Dienstag, 12. Juli 2016

Reasons behind the decision of asylum seekers from the Middle East to choose Germany as a final destination

In: Gökce Yurdakul, Regina Römhild, Anja Schwanhäußer, Birgit zur Nieden, Aleksandra Lakic (Hg.): E-Book Project of Humboldt-University Students: Witnessing the Transition: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Transnational Perspective. Berlin (forthcoming) 


Frédérique Lang

Introduction: why this question?

“Witnessing the transition: refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in transnational perspective”. The title of this book already hints toward a pregnant issue of the thematic of movement of people and migration: “the conflation between the different terms” (Goodman & All, 2014, p 21). Making the distinction between the different terminologies: migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is often difficult and lead to the existence of various definitions. For the Migration Observatory of the University of Oxford, for instance, "migrants might be defined by foreign birth, by foreign citizenship, or by their movement into a new country to stay temporarily (sometimes for as little as a year) or to settle for the long-term”. ”[1]. For the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies (IFRC), the term “migrant” includes “labor migrants, stateless migrants, migrants deemed irregular by public authorities, migrants displaced within their own country, refugees and asylum-seeker[2]. For the UNESCO and the United Nations the term migrants is synonym of migrant workers, people who choose freely to leave their country for residency in another country, either temporary or long term[3]. Hence, refugees are excluded from this category. According to the article 1 of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who: “As a result of events […] and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it“ (Geneva Convention, 1950). A third lack of consensus can be observed around the distinction between the term refugees and asylum seekers. The official definition given by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is that “an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated”[4]. Although this definition serves as frame for the formulation of asylum policies all over the world[5] it does not unify academics. For some this classification does not reflect the complexity of the reality. For instance, not all refugees make the chose to have their rights protected by applying for asylum. Some have the possibility to apply for a visa, others are allowed to remain in the country of their choice without specific resident permit due to their double-nationality, other choose to become naturalized citizens of their host country after residing there for enough time. They are not officially refugees but they were still forced to leave their home in order to preserve their life. Thus, individual stories and situation are difficulty categorized into official definitions and often results in confusion when it comes to question of who should receive protection or who should be let in a country (Withol de Wenden, 2010).
Since the exponential rise of the number of asylum seekers in Europe in the past years, and in particularly in 2015, these questions have become very salient issues of the public and political discourses, both on the national level and the European level (Guiraudon, 2013, Monforte, 2010). At the European level, the Union’s migration and asylum politics showed its failure. Despite the effort of the EU to formulate common politics to harmonize member states’ processes and policies it did not succeed in reaching agreement on a fair process representative of the global context and sustainable for all member states. The latest were only able to agree on securitarian line of actions deciding to reinforce the protection of the EU’s borders by strengthening deterrent measures such as: harmonized visa deliverance processes, sanctions against smugglers but also joined police actions at the borders conducted by the institution created on purpose: Frontex. Virginie Guiraudon (2010) notes that instead of choosing a political line focusing on solidarity and the harmonization of protective measures, the European Union has adopted a security-oriented approach reinforcing the image of a “fortress Europe” (Ibid; Rinne & Zimmerman, 2015). The logic behind this approach is to prevent “shopping for asylum” (Moore, 2013) or “shopping around for a new and easily accessible place to ask for status” (Barsky, 1995, p 128). It justifies the EU’s safe third country legislation and its asylum demand restriction to the first country of entrance. Nevertheless, although subjected to the same legal framework all over Europe, in practice, asylum seekers are treated very differently from a host country to another (Barthel, 2015; CIMADE, 2010; Spire, 2007).
It is these two problematics which initiated the reflection leading to the research presented in this chapter. First, the lack of harmonized common European migration and asylum politic offers asylum seekers and migrants a large array of possibilities to establish their new home. It is relevant to know which factors influence their decision and why they choose one-country over another one. Secondly, the afore mentioned confusion between the terms migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, highlight the necessity to focus not on general categories of people but on single individual life stories.
When leaving hastily their home country refugees are under a lot of stress and they can difficulty assess and weight the different options they have (Barthel, 2015). Whatever the factors influencing their decision, Barsky (1995) raises the question: why should someone who has already suffered in their home country settle for a less optimal option? For him the choice of a country over another one is not delegitimizing their claim for asylum and should not be submitted to so much investigation. This investigation and judgmental perspective is relayed by the media which often formulate titles using prejudicial expression opposing “bogus”, “fake”, “cheating” claimants to the “genuine”, “deserving”, “legitimate” ones (Moore, 2013, p 350; Goodman & All 2014; Neumayer, 2005). Thus, researching the motivations or reasons behind the choice of country to lay one’s asylum claim is necessary to better understand asylum seekers, identify their needs and finally, help them (Kabranian-Melkonian, 2015). The literature adopting refugees’ perspective and giving them a voice is slim (Goodman & All 2014; Kabranian-Melkonian, 2015); though it is sometimes perceived by searchers as the task of the “human services professionals [to] become the true voice of refugees who have lost their voice by becoming the bridge between the decision makers and the victims […], to speak for the voiceless and have their stories told” ( Kabranian-Melkonian, 2015, p 9). With my research, I want to follow these advices and adopt a too rarely taken stance: the one of asylum seekers in Europe. I wish to highlights the considerations and the reasons of asylum seekers, which lead them to claim asylum in a specific place. The existing literature adopting this perspective is rare. It does not cover many countries and it is almost 15 years old. Yet, the world changed a lot since the early 2000s, new conflict zones emerged, new routes and new group of refugees (Brian & Laczko, 2014). With my work, I wish to test the actuality of the observations made in the existing literature for a country not yet covered by this literature: Germany.

