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Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

White? Asian? African? Chicagoans with Middle Eastern and North African roots feel erased by census.

Local groups say it’s essential for people to participate even if they don’t see a racial/ethnic category on the form that fits them.

By Alexis Kwan and City Bureau@city_bureau

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Arab American Family Services cofounders Nareman Taha and Itedal Shalabi in their office in suburban Worth.
MAX HERMAN

On a hot Saturday in August, the parking lot of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance in West Ridge is filled with the sound of festivities. Kids jump in a bouncy house, Arabic pop music blares on the speakers, and a group of aunties chat as they watch over their charges. The organization, formerly known as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, hosts this yearly event as a way to connect the families they serve with the rest of the immigrant community.

Children gather round a foldable plastic table with a tawula set, playing a Turkish version of backgammon popular throughout the Middle East. Among them is Asal Alshammari, 11, who lives in West Ridge with her grandparents and sister. She immigrated to America with the rest of her Iraqi family after living in Dubai for nine years. Since moving to Chicago, Alshammari has been puzzled by the way Americans categorize race. “I identify myself as Middle Eastern, but [on school forms] it says I’m white, and that’s kind of confusing,” she says.

Sometimes she’ll even whip out her smartphone to show other kids at school exactly where Iraq is located: western Asia. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ I tell them ‘No, I’m Asian.’ But they’re always like, ‘What? You don’t seem Asian,’ because I have blue eyes from my grandpa,” she says. Alshammari wishes there were a box that was a better fit for people from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and she’s not alone.

As the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, local groups are working to ensure there’s an accurate count of their communities. But the census has never included any racial or ethnic category for Middle Eastern or North African communities. That, along with the current climate of fear surrounding immigration status, is a big challenge for folks hoping a full census count can help the community build political representation and gain access to crucial social services.

More than 20 years ago, when the federal government made major changes to the way race and ethnicity are reported on official forms, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget recommended additional testing on a category that would be called Middle Eastern North African, or MENA. Without a MENA option on the form, people from this region usually chose the white category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Race and Ethnicity Analysis.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Ekram Hanna of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society
MAX HERMAN

In a 2015 community forum held by census officials to discuss the MENA category, participants indicated that “MENA responses should not be classified as White. They thought classifying this group as White makes them invisible in the data, even though they face discrimination in many aspects of society.”

With the support of advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute, the census bureau began testing a potential MENA category addition in 2015, and in 2017 released preliminary results that stated, “The use of a distinct Middle Eastern or North African category appears to elicit higher quality data for people who would identify with MENA.”

Despite all this, the bureau announced in 2018 that a MENA category would not be included in the 2020 census, claiming that “more research and testing is needed” since some in the MENA community felt that the designation should be treated as an ethnicity rather than a race.

“Some of us identify as white, some as Brown, some as Black,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We don’t necessarily need a category that reduces us to one race, but we do need visibility, inclusion, and to be seen as a group of Americans with needs and not just the focus of counterterrorism programs or political bigotry.”

With the decision made, local groups serving MENA residents in the Chicago region are now focused on ensuring that their community participates, period.

An accurate count is essential, they say, since census numbers determine the allocation of funding for services like cultural diversity training for institutions that interact with the community. Though federal funding formulas are complex, a George Washington University study in 2018 estimated that for every Illinois resident not counted, the state would lose $840 in Medicaid funding.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Fouzia Othman works with a client at the Arab American Family Services office. Case managers help community members with translating mail, applying for WIC and SNAP benefits, immigration paperwork, and other needs.
MAX HERMAN

In Cook County, where an estimated 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern, North African, or Southwest Asian descent according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, outreach efforts are beginning. It won’t be easy, says Imelda Salazar, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, noting that many MENA residents are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Salazar says outreach to immigrants in general is difficult given the Trump administration’s policies, including increased restrictions on who can seek asylum and the executive order restricting entry of foreign nationals from some Muslim-majority countries.

