Submitted by Ariane Gemander on Thu, 04/04/2019 - 11:02

The Centre for European Policies Studies organized a conference on the 28th of March to present a new study led by Cevat Giray Aksoy (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and Panu Poutvaara (ifo Institute), along with CEPS. This study strives to better define and depict the socio-demographic characteristics of refugees and “economic migrants” migrating to Europe through the central and eastern mediterranean routes, from Africa and the Middle East. The study is founded on a poll distributed to through the IOM at checkpoints along the migration pathway between 2015 and 2018. There were around 19 000 refugees and “economic migrants” coming from 19 nationalities that were polled.

Building off of past studies, Aksoy and Poutvaara provide further insights into the factors influencing migrant self-selection, and strive to fill the gap in systematic analysis on the self-selection of refugees from multiple countries of origin into multiple destinations. Building on the established model by Borjas (1987), that strove to anticipate migrant destination flows, Aksoy and Poutvaara also included influencing factors related to risks of persecution in the home country and the risks along the migration pathways. By distinguishing between no conflict, minor conflict and major conflict sending countries, as established by battle-related deaths measured by Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), this study also attempts to further clarify the profiles and factors affecting the decision making process of both refugees and “economic migrants”. 

However, some academics have put into question this traditional classification between "refugees" and "economic migrants". This distinction is central to the discourses and practices surrounding migration management in the European Union and its Member States, as it determines the applicable law and the rights individuals will get or not depending on their "refugee" or "economic migrant" status.

Indeed, Professor François Gemenne, a Belgian academic expert in migratory inflows, explains that this distinction is "largely artificial", because "people don't migrate for one single reason. Their journey sometimes lasts several years, and they pass from one country to another for different reasons." In that sense, it is claimed that individual migration causes are generally so complex and plural that the classical dual classification is not able to address the contemporary migratory issues and pathways.

The findings of this study showed that one aspect has remained relatively consistent. Of the respondents the trend showed that, in general, young, single males are more likely to migrate. A further significant result was that 77% of the polled persons coming from major conflict countries (Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia…) declared they had migrated for conflict or persecution reasons. On the contrary, a majority of migrants coming from minor or no conflict countries (Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan…) declared they had migrated for economic reasons. More generally, it was claimed that a majority (63%) of both refugees and economic migrants had a job in their origin country before migrating.

Refugees coming from major conflict countries (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan) are more educated compared to the national average : a vast majority of them are highly educated refugees (tertiary or secondary education). Indeed, where they are subjected to persecutions and discrimination, their education can become totally useless. Yet, the more they are educated, the more the probability there is that they will  have the financial means to migrate. For both refugees and “economic migrants” with a low education level, there is a tendency to go where the unemployment rate is lower and where integration is generally better. There was a majority of women migrating from minor or no conflict countries that were found to have received tertiary education : implying that their reason for migrating may be due to discrimination in the labour market and lack of economic integration in their origin country.

While there are many interesting points to be discussed, the researchers focused on one other main factor throughout their analysis. The restrictive borders control policies implemented by European countries (notably Hungary, Poland, Austria, Sweden) were shown to have had a significant impact on the intended destination plan of migrants along the migration pathway. This insight is vital for the continuing discussion of migration management, and particularly border management, in Europe. 

This study will be able to contribute needed facts to the debates and discussions surrounding predicting migration movement and pathways in this modern landscape. In closing, the researchers were able to highlight a few key points to be held in mind as migration policy continues to evolve. When looking at how Europe’s decisions on migration management may affect Europe itself, they cautioned that further regulation of border patrol policies may alter, and ultimately reshape, the Schengen system. 

For the future, it must be kept in mind that many highly educated refugees are leaving the countries where major conflicts takes place. This deeply undermines future prospects for rebuilding after conflict ends. The Syria example is truly illustrative, as the conflict was recently declared to be over, after almost eight years of hard conflict and destruction. 
It will be interesting to see how the recognition of refugees adapts after this development in Syria. Over the course of this study the researchers also observed that Syrian individuals are found  to receive refugee status more often than those from other major conflict countries, namely Afghanistan and Iraq.

In closing, the researchers of this study insisted on the importance of considering young educated migrants or refugees as a solution to address the issue of European countries ageing population. Through that perspective, integration processes should include education and formation policies which should be more adapted to individual skills and educational background of refugees.