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Back | Programme Area: Promoting a Holistic and Multidisciplinary Approach to Social Development

Consequences of the Forced Mass Repatriation of Migrant Communities: Recent Cases from West Africa and the Middle East

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of occasions when migrant, expatriate or alien communities have been obliged to leave en masse the countries in which they have chosen to work or settle. The expulsion of two million Ghanaians and other West African migrants from Nigeria, reciprocal mass expulsions from Senegal and Mauritania, the expulsion of ethnic Turks from Bulgaria, the recent mass exodus from Iraq and Kuwait, and the expulsion of Yemenis from Saudi Arabia are just the better-known cases of such mass movements over the last decade.

Drawing on examples from Africa and the Middle East, the author examines the consequences of mass expulsion or exodus for the countries to which those affected return. He looks briefly at the immediate problems of reception, accommodation and dispersal; then the medium-term issues are examined: employment implications, the loss of remittances, and other economic, social and ecological consequences such as pressure on housing, prices, social services, water supply and other resources. After considering the longer term consequences of mass return, the author suggests that these may not all be negative.

Expellees and other returnees of this kind are not usually refugees, but they may find themselves in refugee-like situations. The paper examines how, if at all, they are protected and assisted by the international community, and suggests some ways in which such episodes may be better handled. Mass exodus of migrants and aliens of the kind explored in this paper has been of only peripheral concern in international forums. The episodes considered illustrate that since official interventions, national and international, rarely touch directly more than a small proportion of repatriates, close attention should be paid to migrants' own initiatives to get home, to resettle themselves and then to find or create employment, at home or abroad. Realising the potential of the mass returns to each of these countries will only be accomplished if the right macro-level conditions can be created to assist repatriates to resettle or reintegrate themselves. Countries faced with sudden, large returnee populations may take some comfort from the experience of other countries that have found that in the longer term such mass returns do not turn out to be damaging, but can be ultimately beneficial.

The paper concludes by speculating on the future course of the mass exodus of migrant communities. The forms of mass exodus considered in this paper are a manifestation of two contemporary global trends: the restructuring of the international labour market and the recrudescence of ethnic nationalism in the context of the emergence or reconstitution of nation-states. By the restructuring of the international labour market is meant changes in the pattern of production and in its global distribution - and the consequences of such changes for migrant labour. By the recrudescence of ethnic nationalism is meant the tendency, particularly noticeable currently in parts of East and Central Europe, for the 'homogenization' of ethnic populations within a particular nation-state. This is likely to entail more mass movements of minorities. For this reason if for no other, the international community should heed the recent history of mass exodus of alien and minority communities as much as that of migrant workers.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Nov 1992
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD/UN Publications