Framing the Global Compact for Migration Narrative: Acknowledging the complexities of categorisation

The Mixed Migration Platform (MMP) participated in the first of the Informal Thematic Sessions[1] in preparation for the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration from 8-9 May at the UN Office at Geneva. In attending, MMP’s intention was to play an active role in shaping the narrative of nascent discussions around focus areas for the compact guidelines, and in doing so consider the role of definitions, data and representation of marginalised migrant categories.

The session included thematic experts, UN rapporteurs, migration activists, lawyers and leading human rights defenders in the field of migration and protection across a range of entry points, including practical implementation of existing international norms, xenophobia, racism and discrimination, and social inclusion and cohesion of migrants in host communities. Several concerning narratives emerged throughout the discussions, including the tendency of certain member states to define regular versus irregular migration along very finite lines, and the apparent absence of political consensus to discuss existing categories of migrants and their subsequent entitlements under international law.

A common concern for panellists, though only raised by a few member states, was the continuing criminalisation and securitisation of irregular migration. This is paradoxical, given that under current frameworks of migration management, irregular migration remains one of the few viable options for vulnerable people to state a legitimate claim to protection. Jaya Ramji-Nogales illustrates the shortfalls of the “Refugee Law Paradigm”[2] by lamenting that vulnerabilities are only addressed according to country of origin, thereby limiting our recognition of the needs of people on the move to a narrow, purely humanitarian approach. Conversely, the majority of regular migration opportunities are linked (either indirectly or directly) to work. Migrants are quantified, therefore, on the basis of labour value versus the level of exposure to threat, conflict or persecution, in order to determine access. As a result, people on the move are consigned to one of two categories: the regular ‘labourer’ (defined by their economic contributions to society) and the ‘weak, vulnerable refugee’ (defined by their absolute lack of agency in mobility decisions). Despite the presentation of positive stories of social inclusion and steps towards more open immigration policy from many member states, by continuing to define access according to these two categories of eligibility, we are blind to both the needs and potential of a sizeable segment of the global migrant population: irregular migrants who do not fit into either group.

A pertinent civil society intervention on the second day of the consultations highlighted how the current one-directional migration narrative tends to favour policy development on the basis of South-North mobility, and that this therefore puts it in line with the political interests of policy makers in the destination and transit countries. If we are to truly “change the optic of migration”[3], mobility must be considered as a continuous multi-directional cycle that places all migrants in equitable standing within international legal conventions, regardless of geographical origin.

There is a need for a critical eye when it comes to definitions and the framing of migrant terminology, when defining the boundaries of who exactly these two compacts seek to address. One should ask: where is the space for irregular migration in the compacts’ strictly defined categories of “Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” and “Refugees”? Do these compacts simply reinforce the distinction between these two categories? This is something that has already been tackled by key actors in the field, including the recent Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration, Peter Sutherland, who warned against the common tendency of policy makers to frame refugees as “good” and irregular migrants as “bad”.[4] This conversation must be continued to ensure more flexible framing throughout the upcoming discussions around the regularity of migration. Jean-François Durieux, of the Refugee Law Initiative recently highlighted this grey area by calling for “clarity of purpose” in defining the legal nature of these compacts in the context of mass influx. He questions the coverage (and exclusions) of each compact using the following problem statement as a point of departure: ‘cross-border movements of people that are not regular, safe or orderly, and for whom shared responsibility has been lacking’.[5] Ben Lewis of the International Detention of Coalition likewise tackled this complexity during his panel by urging member states to avoid attempting to regularise all migration. He warned against the risk of this approach in further militarising migration management through the desire to control all movement[6]. Despite even the strongest of current and future efforts to provide alternatives to irregular migration, we must acknowledge that migration along irregular pathways is likely to continue to take place, in the absence of sufficient regular opportunities.

The OHCHR Principles and Guidelines, Supported by Practical Guidance, on the Human Rights Protection of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations[7] is a first attempt at protecting the human rights of migrants who fall outside of the conventional refugee category and sits in previously unchartered migration policy territory. The second of these principles lists the objective of “countering discrimination through promotion of “neutral terminology”[8]. As a research and advocacy platform, MMP interacts with civil society groups working directly with migrant communities, migration policy actors in both the Middle East and Europe, and migrants themselves. In light of that perspective, MMP stresses the need to approach these debates more holistically, in consideration of the potential existence of vulnerabilities for all migrants, each bearing specific and individual vulnerabilities, needs, but also strengths. We would like to engage UN member states and national policy makers on their framing of irregular migrants throughout the migration journey, within both compacts, as individuals that warrant our attention, and witness better efforts to tailor migration policy to recognise their existence, rather than exclude them.

