The Migration crisis has been an issue as well as an upheaval for European societies. While several measures have been undertaken to provide an appropriate solution, EU’s engagement to deal with it was not enough to prevent the burst of fear and repulsion throughout Europe. Besides, the lack of information deepened the pre-existing misperceptions and enhanced the distorted understanding of migration processes. In an attempt to offset this trend, we aim to bring clarity to the subject by providing objective facts, evidences and information, so that opinions can be built on more reliable grounds. To do so, the first step is to acknowledge migration as a deeply complex phenomenon, on which no simplistic statement shall be too quickly established. In our article, we first reveal the complexity to distinguish between forced and voluntary migration. Secondly, we investigate different ways to analyse the drivers of migration. In another step, we focus on the factors which entail direct effects on migration decision. Furthermore, there is a range of several factors that shape migration through complex ties and causality.

2015, Europe’s Great Migration Crisis[1]
sparked the light on the burning issue of (im)migration. The crisis reached
its peak in 2015 and 2016, when 2.5 million people demanded asylum in the
European Union (EU)[2],
while 2.5 million people were found to be illegally present in the EU [3].

burst of mass immigration within the last years provoked intense debates on
the topic and its consequences, being one of the most important issues
worldwide. For instance, the EU implemented a European Migration Agenda in
in order to address the rising issues which aimed at preventing irregular
migration; saving lives by securing the immigration process; and providing a
coherent framework to ensure a clear management of asylum seekers’
Global actions have been undertaken as well, especially with the New York
Declaration for Refugees and Migrants aiming to acknowledge the States’
responsibility regarding the migration phenomenon[6].
This ended up with the intergovernmental conference on international migration
held in Morocco in December 2018. It led to the Global Compact for Migration,
which was adopted later in December[7].

though the agreement is not legally binding, it has been widely disputed and
criticized, partially under false statements[8].
It has symbolized what the drivers of migration debates have been about :
misperceptions, fears and fake news. In Europe, fear has been stirred through
misleading statements[9],
even though some media outlets and academics keep trying to prevent news based
on fake information to spread[10].
Information is intensively disputed and is likely to represent a fundamental
issue to be handled in today’s society. Furthermore, an aversion to the
information intermediation has been disqualifying the so-called ‘experts’ point
of view[11],
reducing the ability to confront statements with facts and to go over
misleading intuitive understandings.

the several consequences that migration is supposedly inflicting to the host
countries is the cost it entails. The complexity regarding its comprehension
can be leading to (unintentional as well as intentional) wrong statements,
demonstrating what would represent a state’s burden[12].
For instance, illegitimate behaviors are pointed out through aids abuses, even
though main assumptions are debunked[13]
Migration’s impact on unemployment is also a burning issue on which political
stances diverge essentially[15].
Overall, the economic impact of migration remains blurred. Nevertheless, it is
neither the only nor the main aspect of the immigration issue and its
We have to keep in mind that a costs-benefits analysis may not be the unique
relevant lens through which the legitimacy of migration policies should be

public fear on immigration comes with acknowledging that migration is a fact
and understanding it in order to lift misperceptions and hearsays surrounding
the issue. In order to do so, in
our article, we will deal with its determinants,
i.e. the factors that motivate an individual or a group of people to move from
their home and to settle down elsewhere.

1.Considering migration: identifying migrants, analyse and limits

1.1. The problem of migrants’ identification

the asylum-seekers spike of 2015-2016 leads to a first and substantial issue,
as distinguishing migrants (between those forced to migration and those who
voluntarily did) appears to be a challenge that is hard to tackle.

migration deals with individuals applying for asylum, as defined in Art. 2(h)
of the EU’s Directive 2011/95/EU[18].
This definition includes those who request a refugee status or a subsidiary
protection status, regardless of whether the application was formulated on their
arrival at the border, or from inside the country, and irrespectively of
whether the person entered the territory legally (e.g. as a tourist) or
illegally. Therefore, it also includes people for whom the intention to apply
for international protection emerges “en route”, in transit countries, due to
emerging circumstances (e.g. political or economic insecurity, access to
information via networks).

