Palestinians reveal emigration statistics for first time

Survey finds most leave for economic opportunities - not to escape the conflict.

By ARIEH O'SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
January 2, 2011 22:44
4 minute read.

 
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The Palestinian Authority has released its first every survey of Palestinian emigration, showing that about 7,000 people leave the West Bank and Gaza every year, mostly for economic opportunities rather than to escape the conflict with Israel, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

The PCBS said most of the emigrants were looking for better educational opportunities, improved living conditions and jobs. Most Palestinian emigrants went to neighboring Jordan (24%), the U.S. (22%) and the Arab Gulf states (20%), the survey, released on Tuesday, found.

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"This is the first time we've ever conducted a survey on emigration and it is important for us to have these data," Mohammed Duraidi, director of the Migration Survey, told The Media Line. "We had no idea what the numbers would be, but I'm not surprised by the results. The number of [annual emigrants] 7,000, isn't a big number and it is offset by the number of returnees." The Palestinian economy has been growing in the past two years, but before that, the conflict with Israel took a toll by restricting the movement of people and goods and access to employment in Israel. Improved security as well as foreign aid has enabled the West Bank economy to grow, and to a lesser extent in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, the peace process with Israel is stalled and Gaza remains subject to an Israeli blockade.

The PCBS survey covered the period 2005 -2009,during which it found that 32,804 Palestinians left the Palestinian areas. But between 5,000 to7,000 Palestinians returned to the PA annually, totaling 30,411.

The survey said most of the emigrants were young, single men. It also found 50% more males than females were emigrating. About one-third cited education as their cause for emigrating, 15% improving their living conditions and 14% lack of job opportunities in the Palestinian territories. One third had a bachelors degree or higher and seven out of 10 had completed secondary education, which indicated a brain-drain from the PA.

When asked if there was a negative perception of emigrants among Palestinians, Duraidi declined to answer. But he noted that the survey also asked in general about desires to emigrate.

It found that 13% of those polled would consider emigrating, with 39% citing improved living conditions as their chief motivation. There was a marked distinction between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with 14% in the latter saying they wanted to leave due to the security situation, compared with just 6% in the West Bank.

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Three-quarters of those polled said they preferred to stay put, with the main reason given being nationalist reasons.

Duraidi said the PCBS used the United Nations definition of emigrant, which is anyone who stays abroad for over a year, even if it is for studies.

The survey also examined immigration to the PA and found that more than one third of returnees were from Jordan and 29% were from the Gulf states.

Nearly 40% were between the ages of 15 and 29.

Duraidi said comparative data with previous decades didn't exist. But the survey by the PCBS said a quarter of returnees to the Palestinian territories came prior to 1991. About one third of immigrants came in the wake of the Oslo peace accords and growing prosperity between 1995-1999.

This fell with the outbreak of violence in September 2000 leading to the incursion by Israeli troops into the Palestinian cities.

The PCBS poll also examined the internal movement of Palestinians and found that there was a flow from Ramallah to the Nablus area, Tubas to Jenin, and Bethlehem and Jerusalem to Jericho. It said the movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was extremely limited due to Israeli security policies.

Duraidi said the survey didn't detect any major transformation of the Palestinian clan-based culture that traditionally sees men cling to their hometowns. The vast majority of those moving were women, mainly for marriage reasons, he noted.

Still he said 70% of Palestinians were living in urban areas, with only 30% listed as rural.

The study was done in conjunction with MEDSTAT, a European Union project aiding Mediterranean countries with statistical research. It was paid for by the Palestinian Authority. Some 15,000 households were questioned in face to face interviews, including 5,000 in the Gaza Strip.

Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli government official who has investigated Palestinian demographics, called the PCBS survey "total nonsense." "It's another symptom of the lack of reliability, and this is because the Palestinians do not have control of their international passages, which are the venues for immigrants and emigrants," Ettinger told The Media Line.

Author of " he Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza" - a controversial study that claims the number of Palestinians in the PA was 2.5 million and not 3.9 million as the PCBS claims - Ettinger said that in 2009 alone Israeli figures recorded a net emigration of 17,000.

"In 2008, it was 16,000 and in 2007 and 2006 it was 15,000," Ettinger said.

"This is net emigration." "Their [PCBS] figures are absolutely out of touch of reality and that is typical of them," he added. "Unfortunately, demographers take this as a credible source and error devastatingly."

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