[1] Following the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016, the UN General Assembly elected to set into motion a consultative process, in April 2017, to develop two independent compacts that will guide refugee and migration response: one for “Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, and the other exclusively for refugees. The objective of the consultation process for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is to create a platform for interaction between UN member states, international organisations, civil society and the private sector on key areas to be incorporated into a concrete set of measurable guidelines (the format of which is yet to be decided), prior to the intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018. The consultations for this compact will take place over the course of six Informal Thematic Sessions centred around specific migration themes from trafficking to human rights and labour mobility, amongst others. See for further information. The Refugee Compact will take shape according to thematic sessions and consultations conducted with UN member states and key stakeholders, using the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and its pilot countries as a mechanism through which to consolidate practical guidelines. See for further information.

[2] Ramji-Nogales, J. (2017). Moving Beyond the Refugee Law Paradigm. AJIL Unbound, 111, 8-12. doi:10.1017/aju.2017.9

[3] Secretary General of the International Coalition for Migration, 1st Thematic Session on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, UN Office at Geneva, 8-9 May 2017

[4] Sutherland, Peter (Feb, 2017). Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 May 2017].

[5] (2017). Too many migrants, or too many concepts? | Refugee Law Initiative Blog. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2017].

[6] Lewis, Ben, Advocacy Coordinator, International Detention Coalition, 1st Thematic Session on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, UN Office at Geneva, 8-9 May 2017

[7] OHCHR, (2017). Principles and guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations within large and/or mixed movements. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Why information matters

The need for accurate, useable and comprehensible information in mother-tongue languages

Clémence Finaz, Internews                                                                         Nada Ghandour-Demiri, Translators without Borders

Last week saw the first of six informal thematic consultations take place in Geneva under the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Over the next six months, the Mixed Migration Platform’s (MMP) seven partners will produce blog posts to coincide with the consultations due to take place in Geneva, New York and Vienna. The first thematic session sought to tackle the centrality of a human rights-based approach to migration policy, inviting UN delegations, civil society and the private sector to discuss its integration within the Compact consultation process. The second of three panels raised questions of social integration and cohesion of migrants, which this blog addresses, particularly regarding the importance of accurate and comprehensible information for those on the move – not only for protection but also for successful integration and inclusion from places of origin, to transit, and to countries of destination.

The migration situation in Greece illustrates how needs in a humanitarian crisis go far beyond food, water or accommodation. When migrants and refugees first arrive on the Greek shores, they often find themselves in an information vacuum.

Since mid-2015, access to information for refugees and migrants has been identified as an overarching gap in the response in Greece, a barrier that increases vulnerability, stress, and risk for those seeking protection. The needs have changed over time; since March 2016, the response has shifted from being an emergency to a protracted crisis. Many people have now been stuck in Greece for more than a year. Their information needs have changed but still remain acute, and many barriers still impede their access to the vital information they need.

Making decisions in a complex information environment where poor and confusing communications and inadequate provision of information in migrants’ languages is the norm

“The main problem here in Greece is the lack of information, nobody explains enough, many people lie, how can we get trustful information?” Iranian man, 49, Athens.

One of the characteristics of the current migration situation in Greece is that migrants and refugees come from a wide range of countries and ethnic groups, and, as a result, from highly diverse language groups where many dialects and accents are common.

Feedback from migrants and refugees clearly indicates that language and comprehension barriers are amongst the main obstacles to accessing vital information or services. The majority of the migrants and refugees interviewed by MMP partner Translators Without Borders said that they prefer to receive information in their mother tongue. However, this rarely occurs. Often the information is not translated into a language people can understand. For example, information is rarely translated into Kurmanji and Sorani, making it inaccessible to many Kurdish migrants and refugees. Furthermore, information is provided in formats that are not always readable and/or comprehensible. Some people do not know how to read, and therefore cannot access any of the written information provided to them. Sometimes, even if someone can read the information, it is presented in such a complex way (e.g. legal information on asylum procedures) that it is not easy to understand.

