By Adam G. Lichtenheld, University of California, Berkeley
* This memo was prepared for the “Rethinking Nation and Nationalism” workshop, February 6, 2015.
Amnesty International recently released a scathing report that took Western countries to task for their failure to address the sharp uptick in human displacement in 2014. No part of the world has been more affected than the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where recent upheavals have spawned the region’s largest forced migration crisis since the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Between 2008 and 2013 alone, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Arab world roughly doubled, propelled by the 2011 uprisings and violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. MENA is now the main region of origin of refugees worldwide, and contains nearly one-third of the global IDP population. This surge mirrors a broader, and troubling, global trend. Despite a steady decline in the incidence and lethality of armed conflict, the number of people forcibly displaced by violence has swelled to levels not seen since World War II.
While there is a discernable shift in global attention toward forced displacement, this issue remains largely neglected by scholars. In the Middle East, this growing feature of contemporary politics is not only an urgent concern for humanitarian agencies: Examining displacement has important implications for enhancing our understanding of the region’s shifting identity politics. Since mass involuntary movements of populations have long been a catalyst for political and social transformation – and are linked to an array of security threats, from conflict spillover and terrorism to the spread of infectious disease – it is critical to consider how the most recent waves of displacement will shape the future landscape of the Middle East. Read more on The Monkey Cage.