Mixed migration is a relatively new term – in wider usage in the last decade – which seeks to capture the intertwined and multifaceted drivers of movement of all people, regardless of status. While the crossing of national boundaries is commonly classified as either “forced/involuntary” or “voluntary,” the reality is much more complex and nuanced. A mixed migration lens helps to enlarge the protection space for people on the move who may not qualify for refugee status, or may not have left their countries for reasons laid out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, or regional refugee instruments, but who still might have felt compelled to leave for a combination of interrelated factors, including economic, political, social and religious or ethnic ones. Such individuals often face the same risks, have similar needs along the journey and travel along the same routes. However, they may fall through the protection safety net, safeguarding of rights, and assistance, because current international legal frameworks reinforce only two concepts: the migrant and refugee.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) and the Mixed Migration Centre’s (MMC’s) 4Mi project provide timely and regularly-produced evidence on mixed migration, the profiles of people on the move, their experiences and needs.
While classical migration data sources hardly record migrants with an irregular status, mixed migration responses record people regardless of their legal status and therefore are well suited to observe irregular migration (IOM, 2020). In recent years, such mixed migration tools have made publicly available considerably more information on mobility, particularly in countries where there was little or no previous knowledge about the topic. For example, through the “Displacement” tab on the IOM DTM website, users can get detailed information on the stocks of those in mixed movements across the globe. Furthermore, on the MMC website, 4Mi interactive allows web-users to explore various data indicators pertaining to the migration journey through interactive visual displays.
To date, there are only a few large-scale quantitative data sources on mixed migration given the hidden, cross-border and mobile nature of such movements, which makes gathering accurate data particularly challenging. Further, the varying definitions of mixed migration impact the data collection, as well as the comparability of the data.
Mixed migration refers to “cross-border movements of people, including refugees fleeing persecution and conflict, victims of trafficking and people seeking better lives and opportunities. Motivated to move by multiple factors, people engaged in mixed migration have different legal statuses, and face a variety of vulnerable situations. Although entitled to protection under international human rights law, they may often be exposed to multiple rights violations along their journey. Moreover, refugees and migrants travel along similar routes, using similar means of travel – often travelling irregularly and wholly or partially assisted by human smugglers (MMC, 2019).
Organizations refer to mixed migration through a variety of terminologies. IOM uses “mixed movements” (although also refers to “mixed migration” or “mixed flows”) to describe the various migration statuses for those travelling along the same migration routes and using the same forms of transportation, yet highlights that the status of those in mixed movements is driven by different reasons (IOM, 2019). Alternatively, UNHCR favours “mixed movement,” while underscoring the varied protection entitlements linked to migration status.
There is currently a debate on migration terminology which largely focuses on the use of the terms “refugees” and “migrants,” and whether “migrants” can be used as an overarching term to include refugees, or if migrants and refugees should be seen as mutually exclusive categories. On one side, there is the well-founded concern that viewing refugees as a sub-group of migrants (but with specific rights under the Refugee Convention) may reduce the protection space for refugees. This is particularly due to the negative narratives and public perceptions around migrants. On the other side, it is argued that from a basic human rights and humanitarian needs perspective, focusing government policies and humanitarian programmes on all people in mixed migration flows is better than approaching refugees and migrants as two completely distinct groups (all the while recognizing the specific protection entitlements of refugees). Or even more importantly, it is argued that by insisting on this separation, the rights of migrants may suffer as these may be seen as the “undeserving” group versus the “deserving” refugees. Furthermore, the statistical definition of a migrant clearly includes refugees as individuals changing their country of usual residence.
Mixed migration, contrary to individually examining groups in migration flows, is a valuable lens through which to understand contemporary patterns of human mobility for three main reasons:
- It describes people as they are moving– or in transit– for however long the journey lasts. The term cannot be applied to people before they have left their place of origin, just as it cannot be applied to those who have arrived and settled at a point of destination.
- It allows for additional protections for those on the move, as people irrespective of status, face similar risks and vulnerabilities from the same causes and/or perpetrators.
- It recognizes that the drivers of movement–for both refugees and migrants–are diverse, multi-dimensional, often intertwined and influence each other: people feel compelled or motivated to move due to persecution, violence and conflict, poverty, a lack of access to rights and basic services, a lack of decent work, gender inequality, the wide-ranging consequences of environmental degradation and climate change, separation from their family, as well as their individually-held aspirations, among other reasons.
When applying the lens of mixed migration, the importance of the specific rights of asylum-seekers and refugees through the separate protection mandate for those forcibly displaced under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol should be emphasized and fully recognized (more detail and information can be found on the forced displacement thematic page). However, it is also important to acknowledge that all people in mixed migration flows, regardless of status, are exposed to protection risks, increased vulnerabilities, decreased rights, and constrained agency. Few who are forced to move do so without expressing any agency during their journey, just as people who may have begun their migration journey “voluntarily” do not always maintain the same degree of decision-making power throughout the entirety of their journey. The human rights of all those in mixed migration flows should be at the centre of analyses and programme and policy development.