The main information needs of people involve clarity around registration and asylum procedures, and an ongoing, every day desire for improved information about access to services and options for accommodation or relocation.

In terms of uncertain and shifting registration and asylum procedures, migrants and refugees face long waits for decisions on their asylum or relocation cases, often not even knowing what steps or processes they need to take. This lack of control aggravates the situation and makes them restless and highly frustrated.

“We have no information here because nobody speaks French or our own local languages. So we have no clue about the different procedures” – Congolese man (26-35 yrs), Lesvos.

Meanwhile, as they wait, migrants and refugees navigating this context grow frustrated that humanitarian organisations are not communicating with them or are giving them confusing information, such as how long the asylum process will take, what the procedural delays are likely to be, and the eligibility criteria. This is made worse by language and comprehension barriers to accessing and understanding what little information is available. Poor or no internet access in some sites and the high price of data (for mobile phones) can exacerbate this, as accessing online information then becomes even more difficult.

The knock-on detrimental consequences for migrants and refugees

Please help us! We have no information on anything here, we have to depend on things we hear from others” – Afghan woman (18-25 yrs), Malakasa.

Access to reliable and accurate legal information is a prerequisite for people to cope with the uncertainty of their situation and to make informed decisions on next steps. Due to this shortage of reliable, easy-to-understand information, people tend to rely on word of mouth. The information gap is sometimes filled by other, less trustworthy sources, such as smugglers providing dubious information on migration routes, putting people at further risk.

The barrier is not just with official information, but also advice on day-to-day needs; miscommunication due to language barriers has many negative knock-on effects. Another major concern reported was the difficulty in communicating with medical staff at hospitals. An interpreter may be needed for doctor appointments, but it can take days or even weeks to find one. Some migrants and refugees have reported this, which leads to delays in necessary treatment, with significant health consequences.

“The doctors only speak Greek and English and many of us only speak Arabic. This lack of communication hinders proper treatment and full understanding” – Syrian Kurdish man (36- 49 yrs), Ritsona.

In other interactions with the host community, such as with staff at public institutions, teachers in schools or civil servants at the Greek Asylum Service, there is often misunderstanding or misconceptions. Language barriers can exacerbate the sense of being treated disrespectfully, whether this is intentional or not. The lack of local language learning opportunities also affects a sense of acceptance from the host community, with negative consequences for social inclusion and prospects for better integration into Greek society.

What to do? Encouraging policy makers to recognise the need for better communication with communities and the use of comprehensible information as an integration enabler

Overall, people reported that a sense of uncertainty is preventing them from moving ahead with their lives. The lack of communication and information on the procedures and duration of the asylum application process is seen as a huge source of frustration and desperation for migrants and refugees. To address this problem, MMP partners Internews and Translators without Borders produce daily, fact-based, useful, migrant and refugee-focused information for the affected populations, which is translated into at least four languages and made available both on and offline.

As there is uncertainty around the future of the response and the continued presence of INGOs in Greece, considering the information and communication needs of migrants and refugees is vitally important. Greater efforts must be placed by all actors in recognising the multiplicity of these information needs, including a demand for both face-to-face and online channels for communication. Policy makers, in particular, must further recognise the importance of easily-accessible and comprehensible information for supporting the well-being and aiding the integration of both migrants and refugees. If we are to ensure modern humanitarian response for migrants and refugees remains effective and relevant to current-day communication trends and patterns of movement, it must place the diverse information needs of people on the move at its centre.

What to read on mixed migration: March 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

    • REACH in collaboration with MMP has produced a new research report entitled ‘Separated Families: who stays, who goes, and why?.


    • A new two-part feature article published by MMP addresses the displacement trends and protection needs of Somali, Sudanese, and Yemeni refugees and other migrants in Jordan (click here to access Parts I and II).


    • UNHCR has mapped the spread of border fences and internal border controls in European countries, pointing out border fences in six European countries including Bulgaria, FYROM, Greece, Hungary, France, and Spain.


    • In a March report entitled ‘A Tide of Self-Harm and Depression’, Save the Children details the repercussions of the EU-Turkey Agreement on the more than 5,000 children living in ‘detention-like facilities’ in Greece.


