common Statements

Regarding Refugees

“The majority are

economic refugees.“

In 2018 67% of all refugees originated from just 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia (UNHCR 2019).

In all of these countries violent conflicts take place on a daily basis.


accomodates the most refugees.“

91% of all refugees do not live in the European Union.

With one million people (2018) Germany ranks 5th in accomodated refugees (behind Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda and Sudan).

Turkey alone has accomodated 4 million refugees (UNHCR 2019).

“Sea rescue is human trafficking.“

It is required by international law to aid every person in distress at sea (UNO 1998).

Questions asked by

the research

regarding the

causes of flight

What types of conflicts or crises lead to fleeing and displacement?

Why is it that some people flee while others stay?

How do regional and international factors affect fleeing movements and how does fleeing affect politics in transit and destination states?


While migration is defined as the voluntary relocation of residency, fleeing is defined as the abandonment of one's own home forced by external factors. If the borders of the country are not transgressed while fleeing, the movement is defined as internal displacement.

What factors are considered to cause fleeing? The legal definition is given by the Geneva Refugee Convention. Notice that a person migrating for economic purposes only is not considered a refugee. The term „economic refugee“ is therefore invalid, because it denotes a group of people that legally does not exist.

Overarching insight

Fleeing is a multicausal phenomenon. Oftentimes the intention has formed throughout years, but a new and acute reason to flee triggers it. Those reasons include eruption of violence in the region, personal threats et cetera.

Causes & factors


Root causes:

Repressions, ongoing civil war, continuing discrimination and exclusion of minorities (e.g. ethnic or religoius), poverty, shortage of resources and environmental destruction

proximate causes:

Especially violent conflicts (you will notice that this is the only factor shared by all countries of origin)


precipitating factors:

changes in the direct environment

intervening factors:

costs and resources of fleeing

Violence as precipitating factor

Different types of violence cause different patterns of fleeing:

General unrest, riots and protests led by regime opponents cause more internal displacement.

Violence against civilians imposed by the government causes fleeing. Extreme forms of violence like genocide or politicide have the strongest effect.

A violent change in regime always initially promotes fleeing, regardless of what form of government is established.

The Migration Hump

The term „migration hump“ was coined in the 1990s. It expresses the observation that growing per capita income in developing countries coincides with higher migration rates (Dt. Institut für Entwicklungspolitik 2017).

International migration
Quelle: De Haas, Hein (2008): Migration and development. A theoretical perspective.
International Migration Institute, S. 18.
Lizenz: Creative Commons by-nc-nd/3.0/de
Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2017, www.bpb.de

Causes of fleeing in

selected countries

You can click the countries on the map.


2015 iraqi citizens ranked 5th in requested asylums (29.584 = 6,7% of all requests).

2018 they ranked 2nd (10.857 = 10,1% of all requests).

Causes of fleeing

Political instability

Religious conflicts

Asylum seekers from Iraq



The iraqi society is fragmented in terms of confession and ethnicity. This has worsened during the times of the UN-embargo from 1990 to 2003 through the populistic embrace of religious values and discourses by the government (Rohde 2018).

Some of the alternatingly prosecuted groups are:

Arab-sunni citizens of Iraq





Palestine refugees

Political instability

With the exception of the years 1988-1990 people of Iraq have not had peace for 35 years. Governmental structures are mostly dissolved or disfunctional.

After overthrowing the dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 the country got into a long-lasting civil war in which varying groups were politically persecuted.

In the course of the civil war a multitude of militias, religious and violent groups formed. These groups have fought over power ever since.

In 2014 the IS took over large areas in west and northwest of Iraq and persecuted mainly Yazidi. It abducted hundreds of girls and women.


Since the beginning of the Arab Spring 2011 Syria counts probably more than 6,5 million internally displaced people and 5 million refugees.

Regarding Germany, Syria is still the country of origin for most first asylum seekers. In June 2019 2,081 people requested asylum, around 20% less than in May.

Causes of fleeing

Civil war

Environmental changes and shortage of resources

War crimes

Asylum seekers from Syria

Civil war

The civil war was sparked in 2011 through the Arab Spring and its democratic aspirations.

