Refugees in, dissidents out

The Middle East and North Africa is home to around 1 in every 3 refugees in the world – and that was before the revolutions, uprisings and brutal repressions of this year. It’s not such fertile ground for asylum seekers though. According to a UNHCR report published yesterday to mark World Refugee Day, there were 10.5 million refugees around the world at the end of 2010, 3.2 million of which were in the Middle East. The numbers are from the end of 2010 so miss out on all the events of this year, but still.

Middle East countries are, overall, net importers of refugees, hosting 3.2 million people while sending 2.4 million people fleeing across their borders.

The biggest source of refugees in the region remains Iraq (1.7 million), followed by Sudan (387,000) and Western Sahara (116,000). The largest hosts, as of December 2010, were Iran (1.1 million), followed by Syria (1 million) and then Jordan (451,000), presumably due to a combination of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Palestinian refugees.

But the situation is reversed when it comes to asylum seekers. There are 47,000 people claiming asylum in the Middle East and North Africa, but more than twice that number – 91,000 – have fled. Iraq (30,000), Sudan (23,700) and Iran (16,100) are the biggest sources of asylum seekers; Egypt (14,300), Sudan (6,000) and Israel (5,600) the largest hosts.

This year the flows are likely to be different. Libyans have fled into Tunisia and Egypt in large numbers. Syrians have been pouring over the border into Turkey. Most people don’t go too far from their homes, not matter what the right-wing in the UK and the rest of Europe say about the continent being overrun by unwanted immigrants.

Hal Far refugee