    • IOM has released the results of its global research project, MECLEP (Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy), in a report entitled ‘Making Mobility Work for Adaptation to Environmental Changes’.


    • In a recent photo series, The Washington Post documents the lives and experiences of Syrians in Turkey. The photos span four years and were captured by photographer Emin Ozmen.


    • In early March, Refugees Deeply published an in-depth article about the failures of ‘the most expensive humanitarian response in history’.


    • ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group has released a new working paper addressing the lack of humanitarian access in Syria.


    • A joint brief from IRC, Save the Children, and nine other organisations focuses on the situation of unaccompanied and separated children in Bulgaria, FYROM, Serbia, and Croatia.


    • The Project on Middle East Political Science has compiled and published a collection of workshop reports addressing the effects of migration and displacement in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as analysis with a focus on Europe.


    • IOM and DGMM have released the findings of surveys conducted between November 2016 and January 2017 with more than 2,000 refugees and other migrants in Turkey.


    • The New Arrivals Project brings together four major European newspapers (the Guardian, Le Monde, El País, and Spiegel) to tell the integration stories of newly arrived communities in their respective countries over a period of 18 months.


    • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi (Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative) reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.


This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for March 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.

Who are the ‘others’? Mixed migration on the Eastern Mediterranean route

According to UNHCR figures some 1,089 people arrived to Greece by sea in February 2017. This marks a significant decrease from the more than 57,000 arrivals reported in February 2016 on the Eastern Mediterranean route.

The proportion of Syrians using this route is similarly declining in comparison to other nationalities arriving in Greece. In 2015, Syrians made up 56% of the 856,723 refugees and other migrants who arrived by boat in Greece, while in 2016 they comprised 47% of the 173,450 person total for that year. The numbers continued to decline in 2017, and as of February, Syrians made up only 40% of total arrivals (2,482 people) in Greece.

Meanwhile, the category of ‘others’ represented only 16.1% of total arrivals in Greece in September 2016, according to UNHCR’s Greece Data Snapshots. Yet by the first two months of 2017, 37% of arrivals in Greece were attributed to ‘other’ nationalities (i.e. not Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, or Algerian).[1]

Source: UNHCR Operational Portal: Mediterranean Situation – Greece (Greece Data Snapshots)

As the proportion of Syrians has declined, the category of ‘others’ has been increasing: but who are these others?

In its publicly released data, UNHCR indicates a category of ‘other’ non-specified nationalities that includes all nationals of countries other than Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Algeria.[2] [3] The Turkish Coast Guard lists Syrian, Congolese, Pakistani, Afghan, Cameroonian, Eritrean, Malian, Turkish, Iranian, and Iraqi as the top apprehended nationalities in February, while IOM figures for January, indicate the top five nationalities arriving by sea in Greece were Syrian, Algerian, Congolese, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti. These sources give us an indication of the various nationalities that may be arriving in Greece, but the category of ‘other’ remains opaque.

The increasing proportion of ‘other’ nationals received by Greece reflects the shifting nature and mixed usage of the Eastern Mediterranean Route. Limited information about these ‘other’ groups make trends difficult to discern, particularly as the movements of some nationalities along this route may be more sporadic than others. For example, while the number of Pakistanis arriving in Greece dropped by nearly 83% between December and January, and Algerian arrivals dropped by 80% between January and February, other nationalities are using this route more frequently. For example the number of Turkish nationals claiming asylum in Greece has been on the rise since an attempted coup in July, with some 236 individuals reportedly claiming asylum in Greece between July and February. IOM’s report that people from Republic of Congo were the third largest group of arrivals in January may similarly indicate a growing trend in this nationality’s usage of the Eastern Mediterranean Route, though limited data make such a trend difficult to confirm.

The demographic breakdown, particularly by nationality, of those arriving by sea in Greece is shifting from month to month. This means that the protection needs and vulnerabilities of the arriving population are shifting too. If we are to better tailor humanitarian responses to the specific needs of vulnerable groups, organisations and agencies tasked with monitoring and registering arrivals need to better differentiate who is who in mixed migration flows. The category of ‘others’ is not enough.

For more information on this and other mixed migration issues in the Middle East, please access MMP’s February Mixed Migration Summary (available here).