It quickly turned into a general struggle for power between different groups. The largest of which are the Syrian government, the Free Syrian Army and the Democratic Forces of Syria. The terror group IS, that also fought the Syrian government, is completely expelled from Syria since the beginning of 2019.

The interventions of other states have made the civil war a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that are themselves supported by other major powers like Russia and the USA.

There are also a multitude of militias and splinter groups whose aims and loyalties are hard to assess.

The omnipresence of acute violence and threats functiones as a big push factor.

Besides the civil war, there are more conflicts in Syria that worsen the situation even more.

Environmental changes

and shortage

of resources

The three year long drought, that forced people to move to the cities, was one of the possible causes of the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Simultaneously food prices increased significantly.

Mismanagement and fatal agrar politics of The Assad-Government has further worsened the situation in the country.

The urbanization caused new problems, that were ignored by the government. It was the congested areas to which the former rural population moved, that harboured the first protests against the government.

War crimes

Bombardement of hospitals and schools

Targeting of civilians

Use of poisonous gas

Torture in prisons

Attacks on refugee camps


With 2,7 million refugees Afghanistan ranks second as country of origin for refugees worldwide, the first being Syria (UNHCR 2016a).

Additionally there are 950.000 internally displaced people.

Since 2016 there is a readmission agreement between Germany and Afghanistan (ProAsyl 2019).

Causes of fleeing

Failed state Afghanistan?

Numerous violent conflicts and threats

Natural disasters

Asylum seekers from Afghanistan

Failed state?

Causes for todays conflicts are the clashes between advocats of modernisation and its opponents. The USA intervention in 2001 could not settle the conflict, aggravating it instead. As a consequence islamic-conservative and islamistic groups reached key positions in the government, parliament, justice system, security forces and the islamic clergy (Ruttig 2017).

In the southeast exist border conflicts with Pakistan, because Afghanistan does not acknowledge the colonial borderlines.

Corruption and drug trade on all levels constitute another large problem.

In terms of economy Afghanistan can barely get on its feet: In the UN Human Development Index ranked it 169th in 2016 (out of 188).

Some sources declare Afghanistan to be a failed state.

Armed conflicts

Border conflicts with Pakistan

Arbitrary violence exercised by the Afghan police.

Violence against women

Threats and attacks directed at human rights activists

Taliban as one of the strongest rebellious groups attacking more and more „soft“ targets

Attacks by the Afghan-Pakistan offshoot of IS ("IS Khorasan-Province" ISKP) especially directed at the shiitic minority (Ruttig 2017)

Natural disasters

Those include earthquakes, mudslides and droughts to which a lot of people fall victim.


Repressive regime

Minority conflicts

Economic struggle

Number lies in the range
Actual Number
Asylum seekers from Iran

Repressive regime

After the elections of 2009 mass protests against the reelected Ahmadinedschad arose and became known as the „Green Movement“. The demonstrations were mainly carried out by young people and were violently suppressed.

Freedom of speech was and still is limited as well. On the election day mobile networks were powered down and data transfer through the internet was significantly slowed. Content was first surveilled, then censored.

Minority conflicts

The history of Kurds in Iran is characterized by repressions, which provokes violence from both sides. 2016 various Kurdish parties declared the end of a truce that was in place till then (bpb 2018).

Afghan refugees in Iran experience repressions so badly, that they flee again.

Economic Struggle

Economic situation of Iran is to a large extent the direct result of sanctions imposed on the country in 2006 and later. The reason for those sanctions was the Iranian Nuclear Programm. The USA and the EU were the driving forces behind the sanctions.

The sactions included an embargo on weapons, restrained travel for individuals, limitations to investments, account blockings and aggravation of financial transactions.

While the sanctions brought Iran back to negotiating, they harbored consequences for the citizens as well: Chicken meat, as an example, is too expensive to buy and some products - even medical supplies - are hard or impossible to acquire.

In addition there are suspicions that the country’s elites could embezzle large sums of money.

The kurdish minority

Like in other countries in the region, Kurdish officials have demanded an autonomic state since 1880.

