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Migration as Diplomacy: Labor Migrants, Refugees, and Arab Regional Politics in the Oil-Rich Countries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2011

Helene Thiollet
Sciences Po, Paris


This article explores the political dynamics of labor migration in the Middle East. It seeks to explain the politics of Arab population movements by looking at historical trends in regional integration and contends that migration to the oil-rich countries, including refugee flows, has been the key factor driving Arab integration in the absence of effective institutions and economic integration processes. To account for the influence of this largely forgotten factor, the article looks at the formal and informal institutions that have shaped massive labor flows from the 1970s onward. It offers historical evidence pointing to the role of migration in Arab regional integration by looking at free circulation of Eritrean refugees and migrants in the Arab region using oral history and administrative archives. Linking labor migration, refugee movements, and regional politics, the article introduces the concept of “migration diplomacy” as an analytical framework and argues that the politics of regional integration can be better understood when looked at through the lens of migration.

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

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The author wishes to thank the Oxford-Sciences Po Research Group, the Sciences Po Alumni UK Charity Trust, the Department of Politics and International Relations (Oxford University), and Neil Martin for his careful reading.

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