“We give a lot of know-your-rights trainings and we tell people, Do not open the door [for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents],” she says, which makes it hard to allay their anxiety about opening the door for census workers. To try to dissipate these fears, SWOP precedes many of its workshops with a conversation about current deportation and detention issues and then talks about the legally mandated confidentiality of U.S. Census data. Salazar emphasizes that “fear won’t take us anywhere” and that if “we really want to build power, we need to be counted.”

Distrust of the federal government is particularly salient in the sizable Arab American community of Bridgeview, a southwest suburb. In the 2018 documentary The Feeling of Being Watched, Bridgeview native Assia Boundaoui uncovered evidence that Muslim residents were under FBI surveillance as far back as 1985 as part of a counterintelligence effort known as Operation Vulgar Betrayal.

With Trump administration policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim ban, some people have become wary even of receiving public benefits, according to Nareman Taha, cofounder of Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit social service agency in the southwest suburbs. They’re afraid the government is collecting their personal information through the institutions that dole out benefits.

“Clients would come and say, ‘Close my file. I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t want food stamps. I don’t want medical cards,'” she says. “And these are people who are working poor, they’re eligible. . . . Imagine that detriment and the impact that had on families.”

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Samir Alomar at the Festival on Devon in September. Alomar, who performs classical Arabic music and is originally from Syria, came to Chicago’s West Ridge community two years ago after spending four years in a refugee camp in Turkey with his family.
MAX HERMAN

To counteract that fear, groups like AAFS are relying on the relationships and trust built over years working within communities.

AAFS founded the Arab American Complete Count Committee, which meets at their office, and they are local members of the national Yalla Count Me In campaign—both are aimed at increasing census participation. AAFS is asking people to mark the “other” box on the form and write in “Arab” or their country of origin, in the hopes that when the Census Bureau reevaluates the MENA category there will be evidence to support its inclusion. Other groups, like the Arab American Action Network, say they have not yet decided what to recommend; they’re planning more conversations with community and national partners before making a decision.

Though race and ethnicity data in the census are rarely tied directly to federal funding, local organizations say that if the data were available, it could help them raise money from other sources and draw publicity for their work.

When Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network raises funds for the group’s work to protect youth against discrimination in schools, he says government representatives and donors will ask questions like, “What are the academic levels? How do they do in school? What are their literacy rates?”

“We were in a coalition with Black and Latino organizations, and they all had these stats about how Black and Latino kids were being suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than whites for the same alleged activities,” he explains. “And we didn’t have any numbers for the Arab kids, even though anecdotally we knew that those things were happening to Arabs as well.”

Taha, at AAFS, says most of their funds come from state government, corporations, foundations, and private donors. The group has been encouraging local universities and other nonprofits to collect data using the MENA category to help them make the case for the services they provide, like domestic violence prevention and immigration legal consultation. One funder, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, did just that, adding a MENA category to collect better health data statewide.

Some organizations rely on their own surveys or draw noncensus data from sources like Chicago Public Schools. CPS conducts an annual survey asking what languages are spoken in students’ homes, and Arabic was the third-most common non-English language in 2019, preceded only by Spanish and Cantonese, according to data City Bureau received through a public records request.

Laura Youngberg says the census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves.”
MAX HERMAN

Laura Youngberg, the executive director of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, says her group was able to use CPS data to advocate for federal and state grants that support its youth and family services. “It’s a battle of like going back to the state and saying, your data is wrong,” she says. “This is the correct data [from the school district]. This is why we deserve to have funding.”

The census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves,” Youngberg says. Better data around MENA communities could improve language access for Arabic-speaking people, increase visibility and political representation, and contribute to a larger sense of belonging.

Beyond the census, Taha wants to push for the MENA category at the state level, asking newly elected governor J.B. Pritzker, “How would you recognize the Arab American community? I mean, you came to us when you needed our votes.” Now, more than ever, her community needs to be counted.   

