Social Scientist. v 18, no. 204 (May 1990) p. 19.

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Labour Migration to the Middle East: A Review of its Context, Effects and Prospects


One of the first problems one faces when analyzing the phenomenon of international labor migration to the oil countries in the Middle East, is the absence of a reliable estimate of the number of people involved. Estimates in the labor-importing countries as well as in the labor-exporting countries vary over a wide range. In Egypt for example, one of the major exporters of labor, estimates vary from 1 million to 4.5 million inhabitants working in the oil countries. A recent, fairly reliable estimate based on a large-scale survey (Fergany, 1988) shows 1.5 million Egyptians working in the oil countries, accompanied by a quarter of a million relatives.

Nor do the statistics in the labor-importing countries excel in reliability. Quite apart from the general problems with census material in the Third World, there are primarily three factors which are responsible for this lack of reliable information.

In the first place, one has to realize that the import of (often) a sizeable number of foreign workers, is not something which the various governments want to stress with an exact count of heads. Especially in those states, where 50 to 80 per cent of the population consists of foreigners, governments fear unrest within the national part of the population if these figures became publicly known. Secondly, many workers are brought into the country by a labor broker (called 'kafil' in Saudi Arabia) without official registration, though in some cases (e.g. Egyptians migrating to Iraq) official visas areliot required. Also, in some cases, there is another type of non-registered immigration resulting from the fact that frontiers either do not exist or in case they do, can easily be crossed due to lack of control (e.g. the border between the two Yemens and Oman).

* University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands

** General Organization of Housing Building and Planning Research, Cairo, Egypt

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, No. 5, May 1990

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