Pocketbook Prejudice? Exploring Xenophobia towards African Migrants and Refugees in Morocco

By Matt Buehler
Submitted to Session P5148 (Integration and Marginalization of the Other: New Research on the Middle East Migrant Crisis, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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Since the early 2010s, the migrant crisis has led to the mass inflow of foreign migrants and refugees, leading to rising xenophobic attitudes. Research on the conditions under which native citizens express xenophobia towards migrants has largely centered on evidence from European countries, yet non-Western and developing countries (especially in the Middle East and North Africa or ‘MENA’) have borne the brunt of the recent migrant crisis.

In 2016, 4.5 million migrants came to Europe. In the Middle East, their numbers were far greater. Turkey hosts 2.5 million displaced persons, whereas Lebanon and Jordan host 1.5 and 2.7 million. Egypt counts 5.5 million displaced persons, and Iran records nearly 2 million. Hundreds of thousands of migrants also reside in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Migrants in the MENA come from two types of ethnic backgrounds — co-ethnics and non co-ethnics. Jordan and Lebanon host displaced persons from Syria and Iraq who are co-ethnics (Arabs) and also non co-ethnics (Kurds, Armenians, and Yazidis). In Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, most migrants are co-ethnic Arabs or non co-ethnic sub-Saharan Africans (e.g. Congolese, Nigerians).

Drawing on an original survey of 1500 Moroccan citizens in 2017, this study investigates: Why do native citizens express xenophobia towards foreign migrants? Why, further, do these attitudes intensify towards African migrants and dampen towards Arab ones? In addressing these questions, this study tests how effectively traditional theories of xenophobia explain variation in such attitudes among native citizens of the Middle East. While studies based in Europe emphasize that cultural conflicts drive xenophobic attitudes (see, for example: Dustmann & Preston, 2007; Hainmueller & Hangartner, 2013), this study’s results show that economic and security concerns carry more weight in provoking intolerance towards migrants. Citizens bothered by migrants’ social service consumption and concerns that they increase internal instability (through crime) express greater xenophobia towards migrants, especially African migrants. Xenophobia towards African migrants does not primarily come from immaterial cultural factors, like simple racism (or preference for white over black skin) or co-ethnic solidarity with Arab migrants (e.g., common ‘Arabness’). These findings have broader implications by highlighting the serious obstacles non co-ethnic migrants— particularly African migrants — face when they flee to countries in the Middle East seeking refuge from political instability or intransigent poverty in their homelands. This study’s results also furnish critical insights that can inform policies to reduce conflict and alleviate tensions between foreign migrants and native citizens.