Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Anti-migration policies do not stop people making the decision to migrate to Europe – new report

Written by Jessica Hagen-Zanker, Richard Mallett

Press Release

European anti-migration policies have limited impact on a migrant’s decision to embark on dangerous, lengthy and expensive journeys in search of a better life, reveals new research from the Overseas Development Institute.

While leaders in EU member states attempt to put people off travelling through harsher policies, a new report by the UK’s leading development think-tank has found such attempts either fail to alter people’s thinking or merely divert flows to neighbour states.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with more than 50 migrants from Syria, Eritrea and Senegal, in four major European cities, researchers found people tend to make decisions based on information from “trusted” sources such as family and friends – rather than European governments.

As such, anti-migration messages and declarations of more severe policies do little to influence a migrant’s perceptions of the journey they are about to make and therefore overall migration flows to Europe.

Report co-author Jessica Hagen-Zanker, research fellow at the ODI, said: “Our research suggests that while individual EU member states may be able to shift the flow of migration on to their neighbours through deterrent measures such as putting up fences, using teargas and seizing assets, it does little to change the overall number of people coming to Europe.

“As one of the people we interviewed put it, ‘When one door shuts, another opens’.

“More often than not, the main effect of shutting down routes is to make journeys more difficult, risky and expensive which in turn means people are less able to support themselves once they arrive.”

The report, entitled “Journeys to Europe: the role of policy in migrant decision-making”, highlights the case of Abdu, 29, who arrived in the UK in 2015 after a year-long journey from Eritrea, including spending three months in Calais while trying to cross the Channel.

While a recent opinion poll suggested 64% of Londoners thought migrants in Calais want to come to Britain rather than stay in France because of its welfare system, Abdu says he is in the UK to work.

He said: "We’re not here for our whole life. No one wants to stay out of his country […] I’m not waiting for benefits, I’m not here for that. I want to help myself."

The report recommends European governments instead try to manage the situation better by reducing the human, economic and political cost of the current crisis and making the most of the social and economic benefits of migration.

Report co-author Richard Mallett, research officer at the ODI, added: “This report shows the deterrent policies used by European governments are unlikely to change people's minds about migrating.

“The only sensible response therefore is to manage migration flows better – by making journeys safer, creating a faster, fairer EU system and making the most of the benefits migration offers.”

Notes to editors

·         The report “Journeys to Europe: the role of policy in migrant decision-making” draws on data generated through 52 in-depth, semi-structured interviews carried out with (mostly irregular) Syrians, Eritrean and Senegalese respondents in four cities – London, Manchester, Berlin and Madrid – between July and October 2015

·         A YouGov poll published in August 2015 found 64% of Londoners thought migrants in Calais were seeking to travel to Britain rather than stay in France because Britain had a more generous welfare benefits system

·         Last year, more than 5,000 migrants died in transit around the world. Almost 4,000 of those were in the Mediterranean, making Europe the most dangerous destination for irregular migrants

·         In December the Overseas Development Institute published a Rapid Evidence Assessment looking at the causes of migration more broadly. The paper, “Why people move: understanding the drivers and trends of migration to Europe”, found asylum-seekers and economic migrants tend to make the decision to make the dangerous to journey to Europe for similar reasons