Sarah Conway contributed reporting.

This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.

More from Chicago Reader: NewscensusimmigrationMiddle Eastern and North AfricanMENAwhiteIraqSyriaLibya

NB: The top picture is of The Arab Weekly that touched on the subject of How significant is rejection of MENA category from the 2020 US census? back in March 2018. MENA-Forum published many articles on how immigrant populations are treated in their host countries.

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Algeria: distinguishing economic time from political time

Algeria: distinguishing economic time from political time

The new Law of Hydrocarbons in Algeria: distinguishing economic time from political time was enacted despite concurrent street demonstrations against it. It was debated at length by Professor Abderrahmane MEBTOUL, International Expert, in interviews to Radio Algeria International – Paris France on 04/11/2019, to Algerian Radio Channel-3 and to Radio France International on 05/11/2019. Here are some excerpts of each.

Algeria: distinguishing economic time from political time

Question – 1. Will Algeria with high domestic consumption be able to meet its international commitments?

Indeed, if we take natural gas, domestic consumption is likely to exceed 60 billion cubic meters of gas by 2030 and 100 billion cubic meters of gas between 2035/2040, the Ministry of Energy has announced the depletion of reserves would be at about 60%. An urgent need to review the current energy policy and move towards a clean energy transition policy that revolves around four axes, to meet its international commitments.

-First: an energy efficiency policy (energy sobriety) that affects all sectors and households by reviewing construction methods, cars/trucks fleet consumption, energy-intensive industrial units; the simple referring to a policy of targeted subsidies, but which do not penalize the disadvantaged, existing new technologies that save about 30% of energy consumption.

-Secondly: the development of renewable energies whose cost has fallen by more than 50% for both thermal and photovoltaics, where Algeria has significant potential.

-Thirdly: to continue to invest in upstream, which can make discoveries as part of a win-win partnership, SONATRACH with lower prices and physical production, which has dropped significantly since 2008, technological or financial capabilities, but no longer have to be deluded by large deposits like Hassi-Messaoud or Hassi-Ramel.

-Fourthly: avoid precipitation whilst developing SHALE oil and gas, Algeria having the third world reservoir, only by 2025, as I recommended to the authorities of the country, through this study with experts pending new technologies that replace hydraulic fracturing, saving freshwater and injecting more than 90% of the chemicals into wells, thus protecting the environment, but requiring in-depth social dialogue.

To answer your question directly, I highlighted the points at the 5 + 5 Meeting of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya with France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta in Marseille in June 2019. I had the honour of chairing the Energy Transition’s workshop in which the subject of a clean energy transition policy, and the modification by Algeria, a major energy player in the Mediterranean basin, as it has always done, to meet its international commitments by 2030.

Question – 2. Will the amendment of this law attract foreign investors?

Depending on several factors, such as:

-First: the revision of this law as I have pointed out since its enactment at the beginning of 2013 is unsuited to the current situation, in particular the tax component and the nature of the contracts in which Sonatrach supports the majority of the financing, the world having evolved from where the importance of its revision to take account of new global energy changes.

-Secondly: however, a law is only a legal instrument, being a necessary but sufficient condition of the attractiveness of foreign investment, where any company attracted by direct profit rate, and also as long as the level of foreign exchange reserves is high. Depending on the business environment where Algeria was in the latest report of the World Bank of 2019 was very poorly classified because of its paralyzing bureaucracy, corruption, financial and unsuitable socio-educational systems.

-Thirdly: the political climate is decisive, and according to international observers no serious investor would engage in Algeria without the resolution of the political crisis, political stability especially in a country like Algeria, where politics and economics are intertwined, being a determining factor in the attractiveness of a foreign investment.