strictly analyzing asylum-related migration appears to be quite complicated,
as requesting a refugee status might happen on the migration route. Even if a
refugee status applies to an individual who has a “well-founded fear of being
persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or
membership of a particular social group” ( Art. 2(d) of the EU’s Directive
2011/95/EU ), establishing who’s substantially forced to migrate and who is
not does not lay on clear evidence. In a recent paper, analysts examined
voluntariness in migration decisions and suggested that forced and voluntary
migration are understood better as points on a spectrum than as a dichotomy[19].Such blurred lines are particularly
evident in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where a study stated that
“there is often a complex and overlapping relationship between ‘forced’ and
‘economic’ drivers of migration to Europe. Many of those who left their home
countries primarily due to economic reasons effectively became refugees and
were forced to move due to the situation in Libya and elsewhere”[20].
Nevertheless, it is necessary to move beyond the legal definition to assess
the European Migration crisis, due to the nature of asylum migration flows to
Europe. With the consideration of the different source and nature of migrants,
the phenomenon can be referred to as “mixed migration”, meaning “complex
population movements including refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants and
other migrants” who often move
irregularly, i.e. without the requisite documentation[21].

migration does not necessarily obey to the willingness to migrate. According
to a survey conducted by Gallup World Poll, at a global level, 21.4% of the
surveyed population expresses willingness to migrate, but only 1.1% actually
prepares to do so.[22].

Figure 1 : Intentions to migrate by large geographic areas and income groups. Average for 2010-2015. Retrieved from ‘Grubanov-Boskovic, S. and Kalantaryan, S. (2018). ‘Trends and patterns of international migration and intentions to migrate’. JRC Science for policy report ‘international migration drivers’. Data source: authors’ elaboration based on Gallup World Poll

Determinants of migration

push-pull framework developed by Lee[23]
has been deeply influent in analysing migration movements. Lee’s theory of
migration suggested that in both areas of origin and destination, there may be
factors that act to hold, retain, or attract people (pull factors) or those
that repel people (push factors).

Push factors can include armed conflicts, natural disasters, the lack of job opportunities, the possession of economic and cultural capital, a family break up or dissatisfaction with one’s own life and surroundings. Pull factors can often be the polar opposites of the push factors, i.e. greater security, better job opportunities or the prospect of a better life overall[24].

Even though literature is abundant on migration analysis, it is rarely possible to single out a separate effect or cause to migration. Nevertheless, a relative agreement on the socio-economic dimension and the political one underlines their direct effect on migration. Besides, factors facing a relative divergence should ultimately be seen as factors whose relevance appears to be deeply interlinked with other variables at play, and whose significant impact may therefore be harder to isolate, therefore implying a more indirect impact on migration.[25]

However, push-pull factors undermine the individual motivations, assuming automated responses or passive reactions to the factors[26], and might set structural arguments unrelated to the complexity of human mobility. Even though such a framework can be useful to categorise the reasons that may prompt movement, it makes strong assumptions about the way individuals respond to stimuli. It presumes that individuals are rational, have access to full information, that markets tend to a general equilibrium, which is far from the reality of migration. As such, the model fails to explain why, for instance, people respond differently to the same “push” and “pull” forces, and why emigration and immigration occur simultaneously in the same areas, or why the vast majority of the world’s population does not migrate.[27]

In an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and reality, a closer attention is carried on individuals’ desires and aspirations. Aspiration and desire relate to individual cognition and emotion. It means that even economic narratives of movement are socially constructed and must be read with a close attention to the subjectivities of migrants, their states of feeling and the circulation of affect within and across borders.[28] Acknowledging aspiration and desire effects leads to reconsider “drivers“ as no longer a solely sufficient element to explain ; rather, they facilitate or constrain individual agency[29]. Bakewell once argued that “people do not aspire to migrate; they aspire to something which migration might help them achieve”[30].

2. Direct effect factors on migration decision

2.1. Socio-economic factors

economic opportunities can be understood as a strategy of income maximization.
Actual and expected wage differentials and differences in standards of living
between communities of origin and destination are consistently considered as
significant factors in shaping both internal and international human mobility.[31]
Studying the explanation of migration flows to Europe, from large sets of
countries, de Haas (2011) provides some empirical evidence on the income
differentials relevance[33].
Economic opportunities significance concerning migration is also highlighted
with the availability of employment opportunities in destination countries,
usually analyzed throughemployment
rates or economic growth, or the perceived difference in job opportunities
between origin and destination.[34]
The development level of the receiving country stems a direct relationship
regarding immigrants attraction, confirming the idea that wealthy
industrialized societies would be more attractive.[35]
At a macro-level, human mobility is shaped by the inherent characteristics of
global capitalist expansion, such as the structural demand for cheap and
exploitable labour in industrialised countries, coupled with social dynamics
(limited native labour supply or unwillingness of native workers to take on
low-paid, unstable jobs)[36].
Nevertheless, factors such as individual poverty constraints and economic
hardship may limit people’s ability to migrate even in the presence of a
desire to migrate, linked to expected higher earnings in the destination

