The crisis brought on by refugee and migration movements has today assumed unprecedented proportions, a reality poignantly captured by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which states that “we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record”—68.5 million people globally. At the epicenter of the global refugee and migration crisis lies the Middle East, with the vortex of conflict engulfing Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Yemen. Syria alone accounts for over six million refugees in addition to a roughly equivalent number of internally displaced people.
What distinguishes the refugee situation in the Middle East are the political, geopolitical, and strategic reverberations it has triggered, with the ripple effects often reaching far beyond the focal point of the region’s interlocking conflicts. Internally displaced people have now become pawns in the regional and global proxy conflicts raging in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon. The destabilizing effects of the crisis on regional security are clearly manifested in Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, and Turkey. The recurring waves of refugee flows from the region to Western Europe have already affected the domestic politics, foreign policy, and economies of key European countries in ways that will play out long after the crisis itself subsides. In this sense, the Middle East refugee crisis has become truly global.
To examine the multiple dimensions of the Middle East refugee crisis, the Cairo Review has dedicated its summer 2018 issue to the theme of “Refugees: Humanity Uprooted.” First, Parastou Hassouri and Omer Karasapan examine how the influx of refugees into Europe has triggered a surge of populist politics and xenophobia across the continent, while reinforcing the European Union’s “border externalization” policies that seek to stem refugee flows before they reach European shores. Somewhat similarly, in “From Africa to Israel to Nowhere,” Mike Wagenheim explores how the arrival of African migrants has generated an intense debate around the Jewish character of the state of Israel. No less significant has been the domestic political implications for Turkey, the largest-hosting country of Syrian refugees: Gönül Tol addresses the potential political costs the crisis could have for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And Pınar Dost lays down the implications of the many unfulfilled provisions of the EU–Turkey “Refugee Deal.”
Ghaith Al-Omari examines the implications of the Donald Trump administration’s decision to cut aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In their thought-provoking essay “Migration Myths and the Global South,” Ibrahim Awad and Usha Natarajan show how the discourse underpinning the international migration regime privileges a Northern agenda to the disadvantage of the Global South, which often bears the brunt of policies adopted by Western countries.
Finally, the oft-neglected social and gender aspects of international relief efforts toward refugees and migrants are examined by Ghaidaa Motahar in her essay on Yemen’s displaced women, and by Bethan Staton, whose essay critiques the “Jordan Compact” designed in part to alleviate the plight of Syrian women refugees in Jordan. The Cairo Review interview is with leading Middle East historian James Gelvin.