-Fourthly: as I have just pointed out recently, to your colleagues on France 24 television, and several Algerian websites and daily newspapers, it would be desirable to postpone the adoption of this law after the presidential election. Only a president and a legitimate government can secure the future of the country where this resource, directly and indirectly, provides about 98% of the country’s foreign exchange resources. Some company executives fear that a new president would challenge this law, which would be passed by a transitional government, responsible for current affairs, while legal stability is a golden rule for all investor.

-Fifth: to answer this second question directly, the positive impact of this law would depend on the future global energy map, the entry of new producers and the sale price on the world market both of oil and gas returning at the cost of production in Algeria therefore to a new strategic management of SONATRACH and the impacts would not be felt only in three to four years, subject to the lifting of environmental constraints. Why this haste, which risks further sharpening social tensions in the run-up to the presidential election, thus possibly harming the voting turnout?

ademmebtoul@gmail.com 

Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation

Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation

Dhaka Tribune published on September 19th, 2019, this story on Saudization, job cuts leading to deportation of Bangladeshi workers by Kohinur Khyum Tithila that is definitely worth reading.

Saudi Arabian authorities opted some time ago for the whole and/or part nationalisation of its 9 million-strong manpower, kickstarted and still is going through a programme labelled Saudisation that recently ended up by excluding non-domestic contracting of governments jobs.

Saudisation, job cuts leading to Deportation
160 Bangladeshi workers have returned from Saudi Arabia yesterday amidst a crackdown on undocumented workers in the kingdom Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.

Jahangeer Hossain was heading to his factory along with other workers in a vehicle around 7:30 am in Riyadh on September 2 like every other day.

Soon, a police patrol car blocked their vehicle and detained them. It never occurred to him even in his dreams that he would be then kept at a Deportation Camp in the Saudi Arabian capital for 15 days without any knowledge of the future.

On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.

“I had a valid Iqama [work permit for foreign nationals] in Saudi Arabia. It’s still valid for three more months. I have no idea why I was arrested and sent back home,” said the man, who is currently at his village home in Jhenaidah.

He told Dhaka Tribune that about 120 to 150 people were kept in each room at the Deportation Camp.

Jahangeer has no idea how he is going to provide for his family now. On top of that, he still has to pay back Tk1 lakh (more than GB£945) he had taken in loans to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Jahangeer said he could not even ask the Riyadh police why he was being held because he was afraid of getting beaten.

He said an official of the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia visited the Deportation Camp, but he said he was not authorized to talk to them.

A total of 389 Bangladeshi workers like Jahangeer were sent back home by Saudi Arabia Arabian authorities in last three days following a crackdown on undocumented workers there.

Of them, 160 arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday night. Most of them complained that they were forced to return despite having valid documents.

What govt says

Government official and experts say the number of migrants is way more than the number of jobs over there, and the recent Saudization policy, officially known as Saudi nationalization scheme or Nitaqat, has led layoffs of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Rownak Jahan, secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told Dhaka Tribune: “We have asked the Bangladesh Embassy to Saudi Arabia to look into it.

“We will be able to comment after they give us a report on it. Our minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia. He will discuss this issue.”

She said migration does not remain static and recently Saudi Arabia is being very strict about undocumented migrants.

She told Dhaka tribune that more people are migrating to countries like Saudi Arabia for jobs. There are more jobseekers than vacancies, she said and added that sometimes migrants have valid papers but there are no jobs for them.

The Saudization policy of hiring Saudi nationals over migrant workers could be another reason because of which Bangladeshi migrants’ job contracts are not being renewed, the secretary added. 

She said every country has its own law and other countries cannot intervene in their internal issues.  

13,000 deported in 2019 alone

Shariful Hasan, the head of Brac’s Migration Program, told Dhaka Tribune that at least 13,000 Bangladeshi workers have so far been deported from Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

Some recruiting agencies and brokers are luring migrants saying they can go to Saudi Arabia with “free visa,” but there is no such thing, he said.

Shariful said the recruiting agencies and brokers are still sending people abroad without ensuring a secured job because the more they can send, the more money they will make.