Literature Review

The field of migrations studies, including these of displaced population, migrants and asylum seekers has been particularly researched by academics of the western world since the early 1990’s. Nonetheless, it is necessary to specify that when it comes to people’s movement, asylum seekers and refugees are often studied as part of the broader migration research field, especially when the focus point is their social network, migration routes, or the characteristics of destination countries (Barthel, 2015; Neumayer, 2004; Collyer, 2005). Furthermore, migrants and refugees’ studies have been pursued in all disciplines of the social and political sciences. In sociology of organizations for instance, searchers direct their attention to the development of an associative landscape in France or Germany (Montforte, 2010) or the role of the bureaucracy dealing with asylum seekers (Spire, 2007 and 2005). The German context was often approached with a legal perspective, confronting federal migration and asylum laws’ compatibility with the respect of refugees’ basic human right for instance. Comparison were drawn between the migrations politics and processes in use in various European countries, critics to the established systems as well as pessimism for its future development were expressed. For institutionalists in particular, the approach taken by the EU to work on migration and asylum policies is not appropriate and forecasted its failure. Several authors blame the European Union’s focus on strengthening its economic union while neglecting its humanitarian tradition (Lavenex, 2001).
Nevertheless, despite the many obstacles built by the European Union to prevent the inopportune trespassing of its territory, costing the life of thousands, people keep coming. Many academics before have wondered why migrants were coming to Europe and how refugees or migrants, were choosing their destination country (Neumayer, 2004; Collyer, 2005). For many it is a combination of push and pull factors, which raises or lower the cost of migrating (Neumayer, 2005; Havinga & Böcker, 1999). The first worry of refugees when leaving their home is the preservation of their life. In other word, their flight is motivated by push factors: acute threats such as human rights violations, civil and ethnic wars, or the collapse of the state authority. These reasons motivate them to leave for other areas of the countries (the case of Internally Displaced Population) or to easy to access neighbouring countries. But for asylum seekers coming to Western Europe other motivations were highlighted by some researches, the economic one. Once in security, away from acute threats on there life, refugees are then often confronted to “economic hardship” (Neumayer, 2005. p 406), which pushes them to to seek for better opportunities. They are then attracted, pulled, toward more developed countries such as the one of the European Union.
Searcher then wondered, what were the factors attracting refugees or migrants and decided to produce quantitative studies of the specificities of some favourite destination countries. A major interest is given in this aspect to migrant network (Neumayer 2004, 2005a; Thielemann 2004, 2006a; Hatton 2009, Collyer, 2005, Barthel, 2015). The connection between already migrated individuals with friends, family or just other member of their community not yet migrated, allow the exchange of information between them. The aspiring migrant can benefit from the advices, help and support of people similar to him. This research of a more familiar environment was also justifying searchers’ theory that migrants were more likely to go to a country which share cultural similarities (language or religion for instance) or historical tights (in the case of former colonies for instance). Above all, the economic characteristics of favorite destination countries have been put forward as a pull factor. A positive economy, low unemployment rate and the availability of social benefits are considered as particularly attractive factors for migrants. Last but not least, attention was also given to smuggling routes and the role of agents in the decision making process of migrants and refugees. The latters often are dependent on their financial means and the route they can afford. But also on the practicability of the route they aspire to take at the time of their journey (Bijleveld & Taselaar (2000/02). All in all, the existing literature already offers many explanation as why asylum seekers comes to Western Europe: family and migrants network, migration routes, research of a better economic situation. Those are all reasons advanced by searchers observing the phenomenon from the outside and treating the asylum migration as the result of a well weighted cost-benefit calculation.