1925 - 1942: Previously nomadic Kurds were forced to settle or resettle under the secular thinking Reza Schah.

1943 - 1947: After the Schah abdicated in favour of his son under pressure by the Allied Nations, a Kurdish Republic was proclaimed 1946 under the protection of the Soviet Union. It collapsed in 1947, after the support of USSR was withdrawn. The Kurdish politicians and military officers were executed.

1947 - 1979: Kurdish education and media are mostly illegal.

1979 - 2000: The Kurdish population participated in the overthrow of the Shah organised by the minorities of Iran in 1979. Kurds were promised autonomy by the leaders of the revolutions. Instead, when Khomenini came to power, repression began again. Kurdish territories were bombarded, and in 1989 and 1992 Kurdish politicians travelling abroad (!) were assassinated on behalf of the Iranian Government. Today Kurdish media are limited.

Afghan refugees

After the American invasion in Afghanistan 3 million Afghans had to flee to Iran.

They face mass mass deportation, violence by security forces, criminalization, and lack of education and health care.

The Iranian Government gives some refugees the choice of beeing deported back to Afghanisatn or fighting for the Syrian Government (HRW 2016).

For many Afghans these are the reasons to continue fleeing.


Over past several years Nigeria has become one of the major countries of origin for refugees in Germany.

The percentage of Nigerian women searching for asylum is higher than average (46,7% versus 43,3%) (BAMF 2019).

Causes of fleeing

Violence against women

Decreasing available farmland (landgrabbing, soil degradation)

Armed conflicts due to minority conflicts and terrorism

Number lies in the range
Actual Number
Asylum seekers from Nigeria


against women

In 12 of 36 states of Nigeria Sharia law applies, demanding death sentences for women.

Boko Haram uses girls and women as sex slaves and possibly as suicide bombers (MacEachern 2018).

Nigerian Mafia traffics girls and women to Italy and sells them as prostitutes (Langer 2019).

18% of the girls and women aged 15 to 49 were victims of genital mutilation (Unicef 2018).

Land grabbing - Shell

Since 1990 the Ogoni tribe peacefully protested against the environmental pollution caused by Shell's leaking pipelines. Interventions by the Nigerian police forces and army led to multiple executions. Shell was sued by the victims' families and payed 15,5 million USD in settlement costs in 2009 (The Guardian 2019).

Four widows of killed protesters are currently suing Shell for complicity and bribery (The Guardian 2019).

Oil spills occurred in 2008 and 2010 due to leaking piplines from Shell and Exxon Mobile (Brock 2010, Zick 2015)

In response to Shell's actions in the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Liberation Force and the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta were formed to drive out Shell (PBS 2006).

Soil degradation

The spread of soil degradation is caused by massive deforestation and extensive use of land, I.e. in the north east (Brunk 2000), where 80% of the native plant species vanished

In the southwest the direct effects of degradation are showing. Both nature (bogland: 7.7% (1965) to 1% (2001), mangrove forests: 14.6% (1965) to 1% (2001)) and population density are affected: 39 settlements had to be abandoned due to dried up fishing lakes and
erosion of land (Fasona/Omojola 2009).

Degradation in Nigeria.

Armed conflicts

Generally speaking Nigeria is on the path to democratization. Some scholars argue that this process has already been completed (Levan 2019).

At the same time the country still suffers from violent minority conflicts based on ethnic (there are roughly 430 ethnicities in Nigeria), religious (North Nigeria is predominantly islamic, South Nigeria is predominantly christian) or economic reasons.

More violence is caused by terror organisations like Boko Haram and seperatist movements like the Niger Delta Liberation Force and the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, that react to land grabbing by the Nigerian Government and Shell.

Boko Haram

Towards the end of the 1990s, Boko Haram (translated roughly as "useless education is forbidden") emerged in Maiduguri in Nigeria as a reaction to a conflict between the Christian south and the Islamic north of Nigeria that had existed since colonial times, as well as the demand for the sole validity of Sharia law.

In 2009, violence between the Islamist organization and the Nigerian government escalated. Since then, the conflict has claimed the lives of around 15,000 to 18,000 people.