As per the law, migrant workers are not allowed to work under any employer they want. They have to work under the employer they signed a contract with. If they leave the job and work under another employer, they will become undocumented.

Shariful recommended solving the problem bilaterally.

“Our embassy should ask the Saudi Arabian government why they are deporting Bangladeshi migrants [even though they had valid documents], and then they can work on the solution based on their response,” he said.

Marina Sultana, program director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said many Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are not being regularized and as a result, they are being deported.

She also pointed finger at Saudization for the layoffs and eventual deportation of the migrant workers. 

According to a Saudi Press Agency report, the Saudi authorities have so far arrested around 3.8 million foreigners as it continues the crackdown on labour and residency violations.

The latest figures indicate that 544,521 people have been arrested since early June.

A New Approach to Stalled State Transformations in Iraq and Yemen

A New Approach to Stalled State Transformations in Iraq and Yemen

Chatham House in this research paper titled Between Order and Chaos: A New Approach to Stalled State Transformations in Iraq and Yemen, Dr Renad Mansour, Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House (@renadmansour) and Peter Salisbury, Senior Consulting Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme (@peterjsalisbury) say that International policymakers have failed to stabilize states such as Iraq and Yemen, partially because of the assumed binary distinction between state failure and success. This paper advocates for a ‘middle–out’ approach that aims to strengthen the connectivity between the bureaucracy and de facto authorities.

The Summary of this paper dated 9 September 2019 is reproduced for all intents and purposes below and the paper can be read online or as a Download PDF (opens in new window)

  • In the Middle East and North Africa, a growing number of internationally recognized (de jure) states with formal borders and governments lack de facto statehood. Often, governance vacuums are filled by alternative actors that perform state-like functions in place of, or alongside, weakened official institutions. This results in hybrid orders where the distinction between formal and informal actors in the state is blurred, as too are the lines between the formal, informal and illicit economies.
  • International policymakers have struggled to establish political settlements in these contexts. Would-be state-builders have mistakenly assumed a binary distinction between state failure and success. They have sought to recreate an idealized archetype of the ‘orderly’ state, critically failing to recognize the more complex networks of de facto actors on the ground. At times, international policymakers pick or support leaders who lack local legitimacy, capability and power. This stalls and fragments ongoing organic state transformations, and produces hybrid orders as de facto actors adapt by both capturing state institutions and creating parallel ones.
  • We propose a new model for understanding the fragmentary transformations of the state underway in Iraq and Yemen. It involves the concept of a multi-layered state, consisting of the executive, the formal bureaucracy, the de facto authorities and society at large. The gap in legitimacy, capability and power between the middle two layers in this model – the formal bureaucracy and the de facto authorities – is a critical source of instability and an impediment to reform. Bridging that gap is thus the key to effective peacebuilding and/or state-building.
  •  This paper argues that all states lie along a chaos–order spectrum. No state is entirely chaotic or orderly. Even those that display many features of chaos – as in Iraq and Yemen – contain pockets of order that are all too often overlooked. The larger the gap between the formal bureaucracy and the de facto authorities, the more a state slides towards the chaos end of the spectrum. Effective state-building must find a way of institutionalizing improvised governance arrangements.
  •  To achieve this, we advocate a ‘middle–out’ approach that aims to strengthen the connective tissues between the bureaucracy and de facto authorities. Simplified, this more inclusive approach entails reframing international involvement as playing the role of a ‘referee’ to monitor the transformations of the state while enforcing accountability, as opposed to the practice of picking ‘winners’ and integrating unfavoured actors into unpopular political settlements.
Cross-border water planning key, report warns

Cross-border water planning key, report warns

In AFRICATECH of August 22, 2019; More deals, less conflict? Wondered Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation whilst Cross-border water planning key, report warns.

LONDON, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Efforts to share rivers, lakes, and aquifers that cross national boundaries are falling short, raising a growing risk of conflict as global water supplies run low, researchers warned on Thursday.

