The role of policies in refugees’ migration decisions


Due to their geographical proximity to areas of conflict and instability, developing countries host most of the world’s refugees. Poor living conditions and the lack of opportunities to integrate economically and socially induce secondary migration from these countries, often through illegal and thus risky channels. To what extent can measures such as humanitarian and development assistance to these first-host countries or refugee resettlement schemes reduce the likelihood of irregular secondary migration? This question guided the discussions at the MEDAM Migration Seminar  “Journeys on hold: How policy influences the migration decisions” on July 5th, with Jessica Hagen-Zanker (Overseas Development Institute, London), Elizabeth Collet (Migration Policy Institute Europe, Brussels) and Tuba Birkan (KU Leuven). Referring to the ODI’s field work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, Ms Hagen-Zanker pointed out that while their basic needs are indeed satisfied, for many refugees the journey does not end in Ethiopia due to limited legal economic opportunities. This suggests that humanitarian assistance alone to the first countries of asylum is not sufficient to curb irregular migration. Besides, as Ms Collet emphasised, low confidence in the government of a host country and hence uncertainty about one’s long-term prospects increases a refugee’s motivation to migrate elsewhere. Ms Tuba warned of a possible increase in the number of irregular migrants following recent cutbacks in the US refugee resettlement programme.