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This paper analyses emigration from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to main European and North American destinations since the 1960s. It explores the role of states, post-colonial ties and migration policies in emigration dynamics. By adopting a historical-comparative approach and an origin country perspective, this paper shows that Maghreb emigration was continuously shaped not only by government strategies in Europe but also by those of Maghreb states. Drawing on new bilateral migration flow data compiled in the DEMIG C2C database, the paper reveals three distinct phases in which Maghreb emigration patterns converge and diverge: the post-independence period in which Maghreb emigration boomed; the period from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s when Algerian emigration levelled off while emigration from neighbouring countries’ remained high; and the period from the early 1990s when Moroccan emigration increased exponentially while Tunisian and Algerian only grew moderately. Similarities in Maghreb emigration patterns can be explained by the countries’ comparable geopolitical and socio-economic features and that European states apply the same immigration policies to all Maghreb countries. To understand the divergences however, a closer look at origin country factors is required. The paper finds that Algeria’s departure from regional emigration patterns in the 1970s can be traced back to the emigration stop implemented by the Algerian government in 1973. Conversely, the active promotion of emigration by the Moroccan state facilitated emigration by making access to passport easier and fostering a culture of emigration that together with high unemployment partly explains Morocco’s emigration boom after the 1990s. Finally, recent diversification of Maghreb emigration to divergent South European countries, can be attributed to specific historical linkages, with Moroccans and Algerians mainly migrating to Spain and Tunisians to Italy.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



Maghreb, emigration, migration policies, state