Stability and development

Policy Brief: The Drivers of Mixed Migration from the MENA region

Middle East
ISDC - International Security and Development Center

This is an output from a project that was part of the fifth Applied Research Fund (ARF) on mixed migration flows. The ARF is executed by NWO-WOTRO in close collaboration with the Platform. The call aims to strengthen the evidence-base for security and rule of law policies and programming, addressing the root causes, and the dynamics and consequences of mixed migration flows within and from fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Whilst spikes in asylum applications are often described as “crises” in the media, there is a lack of empirical evidence on the drivers of forced migration - both in terms on the decision to leave and which destinations to seek. In this project, these limitations were overcome by creating a novel dataset that tracks bilateral movements between each pair of particularly relevant origin and destination countries in two particular episodes of mixed migration – the Balkans Crisis from the mid-1990s and the current “European Migrant Crisis”.

The research finds that conflict in the origin country is the main determinant of forced migration but that movements respond to specific short-term spikes, rather than accumulated violence. The analysis also shows that network effects drive selection into destination countries, while economic variables, apart from employment opportunities, play no role. Development expenditures, in origin and transit countries, do not influence migration patterns. 

The findings suggest that policy should be focused on preventing spikes in violence in the first instance, while development aid is an ineffective tool to mitigate migration flows. More so, they suggest that European governments seeking more equitable distribution of refugees should seek cross-national commitments only for the first wave of migration, rather than on-going commitments, which are likely more difficult to negotiate. The network effects we expose suggest this initial distribution will be naturally reinforced in subsequent periods, as people prefer to move to countries where they have larger networks, rather than richer economies.


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