Why do people migrate?

To help us understand why people migrate geographers use the push – pull model.


  • The sketch above is supposed to show what is happening in a potential migrants mind.
  • In one circle the migrant sees some positive (+) things to the place where they are living.
  • However these are greatly outnumbered by negative (-) things. These are called push factors.

Sometimes it could be one single huge negative (-) thing like DEATH or RAPE or TORTURE – or sometimes ALL THREE!

  • The destination region or location shows mostly positive (+) things that the migrant believes with fewer negative aspects. The positive things are called pull factors.


  • Genuine refugees and Asylum Seekers should get to a place of safety and then register with authorities such as the UNHCR – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • From there developed countries such as those in the EU will accept genuine asylum seekers but this system seems to have broken down.
  • EU countries are dealing with hundreds of thousands of non-legal asylum seekers/refugees just in 2015.
  • If we were to include the backlog of people we are talking about a million plus people!

Are all of these people genuine?

Of course not but it is hard to watch parents holding their children above their heads trying to save them from drowning without feeling very sorry for them.

Many are escaping war in a country like Syria or Somalia but many are not the poorest most deserving.

One big problem is criminals who have turned their hand to people smuggling – sometimes called human trafficking.

Criminal gangs charge a typical $10,000 (US) to get people into the EU. In source locations often well off families sell pieces of land to raise the money and then send the most educated members of their families.

Many of these criminal gangs are actually terrorists causing the wars in countries like Syria.

UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu raising awareness of the dangers of Human Trafficking.


Photo by Bethany used under CC BY

Sadly large numbers of migrants are well educated and are from safe and relatively wealthy families that pay to become economic migrants or use other ways to get into more developed countries.

The easiest way that the well-off from many countries become asylum seekers is by getting genuine or forged visas to visit an EU country such as the UK.

If someone has a genuine visa they just ‘overstay’ once their visa runs out.

Forged visas only have to fool the staff in the airport of the source country and it is easy enough to bribe such airport officials in many of these places. Once on a plane the migrant destroys their passport/travel documents and on arrival asks for asylum.

What do we do?

This will only aid criminals and terrorists and take away the opportunities of genuine asylum seekers in overcrowded refugee camps in poor nations who are trying to do things the legal way.

This is not just in the EU

In North America criminal gangs are trying to move people from Central and South America through Mexico and into the USA. Large numbers of people are also making the dangerous journey by sea from parts of Asia to Australia.

This year Australia took a very bold move to try to remove the pull factor for the ‘boat migrants’ who were at severe risk of drowning at sea as well as all other non-legal migrants.

They started a policy of ‘Mandatory Detention’ everyone was going to be detained; all  non-legal migrants were to be placed in centres or camps on Pacific Islands.


Photo by DIAC Images used under CC BY

Australia paid governments of other ‘safe countriesmade up of islands within the Pacific Ocean to open up detention camps. Camps such as this one were set up on islands such as Manus Island which is part of Papua New Guinea.

The island governments and many locals see this as an excellent way to earn money.

  • Perhaps we could use many of the un/underpopulated islands off the Scottish coastline or do as Australia has done or
  • partner with ‘safe country’ governments in Africa. As you have found out Spain has immigration centres in North Africa.

Spanish Area of Melilla Fence In North Africa.


Photo by Ongayo used under CC BY

  • Should strong rules such as those in Australia of mandatory detention of non-legal migrants be implemented across the EU?
  • In this way genuine asylum seekers can be processed in centres in countries such as Turkey and Lebanon and then moved safely to countries such as Germany and Sweden which accept the most.

So far in GITN we have made the UK look like a bad country in terms of accepting few asylum seekers and even taking the biggest part of the EU pot of money (AMIF).

The UK is actually a very good country when it comes to dealing with the push factors:

  • Our military services help bring peace.
  • We pay for UNHCR camps and care for genuine refugees in the first point of safety locations/countries.
  • We pay to improve the lives of poor people by funding the Millennium Development Goals.

You can find out about the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) in past editions of GITN. However over the past 15 years they were the main way of reducing the push factors for migration.

Next month in September their new replacements called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are being launched and GITN will tell you all about these.

Other articles you may find of interest, Mexico to USA migration and Migration in the UK.


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