GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

8.4 Mobility and Decision Making


Refugees and asylum seekers are often faced with the same factors and decisions as other migrants when deciding if, when, and where to migrate. As with any decision to leave a place, it is multi-faceted and complex and deals with a combination of push and pull factors at their origin, destination, and intermediary locations (Czaika, 2016; McAuliffe, 2017; Hatton & Monoley, 2017). While this section cannot enumerate all of the many facets of the decision making process that refugees and asylum seekers go through, this lesson hopes to provide a cross section of research to allow you to begin to think critically about the multi-faceted decisions of these migrants.

Czaika (2016) reminds us that in addition to taking into account the current situation, potential refugees and asylum seekers must also take into account “...other social and economic aspects as well as the ‘opportunity costs’ of leaving behind and potentially losing their belongings...and beloved ones.” While refugees and asylum seekers in Australia often cited a combination of security and non-security related issues contributing to their decision to migrate, migrants also left in search of better educational facilities, better health service, and more economic opportunities, and chose Australia because of Australia’s reputation for good hospitality towards asylum seekers (McAuliffe, 2017). Other cited attributes of desirable locations for asylum seekers include a peaceful locale, higher incomes, and employment opportunities (Hatton and Moloney, 2017). An interesting point McAuliffe's (2017) research notes is that asylum seekers in Australia cited “a significant security threat or incident triggered their departure.” Those who are younger and perhaps of working age may also be more inclined to migrate (Czaika, 2016).

As with international migrants, Czaika (2016) also finds that networks are also important in decision making and can make the decision to move easier, especially in helping to decide where to migrate. Social media has increased the ability to create networks that provide information on host nations and experiences of other migrants to help inform refugee and asylum seeker decisions, though access to this social media networking capability varies geographically with some African migrants possibly having a reduced access to such capabilities (Merisalo & Jauhiainen, 2021; Dekker et al., 2018). Those with access; however, identified that social media and smartphones were helpful in route planning, learning about access to countries, choosing a destination, and keeping in touch with those at a country of origin (Dekker et al., 2018). This, however, is a rosy view of social media and smartphones—it does have its pitfalls, as it can be rife with misinformation and an ability to be tracked, they also require internet connection (or mobile service), a battery, and a mechanism for charging said battery (Dekker et al., 2018). Despite the pitfalls, social media, the internet, and smartphones do influence refugee and asylum seekers before and during their travel about where they should go and how to get where they are going. Recall that different countries have different procedures for determining whether or not an asylum seeker meets the definition of a refugee, and these networks help provide insight into which countries may be more or less stringent, potentially influencing decision making.

Distance is also a factor in a migrant’s decision making, especially if there is an intention to return home. Thus, neighboring countries often receive many refugees and often “shoulder a disproportionate burden” over other nations (Czaika, 2016). That, however, isn’t to say that this is always the case. Some migrants use these neighboring countries as springboards to locations further away, as evidenced Ludwig’s (2013) work with Liberian refugees in the United States, who sometimes used refugee camps in neighboring countries as an intermediate location to gain refugee status elsewhere. In addition, refugees may also choose a host nation based on the presence of a social network: friends, family, etc. At times, these migrants may choose to remain in a transit location because of the presence of known family and friends who can help support (Simich et al., 2003). The decisions these refugees make throughout their journey also can help speak to their experiences in their host nation, which is the focus of the next section.


Czaika, M. (2016). Refugee movements. In J. Stone, R. M. Dennis, P. S. Rizova, A. D. Smith, and X. Hou (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and nationalism (pp. 1-5). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Dekker, R., Engbersen, G., Klaver, J., and Vonk, H. (2018). Smart refugees: How Syrian asylum migrants use social media information in migration decision-making. Social Media and Society, 4(1), 1-11.

Hatton, T. and Moloney, J. (2017). Applications for asylum in the developed world: Modeling asylum claims by origin and destination. In M. McAuliffe and K. Koser (Eds.), A long way to go: Irregular migration patterns, processes, drivers and decision-making (pp. 227-254). Australian National University Press.

Ludwig, B. (2013). “Wiping the refugee dust from my feet”: Advantages and burdens of refugee status and the refugee label. International Migration, 54(1), 5-18.

McAuliffe, M. (2017). Seeking the views of irregular migrants: Decision-making, drivers and migration journeys. In M. McAuliffe and K. Koser (Eds.), A long way to go: Irregular migration patterns, processes, drivers and decision-making (pp. 103-140). Australian National University Press.

Merisalo, M. and Jauhianinen, J. S. (2021). Asylum-related migrants’ social-media use, mobility decisions, and resilience. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 19(2), 184-198.

Simich, L., Beiser, M., and Mawani, F. N. (2003). Social support and the significance of shared experience in refugee migration and resettlement. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 25(7), 872-891.