The economic roots of emigration may be traced to the increase of crop specialization during the 19th century and to the subsequent setbacks of the silk market toward the end of the century. Political incentives also existed, and many Lebanese left their country for Egypt (then under British rule) or the Americas at the turn of the century. After the mid-1960s, skilled Lebanese were attracted by economic opportunities in the Persian Gulf countries. Large numbers fled abroad, many of them to France, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf countries, during the civil war in 1975–76. In 1986, the Lebanese World Cultural Union estimated that some 13,300,000 persons of Lebanese extraction were living abroad, the largest numbers in Brazil, the United States, and Argentina.
Since the outbreak of war in 1975, internal migration has largely followed the pattern of hostilities, peaking in 1975/76 and again after the Israeli invasion of 1982. In 1993, the number of refugees in various parts of the country was estimated at over 600,000. As of April 1998, the UNHCR was helping to assist 3,191 refugees in Lebanon, including 1,990 Iraqis, 550 Afghans, 284 Sudanese, 152 Somalis, and 250 refugees from various other countries. Also in 1998, there were more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees who had asylum in Lebanon, where they were assisted by UNRWA. In 2000, the net migration rate was4.8 per 1,000 population, down from 12.1 per thousand in 1990. There were 634,000 migrants in Lebanon in 2000, including 382,700 refugees. The government views the migration levels as too high.