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The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and low oil prices on migrants and remittances in the Arab region

21 janv. 2022

The Arab region recorded its first COVID-19 cases in the Gulf States in late January 2020. The pandemic has subsequently spread to the rest of the region, accelerating to over 100,000 cases per week from September 2020.  On the economic side, lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 and the collapse of oil prices have plunged most Arab countries into deep economic recession, regardless of their status as oil-exporting, oil-importing middle-income, or crisisaffected countries.

The Arab region is host to an estimated 40 million immigrants, and 30 million or more of the regions’ citizens are emigrants worldwide. The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis have both underlined and aggravated the pre-pandemic vulnerability of migrants in the region, as well as the vulnerability of the region’s diaspora in their host states. Using data from international agencies, sending and receiving countries, and press statements, this paper first introduces the trends and main characteristics of migration to and from the Arab region. The vulnerabilities faced by migrants in the Arab region are briefly discussed. The period of reference is 2019, prior to the crisis.

The paper then analyses the socio-economic impact of the twin crises—COVID-19 and low oil prices—on the migrant population in and from oil-exporting countries, middle-income oil-importing countries, least developed countries (LDCs) and fragile/crisis-affected countries in the Arab region. It then concludes with an in-depth focus on the channel of remittances. In this regard, the paper briefly discusses the measurement of remittances, the importance of remittances—sent and received—in the region, the vulnerability of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) emigrants to income loss, the impacts of remittances on socio-economic indicators in the region, and the likely consequences of lockdowns and declining oil prices on remittances, and consequently, socioeconomic indicators using microdata from four country studies (Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Somalia). Based on the analysis, the paper proposes a set of policy recommendations.

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