[1] These figures are slightly different from those represented  on the main page of UNHCR’s operational portal for Greece which reports on arrivals from Iran, but not Algeria, though the portal similarly indicates that ‘other’ groups comprised 36% of sea arrivals in Greece in January and February.

[2] Though Iran is included on the main page of the UNHCR Operational Portal: Mediterranean Situation – Greece.

[3] Some figures are available for a small number of Somali and Eritrean arrivals in 2015 though not in 2016 or 2017.


What to read on mixed migration: February 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

  • The Danish Refugee Council in Turkey has released a new synthesis of migration trends in and around Turkey in 2016 and 2017. The report highlights key mixed migration trends in Turkey, including border controls, apprehensions, returns, trafficking, smuggling, and protection concerns.
  • In a new report entitled ‘The Lives and Livelihoods of Syrian Refugees’, the Overseas Development Institute presents the perspectives of refugees in Turkey and Jordan, as well as their institutional environment, to better understand the lives of Syrians living outside of camps in these two countries.
  • Refugees International has released a new study examining the challenges faced by non-Syrian refugees in Turkey particularly around lack of assistance, housing, health, livelihoods and durable solutions.
  • New research from the Refugee Rights Data Project seeks to fill the data gaps relating to refugees and other migrants in Greece.
  • A recent Amnesty International publication critically examines the human rights impact of the EU-Turkey Agreement. Also in February, Amnesty International published its 2016/2017 International Report on the state of the world’s human rights.
  • In a February mini-feature, Forced Migration Review presents four new articles highlighting the risks of deportation and the need for independent post-deportation monitoring. The final article focuses specifically on returns under the EU-Turkey Agreement.
  • A recent article in The Conversation describes a global hierarchy in which Afghans have become ‘second-class asylum seekers’ compared to Syrians, Iraqis, and other groups.
  • A February report from Refugees Deeply outlines the difficulties that come with trying to estimate the number of deaths that have occurred on the Mediterranean, particularly due to the lack of official records by European authorities at the continent’s borders.
  • AIDA, the Asylum Information Database, published its 2016 country reports for Bulgaria and Belgium in February. These reports, along with those for twenty other European countries, document asylum procedures, detention, conditions, and current protection situations.
  • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi (Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative) reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.

This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for February 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.


Acknowledging failure along with success

A year of returning inadmissible asylum seekers under the EU-Turkey Statement

“The Statement is producing tangible results, despite the challenging circumstances,” according to the European Commission’s Fifth Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, published on 2 March 2017. The third and fourth reports, dated September and December 2016 respectively, first “chartered” and then “confirmed” the “trend of a steady delivery of results, albeit in the face of many challenges.” Initial March and April 2016 reports pinpointed the Statement as a “decisive” moment, and claimed that “the sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into Greece is proof of the Statement’s effectiveness.”

The rhetoric of success is consistent and unmistakable. Satisfied that the implementation of the Statement is correlated, if not causally linked, with a reduction in arrivals by and fatalities at sea, the EU has heralded the Statement as its solution to the migration “crisis” in Europe.

Less vocal, however, has been the Commission’s recognition of the Statement’s failures, in particular the return of inadmissible asylum seekers. As of 2 March 2017, the number of people returned to Turkey “under the EU-Turkey Statement” is reported to be 916, well below target and disproportionate to the 3,622 people resettled to the EU from Turkey under what was envisaged as a 1:1 return-to-resettlement ratio. While the slow pace of returns is acknowledged as a challenge, the specific failure of the admissibility procedures – a key reason why returns have been so limited – has been inadequately addressed.

Returns “under” the EU-Turkey Statement

Returns carried out “under” or “in the framework of” the EU-Turkey Statement, as they are repeatedly referred to, should describe those returns that would not have otherwise occurred but for the Statement. Since returns were ongoing before and after the Statement under the Greece-Turkey bilateral readmission agreement, something, by definition, should be unique about returns “under” the Statement.

As announced in March 2016 and reiterated in each subsequent implementation report, “the Statement provides for the return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers, whose applications have been declared inadmissible or unfounded, crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands after 20 March.” An unfounded application is one that has been rejected on its merits; that is, because the applicant is not deemed to be in need of international protection. But this is not unique or new because of the Statement: under pre-existing EU and Greek rules and obligations, all asylum seekers were entitled to a first instance decision on the merits of their application, and liable to be returned if their claims were proven unfounded.

