Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - MERGE - Migration and the Middle East

MERGE Brief, April 2021

Here are the significant migration-related developments of last month in and around the Middle East region.

There were at least 3 migrant boats that have sunk in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast which remains the deadliest sea crossing the number of recorded deaths has reached 650 as stated by IOM spokeswomen Safa Msehli at a UN press briefing. According to the UN, 172 migrants who were trying to reach Europe are believed to have drowned, while an investigation is still continuing for the missing third boat carrying 40 migrants.

The UN-mediated Syrian Peace Process remains in a deadlock while the deep dissonance between the US and Russia on the authorization of border crossings is ongoing. When the disputes over the reopening of border crossings to facilitate humanitarian aid unabated, Syria continues to suffer from an agonizing decade of war, dislocation and humanitarian disaster. Around 9.3 million Syrians are food insecure and 60% live in extreme poverty. The worrisome situation has become worse with the Covid pandemic.

While Covid global health crisis has been experienced divergently across the world, the situation in the Middle East has been marked by the highest uncertainty. According to the OECD report, however, there are significant differences between countries in terms of the capacity to react. While richer Gulf countries are better to contain the virus given their relatively effective vaccination programs and smaller population; the situation is particularly worrying in conflict-affected countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Iran where the lack of hospital beds and testing capacities is a cause of concern. The Covid-19 vaccines have recently been arrived in Syria by the UN-backed COVAX initiative, and more than 53.000 doses were delivered to the northwest, where conflict and displacement have continued.

According to the World Bank, Covid Pandemic has worsened the economic growth in MENA countries that were already facing economic and political stress before the pandemic. In order to continue spending on health care and social protection, they become more and more dependent on borrowings which may create the long-term risk of rising public debt in a post-pandemic situation. 

Denmark has become the first European country that stripped Syrian refugees of their residency status. The order affects those who are coming from Damascus which is regarded as “safe to return to,” although Human Rights Watch stated that “conditions do not presently exist anywhere in Syria for safe returns.” After the decision is declared, 94 Syrian refugees have been removed from their temporary protection; and a total number of 189 Syrians who have had applications for their residency permit denied since the last summer. Since Denmark has no diplomatic relations with Syria, they are sending Syrians who refuse to leave the country to the deportation centers.