However, these researches are all about ten years old at least, and as mentioned before, the global context changed a lot in the last decade.  Moreover, quantitative researches are based on broad categories and clearly defined groups, not representative of the real complexity of the world. Only qualitative research allows to gain insights in the mind of refugees coming to Europe and to unveil other factors playing a role in their decision process.
A particularly small amount of studies was conducted to reflect the asylum seekers or refugees’ perspective. Preliminary researches led me to few authors who worked on similar problematic as mine and tried to understand what motivates refugees to claim asylum in their country, i.e Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium (Barsky, 1995; Robinson and Segrott, 2002; Havinga and Böcker, 1999; C. Bijleveld & Taselaar, 2000/02). In a couple of cases, the searcher approached the topic with a grounded theory method led by the results of interviews with asylum seekers and refugees (Barsky, 1995; Robinson and Segrott, 2002). Others used interviews with a sample of this population and interviews with “key informants” (Havinga and Böcker, 1999, p 48) i.e interpreters, social workers and so on, which they combined with other sources, such as statistics, in order to test their hypothesis on a specific aspect of the problematic. Hence, the methodology used was quite diverse and depended on the resource available to the searchers. Despite the variety of methods used results were convergent.
First it was noted that the “choice” of a destination country often occurs during their journey as their departure often happened spontaneously, with little time to plan in advance. Second, their real choice is quite limited and depends on the resources available to them: knowledge, financial and personal. In fact, many of them know little about their possible destination besides the USA, Canada and English speaking countries in general. Then, they often do not have the mean to reach their dream destinations, the journey cost is too high or they lack the necessary documents. As a result, they often have to settle for another option while on their way and to rely on exterior assistance. All of the researches agreed on the essential role of paid facilitators or smuggling agents (Robinson and Segrott, 2002; Havinga and Böcker, 1999, Bijleveld & Taselaar, 2000/02). Those agents are travelling with them or providing them with fake of fraudulently obtained documents allowing them to travel individually. They often represent the only possibility for refugees to reach a place to seek asylum. Their lack of resources (financial and information) forces them to rely on the agents to offer them possible option of destination. Hence, migrants’ self-autonomy is quite limited and one cannot really speak of a choice. Nonetheless, the journey of migrants is often guided by certain ideas and dreams of life abroad. Several searchers highlighted the role of asylum seekers’ imaginary of their destination country prior to their arrival. For instance, Barsky’s (1995) study of soviet asylum seekers in Canada shows that wanting to live the “American Dream” was a particularly redundant justification of their choice. Besides the materialistic appeal of western countries which are wealthier than most origin countries, other factors were mentioned by refugees in these studies, such as democracy, freedom, safety, or tolerance. However, 15 years ago, information was not as accessible as it is nowadays. Hence, the destination country was often idealized (Havinga and Böcker, 1999). People’s dream and lack of knowledge, the influence of exported cultural products ( literature, movies, music, sports…) or the rumors they hear on their journey to safety, often nourished by the smuggling agents, who want to sell their destination country, often lead asylum seekers to occult possible legal restrictions constraining the establishment of their new life[6].
Nowadays, fifteen years after these publications, one can assume that the situation changed quite a bit. Thanks to the normalization of the use of internet and mobile phones[7], communication between people living on different sides of the world are made particularly easy. Information and knowledge can be shared and accessed in a simple click. The world political situation also transformed itself. New zones of conflict emerged leading to the movement of different group of refugees (Hatton & Williamson, 2004). Furthermore, refugees in the 1990’s and early 200’s were not submitted to the same legislation as they are now in 2015. They were also not confronted to the same obstacles on their journey to Europe and safety as they are nowadays. Consequently, an updated research of the problematic raised in this chapter was necessary, and even innovative for the German context.