Fewer than one in three of the world’s transboundary rivers and lake basins and just nine of the 350 aquifers that straddle more than one country have cross-border management systems in place, according to a new index by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

With more than half the world’s population likely to live in water-scarce areas by 2050 and 40 percent dependent on transboundary water, that is a growing threat, said Matus Samel, a public policy consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Most transboundary basins are peaceful, but the trend is that we are seeing more and more tensions and conflict arising,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When work began on the index, which looks at five key river basins around the world from the Mekong to the Amazon, researchers thought they would see hints of future problems rather than current ones, Samel said.

Instead, they found water scarcity was becoming a “very urgent” issue, he said. “It surprised me personally the urgency of some of the situation some of these basins are facing.”

Population growth, climate change, economic and agricultural expansion and deforestation are all placing greater pressures on the world’s limited supplies of water, scientists say.

As competition grows, some regions have put in place relatively effective bodies to try to share water fairly, the Economist Intelligence Unit report said.

Despite worsening drought, the Senegal River basin, shared by West African nations including Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania, has held together a regional water-governance body that has attracted investment and support, Samel said.

Efforts to jointly govern the Sava River basin, which crosses many of the once warring nations of the former Yugoslavia in southeast Europe, have also been largely successful, he said.

But replicating that is likely to be “a huge challenge” in conflict-hit basins, such as along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq and Syria, Samel said.

Still, even in tough political situations, “there are ways … countries and local governments and others can work together to make sure conflicts do not emerge and do not escalate,” he said.

“The benefits of cooperation go way beyond direct access to drinking water,” he said. “It’s about creating trust and channels for communication that might not otherwise exist.”

‘NO EASY SOLUTIONS’

The report suggests national leaders make water security a priority now, link water policy to other national policies, from agriculture to trade, and put in place water-sharing institutions early.

“There are no easy solutions or universal solutions,” Samel warned. “But there are lessons regions and basins can learn and share.”

The index has yet to examine many hotspots, from the Nile River and Lake Chad in Africa to the Indus river system in India and Pakistan, but Samel said it would be expanded in coming years.

Working toward better shared water management is particularly crucial as climate change brings more drought, floods, and other water extremes, said Alan Nicol, who is based in Ethiopia for the International Water Management Institute.

“Knowing how a system works effectively helps you know what to do in the face of a massive drought or flood event – and we should expect more extreme weather,” he said.

While efforts to coordinate water policy with other national and regional policies and priorities are crucial, the key missing element in shoring up water security is political will, he said.

“We’ve been talking about this kind of integrated water management for 30 years,” he said. “The problem is practicing it. And that’s essentially a political problem.”

Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking, and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Muscat Daily on June 12, 2019, commented on Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA as “Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries.” Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA is not alone for Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE preceded it in the ranking.

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Oman has been ranked fourth among the MENA countries and 69th in the world on the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2019. Oman earned 1.953 points this year.

The report has been published by the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace. Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark.

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Bhutan has recorded the best improvement and is now the 15th most peaceful nation in the world. According to the report, Qatar made the next best improvement. Economic strains can increase the risk of unrest by fomenting internal divisions and civil and political unrest, the report stated.

According to the report, Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful. South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq comprise the remaining five least peaceful countries.

Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries. The regional average improved in all three GPI domains in 2019, with reductions in population displacement, political terror, terrorism, deaths from internal and external armed conflicts, military spending, and armed services personnel.

In the 2019 GPI, 86 countries improved while 76 countries deteriorated, with the global average GPI score improving by -0.09 per cent.
The 2019 GPI finds that the world became more peaceful for the first time in five years, with the average level of country peacefulness improving slightly by 0.09 per cent.

Of the 23 GPI indicators, eight recorded an improvement, 12 had a deterioration, with the remaining three indicators not registering any change over the past year.

This is the thirteenth edition of the GPI, which ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.