Another theory developed by Borjas (1989), among others, relies on human capital which is the stock of skills that an individual or labour force possesses[38]. Therefore, this theory states that the migration decisions are shaped according to the expected lifetime return on the migration investment[39]. In this way, migration can be considered as a form of human capital investment where returns largely depend on a person’s location, as this will affect the ability of an individual to use his or her skills[40]. Family risk diversification and the possibility to obtain access to credit through incomes transferred by a migrant household member explain migration as well. Migration can therefore be explained as an investment strategy not only for an individual but for an entire household.[41] In a study concerning Afghan unaccompanied asylum seekers in the UK, for instance, Vervliet et al. (2014) found that the decision to migrate is often made with another family member.[42]

Figure 2 : Migrants interviews along different routes, asked “Did anyone encourage you to migrate?”, data collected by 4Mi, retrieved from Horwood, C., Forin, R. and Frouws, B. (2018). “Mixed Migration Review 2018. Highlights.Interviews. Essays. Data.”, Drivers revisited – Why do people migrate, pp. 78-83

aspirations, network and transition theories to the analysis provides further
keys for migration comprehension. Access to information about the standards of
living in the destination country, via formal and informal networks, eased by
the communication possibilities brought by technological developments, is an
instrument to shape individual aspirations[43].
The presence of various types of networks, potential as actual, migrants can
rely on as a source of information (at every stage of the journey), is as well
an important factor to shape migration intentions or facilitate and perpetuate
migratory movements[44].
Moreover, the size of previous networks along with the average income in the
receiving country is significantly relevant in predicting migration propensity[45].
Besides, as highlighted by the Overseas Development Institute assessment of
drivers of asylum-related migration to Europe (2015), irregular migration
might emerge as the result of a collective effort made by networks in which
the family and  social and religious
groups, helped by the use of social media, play an important role in shaping
the timing and circumstances of individual movement[46].

Figure 3 : Migrants interviews along different routes, asked about their destination choice, data collected by 4Mi, retrieved from Horwood, C., Forin, R. and Frouws, B. (2018). “Mixed Migration Review 2018. Highlights.Interviews. Essays. Data.”, Drivers revisited – Why do people migrate, pp. 78-83

consecutive to migration transition theories, economic and technological
development may describe accurately the increasing outward international
mobility, as we consider the transition from rural and agrarian societies
towards urban and industrial ones. The theory and its evidences state that
higher economic and human capital development are initially associated to
higher levels of emigration, as capital accumulation and modernisation
increases people financial resources and aspirations to emigrate[47].
Nevertheless, the theory also argues that emigration decreases with the growth
in prosperity and development[48].

Figure 4: Association between levels of development and migration patterns, de Haas 2010

2.2.Political factors

migration goes along with acknowledging the relevance of political factors[49].
At the end of 2016, there were a total of 22.5 million refugees, the highest
on record[50].
Nonetheless, the socio-economic dimension appears as a catalyst for asylum-seeking
migration rather than its main driver. Conclusions over political factors
analysis generally converge to the importance of conflict, violence, (real or
perceived) threats to personal security, political instability, and human
rights abuses as determinant of migratory movements[51].
However, and it rather be kept in mind, asylum-seeking specific analysis
contains several restrictions which harden the distinction with economic

variety of categorisations for violence in different contexts can be used to
conduct analysis, ranging from dissident violence versus state-sponsored
violence, actual violent events, ethnic rebellion, and generalised violence.
The geographical scope and intensity of the conflict in the same context of
generalised violence shape asylum applications drivers, as shown by Migali
Furthermore, the experience of continued violence in Syria increases the
probability that a refugee would aspire to permanently settle in another
Nevertheless, it is quite difficult to single out one specific factor as
phenomenons are complex and factors are intertwined.