Research method xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
As any type of work, the conception of this paper was submitted to some constrains (time, finance…) which limited its aim to testing previous findings to similar researches. I wanted in particular to know more about the influence of family and friends’ network, smugglers’ advice, and previous knowledge, on the choice of asylum country. The goal of this paper is not to set a new, ground breaking theory allowing to generalize the findings to the extensive refugees’ population in Europe, but to test existing results and to initiate reflection on the German context, thus I chose my methodological process accordingly. I adopted a qualitative approach in order to better represent the singularity of each stories and ensure the quality of the data collected. Once the research hypotheses defined, I would test them by directly interviewing asylum seekers and refugees in Germany. The idiographic goal of my research and its wish to illustrate refugees’ perspective rather than to formulate new broadly representative laws, allow me to work with a small group of interviewees. (Goodman & All, 2014; Robinson, 2014). As perfectly formulated by Robinson and Segrott (2002) in their own research “Given the potential complexity of the decision making process and the desire to penetrate the level of practical consciousness [the possibility to generalize] was felt as a trade-off worth making “(Ibid. p 91). I evaluated that given the topic researched, qualitative data collection through semi-opened interviews conducted orally was the most relevant method. It seemed better appropriate to reflect the complexity and uniqueness of each respondents’ answer. Also, I realized during the first interviews that letting some room for the participant to tell his story, insist on what he felt like sharing, helped balance the encounter. The participant could forget my position of searcher, studying his stories, and see me as a genuinely interested person. The equality of the position between the searcher and the interviewee is an important ethical element to consider while working with refugees. Due to their precarious situation in Germany, the difficulty and sometimes horror they experienced in their home country and on there journey to safety refugees and asylum seekers are a particularly vulnerable group to work with. To ensure the quality of the answers given and preserve the dignity and welfare of participants it is important that the latest fully understand the research and agree to their role in it (Mackenzie, 2007).
Working with refugees can also represent another methodological issues because of the language difference which often requires the searcher to work with an interpreter. In this case the searcher has to be aware of the influence the interpret exercises in the interview. Indeed, he may reformulate the question differently or use other words when translating, causing some information to get lost in translation (Inhetveen, 2012).
Since young Arabs and men from the middle east are nowadays forming the biggest group of asylum seekers in Germany I decided to limit my focus group to individuals coming from the Middle East, aged between 20 and 30 years old, applying or having applied for asylum in Germany and currently living in Berlin. Adding to that my familiarity with the Arabic world, it seemed an appropriate sample group to work with at it would be representative of the German context but also easy for me to connect with. I used various point of contact to reach member of this community. Besides relying on my social circles to introduce me to possible participants, I also contacted several activist groups and association working with refugees. Approaching refugees through « gatekeepers » or people they trust is, indeed a way to favor a feeling of trust between interviewer and interviewees. It is also through this recruitment process that I met a volunteer translator interested in assisting me in my research when needed. Social medias, and in particular facebook, also allowed me to find a participant who contacted me after reading a message I posted in a « refugees’ support / Flüchtlingshilfe group» introducing my research. That is how I reached 5 participants whose characteristics I summed up in the following chart:

Table 1: participants‘ overview

Country of Origin
In Germany since
June 2014
August 2015
July 2015
January 2015


Push factors

The purpose of my research was to unveil the reasons behind asylum seekers choice to claim asylum in Germany. So it seemed a good way to start by directly asking participants: “what made you come to Germany?” I generally made my question more explicit by asking them “Why Germany in comparison to another country?”. Each respondent gives a very different answer reflecting the unique path their journey had taken. All participants but for one settled their choice on Germany during their journey. Several of them had at first no intention at all to go there. For instance, W was first trying to start a new life in Algeria where he expected to be able to find work easily. His plan not working he decided to try his luck in Europe. Once in Italy he learned from an uncle arriving in Berlin and decided then to join him. M. also had his mind set on England where he would encounter more opportunities to pursue his career as a dancer. Failing many time to cross the channel between France and England he researched what other city could make sense and then headed for Berlin. O was travelling with his mother first to Paris but had to decide where to go afterward. He told me it was in the plane that they agreed on joining an uncle established in Germany. L also made up her mind while travelling after researching which country would enable her and her family to start her life again the quickest. Comparing Germany with Denmark and Sweden she told me having settled for the first one because of the language and its climate. Only F already knew from the start that he would head to Germany as it had been his dream country for years. He told me in a perfect german, having had the plan to go there for a semester abroad from the university when the war started.
As we can see from the previous paragraph, respondents’ justification of their choice to come to Berlin are very different. This diversity reflects the complexity of the mechanism behind making the life changing decision to find a new place to start a new life. It is also representative of the uniqueness of each situation, of people dreams and aspirations. Nonetheless giving an honest answer to “why did you choose Germany?” is not an easy task. It requires a lot of self-reflection and most of the time, the real factors motivating a decision may not be the one we think are. In order to shade more light on possible hidden reasons I followed Robinson and Segrott (2002) method of triangulation. I first listen to participants’ stories and answer to the direct question, then I asked them again more details on the three elements I wanted to test: previous knowledge and image of the country, network and role of the smuggling agent.

Image of the country

I wanted to know what people’s perception of the country was before they arrived in Germany. I asked them “what did you know about Germany when you first heard about the possibility to go there?”, I developed my question, by asking what they thought when they were confronted to the possibility to go there and what they knew about the country. After listening to their answer, I pushed it a bit further, asking if they knew anything about the society, the people, or the politics. Most of them had very little knowledge about Germany prior to their arrival. It is when confronted to the possibility to seek asylum there, that they started gathering their thoughts or to make actual research on the country. For some, there first point of reference were either friends already there or the media and in particular the TV. They also had some memories of what they had learned at school. W and O mentioned in particular the Second World War; M remembered that Germany was separated. Only F. new a lot about Germany because he always has been passionate about it. Besides the country’s history, he was particularly interested in its culture. W. and O. also mentioned there support for German soccer teams even before being on the move. All of there actual knowledge were gathered while on the road. Many of them researched information about its language, its climate, its education system or artistic scene. Even the asylum politic of the country was not an element of interest for the participants. Only L. researched the family reunification policy before coming. Many of them first confronted themselves to the matter once in Berlin, after realizing the complexity of the process and wanting to take the matter in their own hand (M. and W. for instance). On German people, participants also did not have much to say. W. mentioned thinking that Germans and Europeans in general were “top people”. Although most of the participants had quite positive representation of Germany before coming and indeed expected to be welcomed, helped and kept safe, they did not have much idea of what to expect and this factor did not influence their decision.
As participants’ answers show, most of them had very little knowledge of Germany, its culture and policies before coming there. They all had a quite positive image of the country and its people; however, this attitude was favorable to Europe in general. Nonetheless, out of the five participants, two (L and M) said having done some researches during their journey in order to take a decision. L researched the culture and some aspect of the asylum polices while M researched opportunities for his career and further training as a dancer. Only F new from the start of his journey that he wanted to go to Germany, as it has been an opportunity he had been looking toward to for several years. Other factors which will be seen in details in the next paragraph influenced the decision of the two other participants, O and W.


Network theories give a lot of importance to the role already established communities, or relatives and friends, plays in in the decision making process of asylum seekers and migrants. Therefore I asked participants “where most of their friends and relatives were” but also “who they knew in Berlin before coming” and if they “knew about a big Syrian or religious community in Germany and Berlin”.
The answers given were quite heterogeneous. And the importance given to an existing network differ from a respondent to another. Three participants answered that they had family in Germany, O and W had uncles in Düsseldorf and Berlin, while F had a brother in Stuttgart. However, all of them had family elsewhere in Europe and still decided to come to Germany. Furthermore, only two of these respondents stipulated choosing Germany and Berlin because of their uncle there. As for friends, although four out of fives participant mentioned having friends in Europe, and even in the case of W admitted coming to Europe after talking to them, none of them seems to have tried to join them. Regarding to the presence of a big compatriot community or followers of the same religion this does not seem to have play a role. Although, some of them acknowledge knowing that a lot of Syrian were currently seeking asylum in Germany and Europe in general, most of them declared that he did not play a role in their decision making. They were not looking for a community to integrate, but a place to start a new life. So network theories, who predict that asylum seekers often go where ever they have a good established network in order to facilitate their transition and be able to rely on their help does not seem to apply here. Or at least, this network does not need to be present in the same city. All of the participant had smartphone and mentioned the use of communication application such as what’s app as precious tool throughout their journey. For many of them the remote access to this network, to collect information or punctual support, was enough. Smartphones and new technologies revealed themselves essential tools for the organization and success of their journey to Germany as questions on the role of third agent showed.

