Over half of Arab youths want to leave their countries, according to survey

Over half of Arab youths want to leave their countries, according to survey
With youth unemployment at an all time high in the region, the majority of young people in MENA countries outside the Gulf want to leave their countries.
3 min read
13 August, 2023
Young Arabs are increasingly seeking to leave the region [Getty]

Over half of young people in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries outside of the Gulf say they are actively trying to emigrate or contemplating leaving their home countries in search of better jobs and economic opportunities, according to the latest Arab Youth Survey released on Thursday.

The survey, which is carried out by global communications agency Asda’a BCW, found that 53% of people aged 18-24 in the Levantine countries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, as well as Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, wanted to move abroad to find work. When applied to North Africa, 48% of the same age range similarly wanted to leave.

The figure drops to 27% in the oil and gas rich countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which generally enjoy much higher living standards than other Arab countries. A majority in the GCC said they would never permanently leave their country.

Disagreement with government policy appears to be a major driving force behind the sentiments of young Arabs outside of the Gulf.

72% of young Levantines and almost two-thirds of young North Africans said their national economy was going in the “wrong direction”. About two-thirds of respondents in both North Africa and the Levant said their governments were not pursuing the right policies to address their most important concerns.

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High youth unemployment, little chance of change 

Disillusionment with living standards and life opportunities among this age group, who comprise the largest demographic in the Arab world, were thought to be one of the major driving forces behind the Arab Spring.

Yet things seem to have got worse. Youth unemployment in the region is currently at an average of 26 per cent, which is the highest rate in the world, according to World Bank figures cited by the Financial Times.

The reasons for such a high unemployment rate among this age group in the region are, according to experts, due to economic crises caused by the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine affecting economies and political systems that are not structured to deal with such occurrences.


Widespread corruption in non-democratic political systems create conditions of patronage that leave many qualified youths out of the job market, while political instability and the misallocation of resources leads to a lack of sufficient support for the private sector.

With little or no meaningful democratic representation, the future for many Arab youths seems unchangeably bleak. 

This has seen a youth exodus from countries such as Lebanon amid one of the worst economic crises in history, while Egypt has seen a rise in those seeking to leave for Europe and the West.

“The region is facing a youth bulge but governments have been unable to create enough growth to provide jobs that pay sufficiently to cover people’s basic needs," said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayed, professor of political science at Cairo University to the Financial Times.

It is no surprise that the main desired destination of travel for Arab youth is the West, with most Arab youth saying they would like to emigrate to Canada (34%), with the United States (30%) coming a close second, followed by Germany and the UK (both on 20%) and France at 17%.