NEW YORK // The number of migrants living in the Gulf has grown by a fifth in the past five years, to reach an all-time high of 15.1 million people.
A new report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) indicates that the GCC countries have offered relative financial stability, with broadly robust numbers of migrants and outbound cash flows.
The IOM's 273-page World Migration Report 2010, which is being released in New York this week, also suggests that the number of temporary migrants in the six-nation zone could be reaching a plateau and that the flows of remittance cash, or money sent home by migrants, from the region may have started to decline.
Saudi Arabia hosts the largest number of migrants in the region, estimated at 7.3 million people, followed by the UAE with 3.3 million, Kuwait with 2.1 million and Qatar with 1.3 million. There are an estimated 826,000 migrants in Oman and 315,000 in Bahrain, according to the report.
Qatar has the largest proportion of migrants, who account for 87 per cent of the overall population. Migrants make up 70 per cent of the population in the UAE, 69 per cent in Kuwait, 39 per cent in Bahrain, and about 28 per cent in Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The report describes the "particularly acute" impact of Dubai freezing US$582 billion (Dh2.13 trillion) worth of infrastructure projects, which resulted in an estimated 20 per cent drop in the number of temporary contractual workers there in 2009.
In Qatar, the number of migrants has grown from 59 to 94 for every 1,000 people in the past five years. Ongoing infrastructure projects in other parts of the Gulf have helped maintain overall numbers.
While the resilient Gulf construction sector has helped bolster the amount of cash migrants can send back to their home countries, IOM researchers indicate that remittance flows from the oil-rich region may have started to fall.
After years of increasing remittance flows from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the amounts from all three countries stopped growing at the end of 2008. Remittances from the Gulf to Egypt fell by 20 per cent in the second and third quarters of 2009, while those to Pakistan started declining towards the end of last year.
"The reason for such a decline might be attributable to the loss of income of foreign workers that have become unemployed and either stayed in the region to look for employment or returned to their country of origin," the report said.
Researchers outlined efforts by Gulf officials to tackle concerns about the abuse of migrants working in the region, from non-payment of wages to domestic servitude and unscrupulous agents.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, an IOM spokesman, said: "The best way to regulate temporary contractual labour is to make sure migrants are ready for the situation before they leave home. They need to know what they will face, their rights vis-a-vis employers, what help they can get if their contract is not respected.
"It is about making sure all the parameters are in place to reduce the abuses that might take place during the contractual cycle, so migrants can benefit by sending money back home while their well-being is guaranteed as much as possible."
The number of migrants across the Middle East has grown by 4.5 million in the past five years to reach an estimated 26.6 million, making this one of the world's fastest growing migrant-receiving regions, the report said. An estimated 13.5 per cent of the world's migrants - almost one in seven - are in the Middle East.