In 2014, the terrorist group abducted 250 girls from a school in northern Nigeria. Many of them are presumably still in captivity today.

Path to democracy

A period of dictatorship ended in June 1998 with the death of Sani Abacha.

The country's elites, united in the People's Democratic Party (PNP), agreed on Olusegun Obasanjo, a former dictator held in high esteem by the military and certain ethnic groups. They wanted to reduce the "Yoruba Debt" that had arisen in 1993 when an election winner was denied the presidency because of his ethnicity.

To prevent renewed coups, unacceptable military officers were placed in high party or economic positions and low-ranking military officers were promoted shortly before the next election.

In response to internal party disagreements and Nigeria's demographic rejuvenation, the All Progressives Congress party was formed in 2013 from various smaller parties and former members of the PDP.

The PDP was voted out of office in 2015. The APC has ruled Nigeria since then, and its president, Muhammadu Buhari, was re-elected in 2019.


Although large segments of the population regularly become refugees in Ethiopia itself, it is one of the top host countries for refugees, ranking 6th in 2016 with about
1 million people admitted, and 9th in 2018 (UNHCR 2016).

In 2018, 1,560,800 Ethiopians were forced to leave their homes. 98% remained internally displaced within the borders of Ethiopia (UNHCR 2018).

Causes of fleeing

Short and long term armed conflicts

Decreasing available farmland due to landgrabbing and
soil degradation

Number lies in the range
Asylum seekers from Ethiopia

Armed conflicts

Much of the conflict in 2017/2018 - including the largest conflict hotspots in the Oromi and Somali regions - arose over resources such as water, food, and farmland (UNOCHA 2019).

In the multi-ethnic state of Ethiopia, democratization means that many different previously oppressed groups and ethnicities are now taking to the streets for their rights (Gebremichael 2018).

In early 2018, a state of emergency was imposed after sometimes violent mass protests, but ended prematurely after 5 months (Auswärtiges Amt 2019).

Currently, one party holds all seats in parliament (Gebremichaael 2018). Corruption is also a problem and is perceived as such by the population.

Land grabbing

The government of Ethiopia leases large portions of potential pasture and farmland to foreign investors, or has tendered them as conservation areas. This also threatens the livelihood of the pastoral nomadic population (Ritler 2018). There are reports of forced displacement (Amnesty 2012).

Monocultures and market-oriented fertilization practices increase the risk of soil degradation (Ritler 2018).

Crops are often "cash crops" such as coffee, pepper, etc., so that no directly available food is generated, but purchasing power is. Food is often transported from other parts of the country to needy regions, but several factors often complicate and delay delivery (FAO/WFP 2010).

Soil degradation

Mountainous regions and dry land are particularly vulnerable. These include, for example, the regions of Baadu and Bale Mountains (Ayanu 2015).

Deforestation of a large portion of land causes degradation of soil that started with with field campaigns in the late 19th century, and continued primarily for energy production (Ritler 2018).

Another factor is industrial farming practices. Smallholders and pastoralists are also often unable to fertilize their soil because they have to burn manure and plant residues to generate energy (Ritler 2018).

Degradation in Ethiopia


Nearly one million Ukrainians were internally displaced in 2015. 600.000 have requested asylum (UNHCR 2015).

The main countries of destination were Russia, Belarus and Poland.

Causes of Fleeing

War in eastern Ukraine and Crimea crisis

Number lies in the range
Asylum seekers from Ukraine

War in eastern

Ukraine and

Crimea crisis

Following the protests against the government and the pro-european „Euromaidan“-protests since the end of 2013, the Ukrainian parliament discharged the former president Janukowytsch on 22.02.2014.

Also in February 2014 an armed conflict arose in the regions of Donezk and Luhansk, where militias supported by Russia demanded the secession of those regions. The war is still raging on and causes casualties every day.

In March 2014 Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. In a following referendum the secession from the Ukraine and the accession to the Russian Federation was decided. The referendum is not accepted by the majority of states and institutions.

Refugee camps
Visualization of refugee movements inside and outside of Ukraine