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Migrant Workers in the Middle East: Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2011

Prasannan Parthasarathi
Boston College
Donald Quataert
Binghamton University


Transnational labor migration is one of the most visible features of our globalizing world. The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 214 million migrant workers crossing national borders in the world today. Migration both in and to the Middle East constitutes an important part of this movement of laborers and has deep roots. In the mid-fifteenth century, workers across a broad spectrum of occupations, including stevedores, boatmen, and bakers, trekked from areas in eastern and central Anatolia to the new imperial Ottoman capital, Istanbul, where they lived and worked for months and even years. Workers from outside the Middle East also have been part of the fabric of life in the region for several centuries, the slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa, which long supplied labor for a variety of purposes, being one of the most notable. Migrant workers took on new significance in the twentieth century, especially after the oil price hikes of 1973. Today the nations on the Arabian Peninsula, the destination for most workers, have the highest ratio of migrants to locals in the world.

Migrant Workers in the Middle East
Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc. 2011

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