What is new because of the Statement is the possibility to return an asylum seeker to Turkey even before hearing the merits of their asylum claim, on the grounds that their application is “inadmissible.” An inadmissible application for asylum in Greece would, for example, be one made by an applicant who had arrived in Greece from a first country of asylum or a safe third country, such as Turkey. Whether or not Turkey is in fact a safe third country has been argued extensively. In practice, however, the question of admissibility, including whether or not Turkey can be deemed a safe third country, has been assessed on an individual basis, with very few cases been deemed inadmissible.

On the Greek Islands, admissibility procedures had, at least until January 2017, only been applied to Syrians, with asylum claims by other nationalities being assessed on their merits. Since January, other nationalities with asylum recognition rates above 25% have also been subjected to admissibility procedures, but it is not reported whether any have actually been returned due to a negative admissibility decision.

Similarly, it is not officially reported whether or not inadmissible Syrians have actually been returned, although rights groups claim none have been sent back to Turkey for this specific reason. Of the 916 people returned “under” the Statement, only 159 are Syrian. Logically, this means that, at most, 159 people could have been returned before having the merits of their applications heard, on the grounds that their applications were found to be inadmissible. Instead, most of the 916 people, including Syrians and non-Syrians, have returned because they:

  • received a negative asylum decision (first or second instance);
  • had withdrawn their asylum applications; or,
  • had not applied for asylum in the first place.

Looking more closely at the 159 Syrians who have returned to Turkey from Greece, only a fraction have actually have had their applications deemed inadmissible. Between 20 March 2016 and 19 February 2017, of the 8,378 first-instance, and 439 second-instance admissibility decisions by Greek Asylum Committees, only 24 had been upheld as inadmissible. As such, the highest possible number of returns of inadmissible asylum seekers is 24. However, even these returns have been prevented by ongoing judicial challenges that argue against the safety of Turkey as a third country, and the constitutionality of the Greek Independent Appeals Committees. Far from a success, this indicates a clear failure of the Statement to meet its specific aim of returning inadmissible asylum seekers.

Policy Implications

The difference between zero, 24 and 916 might seem trivial – ultimately, all figures are well below target. However, the policy implications of shrouding the Statement’s failure to return inadmissible asylum seekers behind misleading numbers and phrasing are significant in several ways:

  • Admissibility procedures divert resources from overstretched Greek and European asylum processing officials. They add another administrative layer of first and second instance decision making, despite the fact that most applications have been found admissible. Eliminating admissibility procedures would allow asylum processing officials to focus on the merits of asylum applications, improving the thoroughness of asylum determinations, reducing the overall administrative burden and easing the backlog of claims.
  • Admissibility procedures increase the duration of the asylum application process, during which asylum seekers face long waits on the islands marked by legal uncertainty, overcrowding, and inadequate food, shelter and sanitation. Improving the asylum determination process by removing admissibility procedures could expedite movement onto the mainland, reduce waiting times and decongest facilities, thereby alleviating the humanitarian situation.
  • The ineffectiveness of admissibility procedures on the Greek Islands should be recognised when considering application of the admissibility concept in wider EU asylum policies. According to European Council on Refugees and Exiles, mandatory inadmissibility grounds such as “safe third country” and “first country of asylum” are concepts that figure among the key objectives of the Commission’s proposal for the reform of asylum procedures in the EU. If these concepts have been proven ineffective in improving asylum procedures in Greece, their potential to be applied effectively EU-wide should be questioned, not covered up.

This is the second in MMP’s ongoing series of blogs on the theme ‘Numbers Matter’.

Please note an earlier version of this blog implied that some Syrians could have returned because their claims were deemed inadmissible. In fact, as of March, appeals were ongoing for the inadmissible Syrians liable to be returned, with decisions expected in April.

