Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

Chapters 2 › Unit 2: SCROLL DOWN FOR INSTRUCTIONS View instructions Hide instructions


`Start by reading this article and discuss in your journal how current official definitions of "migrants", "refugees" and "asylum seekers" are challenged by the on-going migration crisis at the South-East borders of Europe.

You can also see Unit 2.1 for more information about irregular migration in Mediterranean region, Unit 2.2 about EU norms on asylum seeking, and Unit 2.3 on the case of Syrian refugees.

Don't forget to have a look to what others have done in their journals!

The dictionary is not enought


Migrations represent one of the most challenging issue of recent years worldwide, due to the large number of people fleeing their homes looking for a better life.
In discussions on migrations, a basic distinction is made between asylum seekers/refugees and (voluntary) migrants. This labelling constitutes a common approach for both national and international legal instruments adopted to deal with this phenomenon. Albeit, as commonly happens with overlapping regulations, definitions are not always the same.
Usually the term ‘refugee’ refers to persons who are obliged to leave their country escaping war and violence or because they are at risk due to their political activity and/or their human rights are under threat. Documents label as ‘asylum seeker’ who is under the bureaucratic procedure to be recognised as refugee. Finally, the term ‘migrant’ – according to the ‘OIM Glossary on Migration’ - is a comprehensive word including “[…] all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned for reasons of “personal convenience” and without intervention of an external compelling factor. This term therefore applies to persons, and family members, moving to another country or region to better their material or social conditions and improve the prospect for themselves or their family.” The main international treaty on refugees is the Geneva Convention, signed in 1951. It is the basis in defining who is a refugee, his/her rights and the legal obligations of states. Other very relevant documents are the 1967 Protocol of the Convention, the Organization of African Union Convention (1969) and the Cartagena Declaration (1984).
Human international displacements have changed their shape in recent years. Indeed, in many cases people moving represent ‘mixed migrants’ flows composed by both ‘voluntary’ and ‘forced’ ones, and making a clear distinction among them is always hard. Moreover, nowadays persons flee their home due to ‘mixed reasons’, only sometimes covered by the Geneva Convention System and not. For this reason the traditional definition of ‘migrant’, deserving internationally guaranteed protection, is far to be fair. Nevertheless, international institutions (first of all UNHCR) and national states keep facing this phenomenon in a very formalistic way. Definitions are obviously crucial to regulate the reality, but current humanitarian crisis are very uneasy to approach in such a strict way, as many grey areas exist. It seems as an ‘old law’ is facing a new problem.
A very striking example of this shift is the ongoing 5 years long Syrian humanitarian crisis. In this situation, the European Union (EU) is showing to be unable to tackle the flows of persons coming from Turkey and Egypt. Many are the issues to solve. Firstly, the Dublin System seems to be unfair for bordering states like Italy and Greece, but the European solidarity principle seems to be neglected today. Secondly, the economic investment in the hosting system appears unsuitable to deal with such an increasing number of people looking for assistance. Lastly, and more importantly, a new, strong and long-term European new approach to the phenomenon is missing.

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