From the Bottom Up: How refugees and other migrants experience the drivers of migration

The second of six informal thematic consultations took place in New York under the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) from 22-23 May. The central focus of this thematic session was a discussion of drivers behind migration, including the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crises, as well as protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution at all stages of migration. In this second blog post in a series focused on the informal thematic sessions under the GCM, MMP partner, Ground Truth Solutions (GTS), draws on recent research conducted in Lebanon, Northern Iraq and Austria to discuss some of the drivers behind recent movement to Europe.

Many Europeans were taken by surprise in the spring of 2015 when the number of refugees and other migrants arriving at European borders suddenly accelerated. The majority came from the Middle East, but a large number were from South and Central Asia and Africa. That so many people decided to take matters into their own hands to escape conflict and precariousness left politicians, humanitarian agencies and members of the public scrambling for solutions and explanations.

Two years later, the push factors behind this movement remain acute. Meanwhile, the welcome is less fulsome as even the most generous European countries rethink the implications of their earlier open-door policies and focus on integrating those people already inside their borders. Meanwhile, countries bordering the Syrian conflict—Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey—continue to host a large number of refugees living in challenging conditions.

Through a series of surveys conducted in countries along the migration route, Ground Truth Solution’s role within the MMP consortium is to provide both a voice to those on the move—by proactively probing, analysing and presenting their views—and input to policy-makers as they respond to this large-scale displacement. What, then, can we learn about the drivers of migration from the most recent surveys in Lebanon, Northern Iraq and Austria?

Meeting needs

In Lebanon, most respondents say they lack a range of basics—from food, medicine and educational opportunities to financial aid and housing. Refugees and other displaced persons in Northern Iraq feel the same way, pointing to cash, healthcare and food as major gaps. According to the survey findings, many of the Syrians and Iraqis who have settled in Austria are quite satisfied with the services they receive. They see themselves benefiting from things that will improve their self-reliance and integration, such as learning German, finding housing, getting a job and pursuing educational opportunities.

In seeking to understand needs, the question we ask in the survey is not whether refugees and other migrants have everything they want, but if they have the essentials to survive. Overall, the survey data suggests people’s basic needs are better covered in Austria than in the countries bordering Syria. This points to the importance of ensuring aid agencies and donors implement long-term strategies in neighbouring countries, going beyond emergency support to opportunities to earn a living. The surveys also suggest that if people’s needs are not met in neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, people may try and move elsewhere in search of better services, protection and livelihood opportunities.

Equity of aid provision

Compounding concerns about the inadequacy of aid provision in neighbouring countries is the sense that what is provided does not necessarily go to those who need it most. This sentiment prevails among both Palestine and Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In Northern Iraq, refugee perceptions differ on this ‘fairness’ issue, with children and youth seen by some respondents as not being treated as equally as adults. Mukhtars—the local chiefs—are singled out for criticism by some respondents who say they channel support according to their own agendas. In both Lebanon and Northern Iraq, there is no difference between respondents’ views on the fairness and transparency of cash transfers as compared to other aid forms.


An important take-away from the data in Lebanon and Northern Iraq is a general sense that the refugee and displaced populations are in a state of limbo, with few of them positive about their situation. Obstacles to becoming more self-reliant cited by refugees in Lebanon include access to the job market, education and professional training. Refugees and displaced people in Northern Iraq are also pessimistic, pointing to lack of job opportunities and the general challenge of providing for their families.

Although some mention security concerns, the majority of refugees in Austria see their prospects as promising. Most say they engage in activities they regard as useful, typically learning the language, caring for their families and playing sports. Unemployment and language barriers are the main challenges for those who would like to improve their sense of purpose and self-reliance.

The very different experiences—and associated frustrations—surfaced by recent surveys underline that the push factors behind the movement of migrants to Europe in 2015 and 2016 remain unresolved. In addition to enhancing understanding of the complex drivers of migration, the survey data illustrates that continuing power of pull factors. Providing evidence of the challenges faced by uprooted people is one thing; taking decisive action to resolve them is another.

Note: This article originally appeared on the Mixed Migration Platform website.