Migration Flows throughout the ‘Arab Spring’
The ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 was accompanied by significant migration movements and a drastically changed context for regional migration governance. Since the beginning of 2011, the following flows have been observed:
Flows from Libya
The Libyan crisis that started in February 2011 led to major cross-border displacement, involving Libyans as well as nationals of neighbouring countries and a significant number of migrant workers from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
In addition, an estimated 200,000 people, most of which migrant workers have been internally displaced.
As shown above, the overwhelming majority of persons displaced from Libya moved to neighbouring countries. The over 27.000 people fleeing Libya for Italy and Malta were mostly Third Country Nationals (TCN) with hardly any Libyan nationals involved.
With the situation gradually improving, the great majority of Libyans has returned from abroad and within the country to their places of origin. Many, however, remain unable or unwilling to return. As the country is increasingly seeking for foreign labour again, the significant number of TCNs that remained in the country is joined by new arrivals in search of employment, in transit or to seek asylum.
Flows from Tunisia
Flows from Tunisia mainly involved irregular migrants moving by sea towards Italy (Lampedusa) and Malta, primarily for economic reasons. More than 26,354 persons reached Italy by sea from Tunisia in 2011, while Malta has received 1,530, with almost all of Tunisian origin. The majority are young males, often hoping to join family members elsewhere in the EU (in particular France). In the second quarter of 2011 the flow of Tunisian migrants was reduced by 75% following an accelerated repatriation agreement that was signed between Italy and Tunisia. Moreover, since October 2011, the situation has eased somewhat due to democratic elections in Tunisia. However, the situation remains of concern, with sporadic arrivals from Tunisia now adding to arrivals from Egypt.
Return Flows to Egypt
With the loss of an estimated 600.000 jobs during its own transition, Egypt has been struggling to cope with the sudden return of some 200.000 Egyptian migrant workers as a result of the Libyan crisis. The related loss of remittance flows has further increased the poverty risk for Egyptian households.
Flows from Syria
Ongoing flows from Syria consist primarily of Syrian nationals crossing by land to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or even Iraq to seek international protection, thus putting an increasing strain on governments and host communities. Over 61,000 Syrian refugees are being assisted in the region
All these countries have maintained an open borders policy for Syrian refugees. UNHCR also believes that up to 10,000 Syrians have entered Lebanon recently. Though Syria is itself host to a significant number of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, so far, those fleeing unrest in the country have been Syrian nationals.
The Syria Regional Response Plan outlines the response needs for Syrian refugees who have fled the country since March 2011. Currently, less than 20% of the US$84 million needed (UN) to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq have been given.
Flows in/to Yemen
Despite the peace agreement signed in June 2010, the situation in northern Yemen remains highly volatile. Due to tribal clashes, some 52,000 people have been displaced in 2012 alone in the north of the country. This is in addition to an estimated 314,000 Yemenis already displaced in the north and over 150,000 displaced in the south of the country. According to UNHCR, another 120,000 people are currently at risk of forced displacement.
Meanwhile, the large mixed flows from the Horn of Africa have also continued unabated, both to and through the country. According to UNHCR, there were 234,300 refugees and asylum seekers (including 221,500 Somalis) in the country in January 2012.
Flows towards the EU
In 2011, 86% of the detections of irregular migrants on the EU’s external borders occurred in the Central (46%) and Eastern Mediterranean, primarily on the land border between Greece and Turkey (40%). The 64 000 detections in the Central Mediterranean were linked directly to the events in North Africa. Over 1.500 people are believed to have drowned when crossing the Mediterranean to the EU.
The arrival of some 50.000 migrants in Lampedusa and Malta prompted talks about the EU facing a ‘migration crises’ and led to discussions on burden-sharing and on redefining the possibilities for reintroducing internal borders within the Schengen area.
In this context, it is important to keep the size of current flows in perspective. In comparison:
- Hundreds of thousands of persons fleeing the Balkan wars arrived into the EU in the 1990s. Germany registered 438,000 asylum applications in 1992 alone.
- 115,000 migrants were found to be illegally present in Greece in 2010 alone.
- Despite the increase in migration flows towards the EU linked to the Arab Spring and the fact that at 20%, Tunisian nationals constituted the commonest single nationality, the countries of origin in second and third position remain Afghanistan (16%) and Pakistan (11%).
- Of the one million persons who initially fled Libya in 2011, almost all left to its neighbours in North Africa rather than to Europe.
Renewed flows from this region are likely to occur because of its proximity to the EU, potential political instability and high unemployment rates. Moreover, there is an increasing risk of political and humanitarian crises arising in third countries which may result in significant displacements of people in search of international protection.
It is therefore vital that the EU focuses its efforts on assisting North African and Middle Eastern countries in responding to the needs of migrants fleeing continuing unrest in the region.
The EU Response
In the short-term, the EU-level response to migration flows caused by the Arab Spring was to launch a FRONTEX 'Hermes' Joint Operation in the Mediterranean, and to provide significant resources for the countries neighbouring Libya (€100 million) and for EU Member States which were most affected by the sudden inflows (€25 million).
Longer term objectives include:
- In line with the EU Global Approach to Migration, intensifying dialogue and capacity building with southern Mediterranean countries on all areas of migration (irregular migration, labour migration, migration & development and asylum). Mobility Partnerships are under negotiation with key partners, including Tunisia and Morocco.
- Establishing a Regional Protection Programme in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to improve the capacity to assist those in need of international protection.
- Addressing the root causes of migration by enhancing security, good governance and economic cooperation, by raising the employability and improving the recognition of migrants' skills.
- Revising the ENP policy framework and increasing financial support for Southern Mediterranean countries in order to support democratization and inclusive economic growth.
- Investing in education and widening the Erasmus Mundus programme for studying in Europe.
Regarding the EU's internal policies, the Arab Spring highlighted the need for Europe to increase intra-EU solidarity with Member States at its southern borders; to amend the Schengen acquis (reintroduction of internal borders); and to adapt EU funding for it to be mobilised more rapidly and flexibly in the future, notably in the context of rapid onset migration crises.
 Reproduced from IOM Daily Statistical Report, 31 January 2012
 According to UNHCR (2012), 15,300 Libyans who arrived in 2011 are still living in Egypt
 UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming, press briefing, 20 April 2012.
 The plan is an inter-agency framework led by UNHCR and the result of a coordinated effort between seven UN agencies, 27 national and international NGOs and host governments.
 Frontex Annual Risk Analyses 2012
 As it stands, 90% of asylum seekers are taken in by only 10 Member States.
This article was written under the ETEM project, funded by the EU and implemented by ICMPD.