What to read on mixed migration: January 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

  • A new briefing paper from Mixed Migration Platform, Turning Back focuses on return from the EU. Released in January, it outlines the legal and policy frameworks governing the return of refugees and other migrants from Europe, with a particular focus on Iraqis.
  • ACAPS and the Mixed Migration Platform have produced a new set of Middle East-EU migration scenarios, outlining possible developments in migration via Turkey and Greece over the next six months.
  • Stand and Deliver is a new report from the Danish Refugee Council and 27 other NGOs. It highlights the need for urgent action on commitments made at the London conference in February 2016.
  • A new guidebook entitled Europa: An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees aims to provide practical information in four languages for newcomers to the continent.
  • In a new briefing note on Syrian refugees’ right to legal identity, the Norwegian Refugee Council presents findings of interviews with nearly 600 Syrian households in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, to highlight the number of children lacking identity and civil documents and the implications for return.
  • Desperate Journeys is a new UNHCR report offering a detailed overview of major migration flows to Europe in 2016 in comparison with those of 2015.
  • Refugee Voices is a new report from the TENT Foundation, which presents the findings of interviews conducted with more than 1,500 refugees in Germany, Greece, and Jordan in 2016 looking at drivers of migration, the journey, and experiences of resettlement.
  • Don’t Forget Us: Voices of Young Refugees and Migrants in Greece is a new report by Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council based on focus groups conducted with young refugees and migrants of various nationalities in Greece.
  • A new report from Human Rights Watch, Refugees with Disabilities Overlooked, Underserved, argues that refugees with disabilities are not identified and struggle to access services in Greece.
  • The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion has released its World’s Stateless: 2017 report with a focus on childhood statelessness, an issue that, the institute says, is entirely preventable.
  • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.

This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for January 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.

Left behind, but not at home: the hidden migration stories of the women who stay

Nour’s husband and 10-year-old daughter left Jordan for Europe in October 2015, just a month after she gave birth to their youngest child. They wanted to travel together but Nour was still weak following the delivery and they decided that the journey was too dangerous to risk leaving with four small children. In any case, they assumed that family reunification would be quick and they would soon be able to travel in a safe and legal way.

A year and a half later, Nour remains a refugee in Jordan with her three youngest children, while her husband and daughter are in Sweden. Both have been granted asylum, but the family reunification process has been much slower and more difficult than they imagined. “The journey was very hard” she explained, “After arriving in Sweden, my daughter didn’t speak for three months due to the shock.” Time spent apart under challenging circumstances has caused her relationship with her husband to suffer, and the high volume of applications means that family reunification is unlikely before 2018. “I still think it’s viable to come to Europe, but now I realise it might take years”.

When families decide to migrate, women and girls are much more likely to be left behind. In 2016, just under a third of asylum applicants to European countries were female[1], underlining this imbalance. Far away from the media on Greek and Italian shores, we know much less about the experiences of the women and girls who stay than we do about those who make the journey.

This International Women’s Day, Nour’s story is an example of the challenges faced by some of the mothers, sisters and daughters who do not, or cannot travel. Her story was one of many collected by REACH as part of ongoing research for the Mixed Migration Platform into the experiences of separated families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The project sought to answer several questions – what makes some family members travel while others stay? To what extent are migration decisions made individually or jointly? And how are those left behind affected by migration?

The research found that those who remain often face considerable challenges due to debt, reduced income and interrupted access to humanitarian assistance. Displaced families like Nour’s are among the most vulnerable, especially when the main breadwinner or head of household leaves.

For those who hope to reunify, the situation can be harder still, since changing policies, slow processing times and limited information mean that even families who qualify for such schemes often fail to adequately prepare for the time it takes. Of the 90 families interviewed for the study, only half made any contingency plans at all to look after those left behind. Nour’s family was one of the few that did, but like many, their meagre preparations – paying a month’s rent up front before her husband left – were nowhere near enough. Eighteen months later, reunification is still long way off and Nour has no work and three small children to care for. Her only source of income is humanitarian aid, and even this was problematic at first, since both food vouchers and cash payments were registered in her husband’s name. At first, she was cut off from assistance for five months – two before she realised that she needed to re-register as the household head, and another three while the change was being processed.

In some ways, Nour was lucky – despite being a refugee, she had other family members in Jordan that she could turn to for support. After selling her furniture to pay the bills, she had nothing left and eventually moved in with her brother. The separation has been incredibly tough for the whole family, but she insists that they made a joint decision, taking into consideration the risks to their children. “I encouraged him to migrate, hoping it would get us a better life” she explained. “Until now it’s been a very negative experience – I would not recommend to anyone to take this gamble…Currently there have been no positive changes. Only later, when we reunify will it be positive”.

