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The International Migration Institute and the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford organised a one-day workshop on 18 June 2010 focusing on migration to the Gulf countries

The workshop, 'Migrations to the Gulf Countries: Form Exception to Normality?', was made possible thanks to the support of the Maison Française at Oxford and the International Migration Institute. The convenors were Hein de Haas, Helene Thiollet, and Leila Vignal, and it was attended by scholars from different disciplinary fields including history, social sciences, international relations and economy.

The aim of the workshop

The workshop aimed to consider the extent to which migration to the Gulf countries represents an exception to prevailing theories and policies.

The Gulf countries are often said to be an exception to the frequent failure of migration control evident in other parts of the world. They are often portrayed as being successful in enforcing temporary migration by limiting foreign workers’ rights, both social and political, and preventing the settlement and political inclusion of migrants. The figure of the ‘temporary contract worker’, mostly unskilled and coming from Asia, is often put forward by policy makers to support the idea that the Gulf is not a region of ‘immigration’.

The workshop convenors proposed that this assumption could be misleading. In fact it is increasingly difficult for the Gulf countries to control migration, and statistical evidence shows that ‘contract workers’ have been settling in the Gulf countries despite anti-integration policies.

At the same time, strains on the global economy are enhancing abuses and labour rights  infringements. A relatively new social movement is blooming, especially in Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, leading to increasing mobilisation and numerous demonstrations by migrants.

Workshop participants considered the historical trends of economic migration and refugee fluxes in the Gulf, and explored case studies to account for the paradoxes of migration in the area, reintegrating it into a comparative and global frame of analysis.

Workshop sessions

The political economy of migration in the Gulf: Martin Ruhs (University of Oxford), Philip Marfleet (University of East London), Ghada Fayed (University of Oxford), and Alaa al-Hamarneh (Mainz University) explored changing labour immigration policies in the Gulf as well as the macroeconomic effect of remittances outflows. The discussion also addressed the issue of migration of Europeans of Arab origin.

Spaces and transnational networks in Gulf migration: Marina de Regt (International Institute of Social History), Nelida Fuccaro (School of Oriental and African Studies), Amin Moghadam (Lyon University), Andrew Gardner (Qatar University), and Philippe Venier (Angers University) explored the socio-spatial dimensions characterising urban integration, social segregation and metropolisation versus cosmopolism. This sparked a rich discussion on the extent to which current theories are able to capture the changing and contradictory nature of migration trends and policies across the region.

Taking things forward

The workshop redirected attention to multi-faceted and counter-intuitive dynamics of migration across the Middle-East and Arab world that defy predominant assumptions and call for novel theoretical approaches and methodologies. In particular, the role of the state and the notion of ‘ethnic state’ in relation to socio-political orders emerged as a central theme worthy of future research.

The workshop created a multi-disciplinary network of scholars based in research centres across Europe. This common platform may help to:

  • share ideas and explore future research opportunities including conferences and joint publications
  • develop new initiatives to gather and share data on migration throughout the region