Libyans protest in April against Moamar Gadhafi in Al Bayda, Libya, amid intense fighting and interventions from the United Nations forces. Maurizio Gambarini / DPA /

The news: Since January, pro-democracy protests have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, captivating the world’s attention.

Behind the news: During the past decade, the number of immigrants from “Near East” countries in Illinois climbed 18 percent, from 35,700 to 42,200, but it decreased slightly in Chicago from 12,700 to 12,160.

Of 19 countries around the Mediterranean Sea that are considered Near East by the U.S. Department of State, census data captured a sizable population of foreign-borns only from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in 2000 and 2009.

Iraqis, the largest group of Near Eastern immigrants in Illinois, saw an extensive shift in their population between 2000 and 2009. Their number fell by 40 percent, from 5,100 to 3,000, in Chicago but increased by 7 percent to 10,300 statewide.

The increase in Near Eastern immigrants statewide is likely a result of suburbanization, said Louise Cainkar, a sociologist who has written extensively on Arab Americans and immigrant integration at Marquette University.

“The majority of Middle Easterners are middle class and above and have been living in the suburbs for decades,” Cainkar said. “This pattern has increased over the past 10 years.”

Ed Silverman, refugee coordinator for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said the state has received more than 3,000 Iraqi refugees from late 2007 to 2010. He said the Reporter’s numbers could point to the way newer refugees have been resettled.

“Unlike previous movements, in which the bulk of refugees came to Chicago proper, [newer] refugees are going to places like DuPage County and Kane County as a result of family reunification,” he said.