separating the political from the economic dimension in analysis of forced and
irregular migration processes appears to be rather difficult : a conflict may
be a far more relevant determinant of irregular migration than economic
hardship when the two are analysed in conjunction[55].
Correlations between various factors acting in countries of origin, transit,
and destination make it difficult to isolate the role of independent drivers.
Indeed, conflict, generalised violence and political instability impact
people’s economic security while underdevelopment may be a crucial factor in
the increased likelihood of conflict[56].
Both socio-economic and political factors happen to be deeply intertwined in
certain situations, thereby demonstrating how migration results more from a
combination of the two factors rather than just one. Therefore, it is
meaningless to set a clear line between forced and economic migrants as argued
in the Overseas Development Institute 2015 report, focusing on the case of the
recent increase in irregular migration flows to Europe[57].
In this situation, migrants seem to be driven by a combination of conflicts,
political instability, and economic insecurity. Besides, as routes vary
between individuals, motivations can change during the often long and
convoluted journey to Europe, depending on the conditions encountered in
transit countries as well as the migration policies in place in transit and destination
countries. For instance, individuals on the route from the Horn of Africa
towards Yemen and Saudi Arabia are primarily moving for economic reasons (90.4
per cent), while those moving from the Horn towards North Africa and Europe
are also moving because of a lack of rights (See Figure 5).

Figure 5: Migrants interviews along different routes, data collected by 4Mi, retrieved from Horwood, C., Forin, R. and Frouws, B. (2018). “Mixed Migration Review 2018. Highlights.Interviews. Essays. Data.”, Drivers revisited – Why do people migrate, pp. 78-83

3. Disputed causality between factors and migration

3.1 Demographic factors

though demographic changes happen to be identified as a major structural
determinant of human mobility, its influence might impact migration throughout
the pressure it put on other factors, such as economic growth and availability
of employment opportunities in origin countries or migration policies in
destination countries. As population variables both affect and are affected by
migration patterns, quantifying the impact of demographic factors on migration
might be challenging.

Population growth, total fertility rates, and population density or size are indicators that might translate the demographic pressure on human mobility. Even though these points are proven in his analysis on immigration population in the United States (US), Kritz (2001) does not find a linear relationship between migration and population growth, as migrants in the US are more likely to originate in countries with moderate population growth rates[58]. Furthermore, the effect of demographic pressure is largely influenced by economic prospects (employment opportunities) in origin countries rather than bearing a direct causality[59]. This would explain why high population growth is not associated with an increase in emigration rates from the fast-growing Gulf states, and why, conversely, low fertility rates in stagnant economies in eastern Europe correspond with high emigration rates[60].

Demographic dynamics might bear better relevance when associated to migration transition theory, which links it to economic development : counterintuitively, high total fertility rates in countries of origin are associated with low emigration. The negative association between the total fertility rates and emigration means that a reduction in fertility is associated with an increase in emigration. This result can be explained by the fact that countries with relatively high fertility are generally those in the first phase of demographic transition and with lower socio-economic development. A decline in fertility is usually accompanied by increasing education levels and economic development. This, in turn allows more people to have the economic means to move to another country[61]. Therefore, debates on the eventual migration upcoming in Europe must take into account the necessity to combine demographic dynamics with economic development prospects. For instance, a debate over the consequences of the upcoming Sub-Saharan Africa’s demographic burst opposed Stephen Smith[62], an American academic and former journalist, to François Héran, a demographic academic. Whilst both agree on the population growth dynamic, their divergence lays on its associated economic development estimates, being a necessary condition to impact migration[63].

3.2. “Proximity”: historical, cultural and geographic factors

The impact of proximity indicators between origin and destination – be it historical (past colonial ties), cultural (linguistic similarities), and geographic (physical distance) – on migration patterns reveals a strong influence over it[64]. It does not represent a clear-cut factor as directly driving migration decision, but it rather potentially influence the destination decision.

Countries with a shared colonial past may have similar institutions and political ties that shape movement between the two. In general, language similarities appear as quite important factors in shaping the destination choice of asylum-seekers. Asylum flows may also be impacted by network influence, emerging from linguistic proximity language between a set of source countries and a destination country[65]. Furthermore, geographic proximity between origin and destination shapes the asylum destination choices[66]

considering past colonial relationships on migration flows, Mayda (2010) found
that it does not carry a relevant significance; besides common language also
appears to be insignificant. Wage and income differentials, demographic and
geographic factors, and changes in migration policies in destination countries
tend to minimize (or even offset) these factors when taken into account[67].
Regarding asylum-related flows, shared colonial history does not influence
movement towards the same destination country neither[68].   