Role of Smugglers

Previous researches on the decision making process of asylum seekers and migrants had shown that the choice of destination country was often not up to them but depended on their smuggling agent (Robinson & Segrott, 2002; Havinga & Böcker, 1999). It was therefore essential for me to see if that was still the case. Hence, I dedicated several questions to this aspect of the participants’ story. The interviews actually often started with them telling me about their journey to Berlin. I then asked them more details about who they traveled with or how they found the smugglers. All of the participants were helped by third persons in their journey. But the involvement of smugglers was very different for each of them. For O the help of a third person was reduced to the one of a fellow interuniversalist in Iran, who provided him and his mother with visas et plane ticket for Paris. M also never paid for assistance but was helped by another refugee established in Greece after having worked for him several months. Meanwhile W. had to seek the assistance of smugglers to be able to reach Europe and actually found them on Facebook, where smuggling networks advertise there services on specific pages. But once in Europe, he then pursued his trip on its own. F. and L. at the contrary, relied on the service of agents for their entire trip.
So, relying on smugglers is a common practice and most of the time a necessity for asylum seekers who cannot enter Europe the legal way[9]. However, none of the participants’ contributions showed that they influenced their decision. As a matter of fact, respondents were all very aware of the criminality, they were engaging themselves in by dealing with smugglers. W witnessed a murder, all of them condemned the inhuman treatments they received and the way the Arabic community was taking advantage of them. They already entrusted them to take them to their destination but would probably never trust them to advise them where to go to start a new life. Even when limited by their budget, such as M was, they preferred looking for other alternatives than to review their choice and adapt it to the price offered by smugglers to take them to another country.


With my questionnaire I wanted to learn more about the decision making process of asylum seekers coming from the Middle East. I wanted in particular to show whether the importance of previous knowledge on Germany, the existence of a network and the role of smuggling agents had evolved since the early 2000`s when similar researches were made. These researches had shown that many refugees did not have a real possibility to choose their destination country. Often pressured to leave there home suddenly they did not dispose of the necessary time to evaluate their options and had to rely on the advice of smuggling agents. Nowadays, the situation seams to have completely reverse itself. Although the decision to leave is still a quite spontaneous one, asylum seekers take time during their journey to weigh their options. The main factors influencing their decision appear to be the facility for them to start a new life, to have a future and be “a normal person”[10] .
Research with this sample of five very different people shows that nowadays, smugglers do not have the same advantages as they did before. It also conveys that asylum seekers rely differently on existing networks than they did before. They are not their only source of information or support anymore. People leaves their home reluctantly, because they do not see hopes for a normal life there anymore and are tired of just surviving in terrible condition[11]. They then gave up everything they once had to venture on a life-threatening journey, and are not ready to risk any more things by trusting the wrong person or depending on unreliable information. Nevertheless, my conversation with these five people, getting to know them and to share a bit of their life revealed that they had not giving up their optimism, hopes and dreams. They remained particularly strong willing. When I mentioned my impression to M, he confessed that looking forward was the only way for him to cope with the difficulty he went through. L repeatedly said that without the thought of her children, she would never have succeeded. Overall the results of this study lay bare new realities and characteristics of migration and people movements, which are symptomatic for the evolution of societies all around the world during the past decades. These changes are worth looking into in the conclusion of this paper.

Conclusion: the refugees, just normal migrants like me.

