Refugee crisis: 'Economic migrants' and asylum seekers are coming to Europe for the same reasons, report says

The Overseas Development Institute said the division is too simplistic to describe people's motives

Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 19 December 2015 13:31
A family reacts after arriving, with other refugees and migrants, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on October 28, 2015,
A family reacts after arriving, with other refugees and migrants, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on October 28, 2015,

Despite the British Government's efforts to distinguish between “genuine” refugees and economic migrants, a report has found that the motivations for both groups to risk their lives in desperate attempts to reach Europe are often very similar.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) , a UK-based independent think tank urged European leaders to develop a broader understanding of what causes people to migrate in order to respond to the current crisis.

Its Why People Move report said: “The evidence reveals that the asylum-seekers and economic migrants often have similar reasons for choosing to make the dangerous journey to Europe and one person may fall into both of these categories at the same time.

As winter approaches, EU needs to act fast on refugee crisis

“One common and crucial motivation is their search for a secure livelihood. Measures that aim to allow asylum seekers in, while restricting the entry of economic migrants, overlook the reasons why a particular person migrates, and are likely to increase irregular migration still further as migrants seek alternative – and often more dangerous – ways to reach European countries.”

That analysis is not shared by the UK Government, which has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees from United Nations camps bordering the country, rather than those who have already journeyed into Europe.

Of the more than 950,000 asylum seekers and migrants who have arrived on the continent so far this year, just under a half are Syrian according to figures from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR).

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and persecution in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea are excluded from the UK's policy, as is anyone deemed an "economic migrant".

David Cameron emphasised the distinction when he increased the UK's quota in response to public pressure in September.

The UK has seen numerous protests both for and against resettling refugees

“For those economic migrants seeking a better life, we will continue to work to break the link between getting on a boat and getting settlement in Europe, discouraging those who don’t have a genuine claim from embarking on these perilous and sometimes lethal journeys,” the Prime Minister said.

“For those genuine refugees fleeing civil war, we will act with compassion and continue to provide sanctuary.”

The ODI's report said that although safety and a better life are often cited as separate motives for migrants, that they usually cross over.

A general view of a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin, Germany

“One person’s motives may change in nature and in importance during their journey, suggesting that categorising individuals as ‘economic migrants’ or ‘asylum-seekers’ does not reflect the complex and fluid reality of people’s experience of migration,” it concluded.

Numerous right-wing politicians have claimed that many of those arriving in Europe are attracted by countries' welfare policies and economies but the ODI argued that neither had a significant impact on people's decision to leave their home countries.

“A person’s need to leave their home – or flee from it in the face of extreme danger – is likely to be far more important to their decision to migrate than the lure of another country’s welfare,” it said.

However, the policies and rules of different destination countries, such as Germany's unlimited invitation to Syrian refugees earlier this year, was found to influence subsequent decisions.

The ODI's report said another factor contributing to the phenomenal rise in irregular migration is the growing “professionalisation” of people smugglers driving migrants through the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

A greater availability of information on the internet and the use of social media was also said to facilitate movement, with a “culture of migration” forming and being reinforced by existing networks.

Despite the onset of winter and tightening of borders in Hungary and other nations making the journey into Europe ever more difficult, the influx of people continues, with arrivals forecast to pass 1 million this year.

The crisis, as well as the unrelated threat of Isis terror attacks, have prompted tighter broder security throughout the European Union but the ODI fears this will only force asylum seekers to resort to increasingly desperate measures.

“There is strong evidence that while tightening border security may change migration routes, and often results in more people making more dangerous journeys, migration policies are unlikely to influence the actual number of people migrating,” the report said.

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