3.3. Environmental factors

The man’s inability to cope with natural forces as a factor determining human mobility has been identified by Petersen[69] in 1958 as “primitive migration” or movement triggered by ecological pushes. However, climate change and environmental degradation might not directly impact human mobility but rather be mediated by intervening factors. For instance, Borderon et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review of 53 studies on environmental change and migration focusing on Africa, and found out that environmental change cannot be unequivocally presented as the sole driver of migration[70].

Measuring the specific impact of environmental change on migration is particularly challenging because such an impact is deeply intertwined with social, political and economic processes. The extent of forced displacement will also be largely dependent on the ability of affected individuals and communities to cope with or to adapt to the consequences of environmental stress, as well as the capacity of national governments to assist the affected communities[71]. Furthermore, climatic shocks and their impact on migration cannot be analyzed regardless to the political situation at stake. Climate change thus will not generate asylum-seeking everywhere but likely in a country undergoing political transformation where conflict represents a form of population discontent towards inefficient response of the government to climate impacts[72]. In another example, Afifi (2011) shows that environmental issues such as drought, soil degradation and deforestation significantly influence migration decisions in Niger as they aggravate economic insecurity[73].

climate change and its environmental consequences might be a relevant
lens to analyse the European Great Migration, throughout its impact on Syria.
Although there is not much statistical evidence of the link between climate
change and the conflict in Syria, the Syrian uprising provides a case study on
how climate change and drought play a role in emphasizing
the risk of conflict. During the period 2007–2010,
Syria experienced the worst drought likely to be caused by anthropogenic
climate change[74].
The devastating consequences of drought due to poor governance and
unsustainable agriculture and environmental policies consequently contributed
to political unrest in Syria [75].

Figure 6: Conceptual model of climate, conflict and migration, Abel et al. (2019)

3.4. Migration policy factors

Generally, restrictive migration policies in destination countries may increase the cost of international migration for prospective migrants, while more relaxed migration regimes can intervene in further attracting migrants to specific locations. Immigration quotas and migrant selectivity can represent measures belonging to restrictive migration policies, and they appear as an important intervening factor in conditioning net immigration rate into certain countries, acting as “a filter between the desire to migrate” and actual migration[76].

However, the effectiveness of national and multilateral measures to regulate forced migration is limited. Factors prompting people to leave their countries are more relevant than policy variables[77], and largely beyond destination countries’ control. The resilience shown by individuals who undertook migration decisions, despite the prevalence of abuses and the eventual barriers they met, is highlighted by their willingness to migrate again if they had to, even knowing what they know now.[78]

Furthermore, increasingly restrictive migration regimes, combined with the presence of entrepreneurial migrant smugglers, may produce greater numbers of migrants who fall into irregularity: in the presence of limited legal migration opportunities, migrants will increasingly resort to smugglers’ services[79], as “the global motivation for migration far exceeds the limited possibilities to cross borders”.[80]

4. Conclusion

migration has to come with acknowledging it as a fact generated by complex and
intertwined factors. The deep roots pertaining to human mobility shall bring
in everybody’s mind that it does not depend on a merely opportunistic
decision. A greater information dissemination is therefore necessary[81].

is influenced by factors that drive it directly as well as indirectly. Direct
drivers consist of socio-economic factors and political factors, with a
particular emphasis found on the latter. Indirect factors operate through
their action on the direct drivers but are not considered as solely causing
its initiation. Nevertheless, through their impact on direct factors, they
bear an important influential role and must not be neglected nor swiped away
while considering migration movements and their roots.

assessing migration drivers carries some limits. Uncertainties[82]
prevent us to draw clear lines over its future possibilities. For instance,
climate change even though its indirect nature concerning migration, might
appear as a game changer[83].
Furthermore, it neglects a moral approach while estimating some factors’ effects.
For instance, migration policies impact on migration does not state on whether
restrictive policies might lead to human disaster, as drownings in
Mediterranean sea[84].

this study aims at providing information and further reflection when questioning
“Why do people migrate?”. It may, nonetheless, not be sufficient to lift
doubts, fear and repulsion toward the migration phenomenon : a further
question may therefore arise on “How do migration impact the host country ?”

Geoffrey Lanau

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[60] (Ibid.)

[61] Migali, S. (2018)
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[62] Smith, S. (2017), La
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[80]  UNODC (2010) “A short introduction to
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