The goal of this paper was to confront fifteen years old findings on the reasons behind refugees’ choice of asylum country, with the reasons for current asylum seekers to come to a specific country, Germany.  As described before the factors playing a role in their decision process are not the same than fifteen years ago. The guided conversation led for this paper brought to light the important role of social media and new technologies in the decision making process of contemporary asylum seekers. All of them have a smartphone connected to the internet and have access to information anywhere and any when. They talk with their family and friends all over the world on a daily basis thanks to application such as what’s app, compare smugglers and stay connected to their network on Facebook, book their journey to foreign countries on blablacar, meet locals on Tinders, communicate in unknown foreign languages via instant translators. Within only fifteen years, the world has grown smaller and access to information made easier. People can see what each country have to offer and can make their choice accordingly. Furthermore, all of my interviewees had studied and bright future ahead of them in their home countries. Our discussions showed that they may have had to give up their home but were not ready to give up their dreams and future. In 1995, Barsky wondered why someone who had suffered in his/her home country should settle for a less optimal option, why they should decide less rationalistically than a Canadian would and the question is still actual. Their knowledge on European countries and possible destination may have been limited when leaving their home country, but was completed via research made during their journey. Moore (2013) diagnosed the commonality of the use of the expression “asylum shopping” in British media as a symptom of Bauman’s liquid modernity. The research conducted for this paper made clear that asylum seekers are indeed confronted to a multiple choice of destinations and have to select the country according to their aspiration for the future. They are indeed acting as consumer looking for the best deal possible. However, more than a symptom of the Western Europe’s liquid modernity, this can be perceived as a sign of the liquid modernity phase, origin countries have entered. It has been shown before by academic researches that developing countries were more likely to be at the origin of migrants and refugees’ flows than third world countries. Asylum seekers are now not different from any modern western European consumers and migrants “operating above all as entrepreneurs of the self” (Ibid, p 361). Despite racist discourses, claiming that migrants from Arabic countries are not culturally apt of adapting to the European culture and way of life, the determination of asylum seekers to make it in Europe and their consumerist, post modern and very western attitudes seems to show otherwise.


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[1] Online Oxford Dictionary. Definition of the word migrant accessed the 16.07.2015 on:
[2]Website of the IFRC, article “what is a migrant” accessed the 16.07.2015 on:  http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/migration/what-is-a-migrant/#sthash.qiBdVboW.dpuf
[3] Glossary of the UNESCO website on International Migration and Multicultural Policies: accessed the 16.07.15 on: http://www.unesco.org/most/migration/glossary_migrants.htm
Website of the UNESCO article on International Migration Convention accessed the 16.07.2015 on: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/international-migration-convention/
[4] Website of the UNHCR, article “asylum seekers”, accessed the 16.07.2015 on http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c137.html
[5] In Australia: Website of the Refugee Council of Australia: FAQ: What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker, accessed on the 16.07.2015 on http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/fact-sheets/faqs/faq-info-about-refugees-asylum-seekers-and-australias-refugee-and-humanitarian-program/
In Ireland and more generally in Europe: Website of the Irish Refugee Council, accessed the 16.07.2015 on http://www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie/information-and-referral-service/law-centre-information
[6] The content of the interviews also supports this fact. In interview 1, W explain how his friends exaggerated and idealized life in Europe. Minute 32:28 and 32:57. The importance of following a dream is visible in interview 4, M. mentioned “having a dream” has a reason to leave Syria: minute 8:08
[7] Smartphone user penetration as percentage of total global population from 2011 to 2018*accessed the 03.09.2015 on http://www.statista.com/statistics/203734/global-smartphone-penetration-per-capita-since-2005/

[8] This participant, although not fitting the sample group defined, allow to justify the choice of my sample group as it highlighted the “children factor”. Indeed, preliminary research showed that for parents the well being and future of their children trump any other variables.
[9] F also stresses the fact that he needed help to leave Damascus and go through the numerous checkpoints.
[10] Interview 3 with F. He used several time the expression “to be an efficient Person” (“ein effizienter Mensch”)
[11] F and L mentioned having waited so long to leave because at first they only expected the war to last a couple of month.


Frédérique Lang, MA European Studies 

Bitte diesen Beitrag wie folgt zitieren: Frédérique Lang (2016): Reasons behind the decision of asylum seekers from the Middle East to choose Germany as a final destination. In: Gökce Yurdakul, Regina Römhild, Anja Schwanhäußer, Birgit zur Nieden, Aleksandra Lakic (Hg.): E-Book Project of Humboldt-University Students: Witnessing the Transition: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Transnational Perspective. Preview (Weblog), https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=863130166696833325#editor/target=post;postID=3697950972162993466;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=link

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