Our study on Separated Families: who stays, who goes and why, will be published in the coming weeks. If you would like more information, or are interested in republishing this blog, please contact:

[1] According to Eurostat data [migr_asyappctza], women and girls accounted for 32% of first-time asylum applicants to EU countries in 2016.
Image: A Syrian refugee woman in  Za’atari camp prepares her son for school. Credit: UNWomen/Christopher Herwig

Alternative routes from the Middle East to Europe: an animation

MMP’s first animation looks into some of the alternative routes taken by refugees and other migrants coming from the Middle East and trying to reach Europe over the last few years.

Watch it, share it!

The animation transcript can be downloaded here.

Subtitles in English are available activating the “CC” option on the Youtube player.



Frontex (2017) Detections of illegal border crossings statistics.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, October 2016.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, November 2016.

IOM (2016) Migrant Presence Monitoring Situation Report, December 2016.

Frontex (2015) Annual Risk Analysis 2015.

Laruelle, M. and S. Hohmann “From the Mediterranean to the Far North: A Refugees Corridor at the Russian-Norwegian Border”. The Arctic Institute, August 2016.

Doyle, A. “To deter refugees, Norway readies fence on ex-Cold War border“. Reuters, August 2016.

Gerdziunas, B. “An unknown migrant route into EU runs through Lithuania”. Al Jazeera, January 2016.

ODI (2016) Europe’s refugees and migrants: Hidden flows, tightened borders and spiralling costs.


Scenario-building one year after the EU-Turkey Statement

What is on the horizon for migration between the Middle East and the EU over the next six months?

In January and February 2017, ACAPS conducted a scenario-building exercise to support the work of the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP). The exercise focused on migration between the Middle East and EU, exploring possible developments in migration via Greece and Turkey over the next six months. Following two workshops and meetings with government, UN, NGO, and Red Cross staff in Brussels, Ankara, and Antakya, five scenarios were identified in the report, accessible here.

  • Continued restricted migration
  • Number of asylum-seekers in Greece falls
  • Number of asylum-seekers in Greece increases
  • Increased returns to Syria
  • Increased movement into Turkey

To build these scenarios, ACAPS used a ‘chain of plausibility’ methodology, outlined in more detail here. In the workshops, participants first agreed on the research question, reviewed relevant information on the current situation, and defined the geographical scope and time frame. Participants then brainstormed the relevant variables, mapped relationships between them, and identified assumptions about the directions these variables could take. The result was a set of ‘triggers’, which were grouped under each scenario.

For example, conflict in northern Syria is a variable that is related to displacement towards Turkey, which could increase, decrease or remain stable. Combined with a decision by Turkey to re-open its borders to Syrian refugees, an increase in conflict in northern Syrian could trigger, or drive, the scenario of increased movement into Turkey. The final step is to quantify the impact and likelihood of each scenario, and expand on the details, humanitarian consequences, and operational constraints expected in each scenario.

Example of Probability/Impact scale – Scenario 1 “Continued restricted migration”

While some scenarios are more or less likely than others, and each has a varying degree of impact on the humanitarian situation, all represent plausible situations that could emerge over the next six months if one or more of the triggers identified occurs. In the exercise, the scenario of continued restricted migration was deemed to be the most likely, while a significant increase or decrease in the number of asylum seekers in Greece was found to be the least likely scenario. However, if it were to occur, a large increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Greece would have the most negative impact on the humanitarian situation of the five scenarios identified.

Not all the scenarios are mutually exclusive, and more than one could emerge at the same time. For example, a spike in conflict in Syria could lead to increased movement into Turkey, but not necessarily into Greece. Meanwhile, the number of asylum-seekers in Greece could fall if EU member states fulfil their commitment to relocate 66,400 people throughout the EU, and Turkey continues to restrict population movement within and from its borders.

Scenario-building does not try to predict the future, but it does help humanitarian responders to think broadly about what lies on the horizon, and assess whether or not they are flexible enough to adapt their approaches, if necessary. Organisations might also take a certain scenario and its humanitarian consequences, and advocate for policies that lead towards, or away from, that scenario.

Over the coming months MMP will closely monitor the triggers and scenarios identified in the exercise, to better understand how the current migration situation is evolving, to identify new and emerging scenarios, to address information needs and gaps, and to advocate for improved migration policies.