen an exodus of young people, many of whom have sought jobs and education abroad since its financial meltdown began in 2019. The currency has lost more than 98 per cent of its value against the dollar since then, impoverishing 80 per cent of the population and eradicating much of the middle class.
Sandra Abi Rached, 22, said she had been forced to quit her studies when the financial crisis hit in order to find work and support her parents. “I spend my days working at the mall and the nights applying for visas to leave. I’m sure if I can get a job abroad, I can send more money home and eventually help my parents leave this country, which gives us nothing but grief.” With their savings now worthless, many Lebanese families depend on remittances from relatives working in the Gulf states, Europe or North America. The World Bank estimated remittance flows to Lebanon at $6.4bn in 2022, making it the third highest globally in terms of its contribution to the country’s GDP, at 36 per cent. “Youth emigration is a huge drain on the economy of the Arab world, which must be stopped if the region is to benefit from the youth dividend,” said Sunil John, BCW’s president for the Middle East and north Africa.