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Beyond ‘mass arrivals’: insights into Afghan irregular migration

The Brussels Conference on Afghanistan features a high-level dialogue on migration dedicated to finding ways to manage irregular migration from the country. In a country where resurgent conflict in one province coexists with promising development advances in other parts of the country, there are no easy answers.

A new article from Seefar, Irregular Migration to the European Union: What’s special about Afghans? clarifies the unique trends and dynamics of mixed migration from Afghanistan. It disentagles our understanding of why Afghans migrate compared to Eritrean, Syrian, and Iranian irregular migrants. We find that reasons for migrating, destination preferences, knowledge and misconceptions about migration can strikingly diverge between nationalities.

It shows how:

  • Afghan asylum applications increased by only 57% between January-August 2016 and the same period last year, but Iranian asylum applications increased by 226%.
  • Underemployment is underemphasised in explanations of the economic drivers of migration. It is not just high unemployment but nepotism in the workplace and a lack of a living wage prompting many to depart.
  • Afghans leave the country reluctantly—if conditions were better they would stay.
  • Most Afghans find life at destination to be better than they expected, unlike other nationalities.
  • The overwhelming majority of Afghans would discourage others from attempting the journey – in contrast to Syrian, Iranian and Eritrean migrants.

By breaking down the arrivals at European shores in useful and intelligent ways, policymakers can make great strides forward in developing effective, humane tools to intervene in migrants’ decisions  to invest in journeys to Europe.



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Afghanistan Displaced people Europe European Union Research and surveys South and Central Asia