Migrant view on people smuggling and illegal migration raises and answers questions about the European Union's response to the migrant and refugee crisis.

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New report from social enterprise Farsight explores why Iranian irregular migrants choose the European Union, and how choices change along the way. Confirms that migrant surge in summer of 2015 had its own pull effect in encouraging others to migrate.

Train at Idomeni refugee camp

The findings turned many of the assumptions underlying EU policy on their head. Making the journey more dangerous offered little deterrent to migrants hearing far more about successful arrivals than they were about deaths at sea.

New research from Farsight analyses the irregular journeys of asylum seekers to the European Union at the height of the migration crisis. Excitement at the perceived openness of Europe undiminshed by the dangers of the journey drove many to leave an uncertain future at home for a more secure future in Europe.

The report questions the reliability of many assumptions made in the European Union's of member governments' migration policy:
Unemployment: 65% of the Iranians in the study hoping to find work actually already had jobs.
Networks: 75% of those bound for Germany did not already have family and friends there; 63% of those who singled out the UK as their destination of choice also lacked contacts.

The study also raises questions over European leaders' security-heavy approach to the crisis, with migrants near unanimous in their recommendation to others to try the journey, in spite of difficult conditions. The migrants were clear that the long-term advantages of living in a secure country with guaranteed freedoms outweighed the short-term risks of the journey and the difficulties in establishing themselves at destination.

"I certainly would encourage all my friends and relatives to take the risk, without risk you can never reach your dreams." (male, aged 25-34, after successfully arriving in Germany).

The multi-stage research - two major surveys were carried out a year apart - saw Farsight's researchers track how migrants changed course in response to rapid changes to border policy within the EU. Border closures across the Western Balkans in the second half of 2015 were a watershed moment, encouraging some to rush their journeys to make the most of heavy emotional and financial investments, while others resolved to wait for better times - or better routes.

Despite the challenges, none of the migrants in the study said they had abandoned their plans entirely. Those who had made it to Europe were positive about their prospects, despite most living precarious lives as asylum seekers. All had eyes firmly fixed on the long-term, and were willing to wait out unfavourable conditions where they felt long-term prospects were better, or else had invested so much in the journey that they could not realistically turn back:

"I have no place to return to in Iran and must stay here, even if it means living in the streets of Turkey." (female migrant in Turkey, stranded following the border closures in the Western Balkans in autumn 2015).

The findings turn many of the assumptions underlying EU policy on their head. Making the journey more dangerous offered little deterrent to migrants hearing far more about successful arrivals than they were about deaths at sea. This perspective is borne out by the reality: in the Aegean Sea route - the most popular among the migrants in the study - success rates remain well over 99%.

Migrants were less aware of what would happen to them once they made it to the EU. Anecdotes of previously successful migrants were abundant, but knowledge of asylum recognition rates and the herculean task of entering the German, Swedish, or British job markets featured little in migrants’ reckoning. With Iranians getting protection in the EU in the first half of 2016 at a rate of just 56%, for many early euphoria could soon give way to disappointment and regret. Many lack support networks at destination too: just 37% of those heading for the UK and 26% for Germany already knew people living there.

Farsight CEO Jacob Townsend urged policymakers to take stock, “putting the migrant perspective front and centre can help us understand which policies influence migrant choices and which needlessly put migrants at risk, and tarnish the EU’s image abroad.” More investment, perhaps, is needed in raising awareness among migrants of the challenges of building a life in Europe, rather than the jaded—and little trusted—rhetoric of dangerous seas and untrustworthy smugglers.

Find this report and similar research here.

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Jacob Townsend
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Nathaniel Logan
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