Key global trends
Mobility during COVID-19
Policy responses to stem the spread of COVID-19, including but not limited to curfews, international border closures, and internal movement restrictions, are having a significant impact on human mobility and mixed migration. Following the outbreak, a number of centres of mixed migration research have adapted their data collection mechanisms to better capture new movement phenomena. IOM DTM has closely monitored land, sea, and air border closures to further understand mobility impacts on mixed migration at a macro-level, whereas the Mixed Migration Center (MMC) has provided global updates on the micro-level experiences of people moving along key mixed migration routes.
The Venezuelan exodus
According to data from national immigration authorities and other sources as of August 2021, nearly 5.6 million Venezuelans have left their origin country in the last few years following political and socio-economic crisis (R4V, 2021) in what has been described by the UN as the largest external displacement crises in the modern history of Latin America and the Caribbean (R4V, 2018). The vast majority (84% of them) are hosted by countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with Colombia and Peru - each hosting 32% and 19% respectively – leading the list of host countries, followed by Ecuador and Chile (R4V, 2020b). Most Venezuelans leave the country for a combination of reasons, which include economic reasons such as the lack of employment opportunities, a lack of access to basic rights and services, insecurity and, in some cases, persecution based on political opinion. Venezuelans who fulfil the requirements to be recognized as refugees move through the same routes and use the same means as those whose movements are not impacted by factors related to persecution. Following the protracted nature of the crisis, and as the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants increased, several countries adopted increasingly restrictive migration policies. Facing growing obstacles to legal forms of migration, many Venezuelans are now resorting to more dangerous irregular pathways (R4V, 2019).
Movement along the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR)
Mixed migration to Europe gained widespread attention in 2015 when increasing numbers of refugees and migrants reached Greece, Italy and Spain, amongst other countries, after traveling long distances along irregular routes. Over the past few years a growing body of evidence is shedding light on the complex routes migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean, allowing for a better, more nuanced understanding of migration within and between these regions (IOM GMDAC, 2020; MMC, 2021a). Mixed migration along the CMR includes refugees fleeing from conflict and persecution in their origin countries, migrants looking to countries in North Africa and Europe for better social and economic opportunities and migrants for whom Libya was their original destination but due to the conflict and difficult conditions there, flee the country. Despite a significant overall reduction in arrivals to Europe since 2016, refugees and migrants continue to travel to Europe in search of protection and better living conditions. In 2020, Tunisia and Libya were main departure points to Italy which received 34,154 total sea arrivals during the year, of which 38% departed from Libya, and 36% departed from Tunisia (IOM, 2020). Though public attention has predominantly focused on transit migration across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe, the majority of the 591,000 migrants currently residing in Libya intend to stay as Libya’s labour market continues to make it a destination for both regular and irregular migration, despite the current economic crisis which has been further exacerbated by COVID-19, protracted conflict and insecurity, and the criminalization of irregular entry to the country (IOM DTM, 2020). That said, the challenging context and the increasing pressures of COVID-19 have left some refugees and migrants alike involuntarily immobile within the country and/or in need of assistance to leave the difficult conditions (MMC 2021b).
Movements through Yemen
The Eastern African Route hosts the movement of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa towards Yemen and the Gulf countries along mixed migration routes (IOM, 2021a). The main origin countries of people moving along this route are largely from Ethiopia and to a lesser extent from Somalia. High unemployment rates and political insecurity are major drivers for Ethiopians and Somalis to the Gulf states, seeking security and employment in the informal sector. For most refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa, Yemen is a transit country on their way to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries (IOM, 2021b). In Saudi Arabia alone, there were an estimated 500,000 Ethiopians in 2017 (HRW, 2017). However, a lack of access to basic services, high levels of violence and abuse, trafficking and other protection risks are increasingly prevalent for refugees and migrants arriving in and traveling through Yemen (Botti and Phillips, 2019). Given the ongoing humanitarian situation in Yemen and Saudi Arabia's commitment to curb irregular migration, there are bi-directional flows of refugees and migrants along the route. In addition to the movement of migrants from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and the Gulf, Yemenis seeking asylum as well as returning Ethiopians and Somalis are moving from Yemen to East Africa (VOA, 2019).
Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, migration flows have witnessed a significant decline across all migratory corridors affecting the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) region, along with directional changes in trajectories. Between January and June 2021, the Eastern Route - the most relevant in terms of volume and characteristics - reported a decrease of 88 per cent, with only around 9,989 new arrivals from the Horn of Africa tracked along the coast of Yemen, as compared to the first half of 2019 (IOM, 2021c). Due to mobility restrictions and border closures migrants are often unable to continue their journey as well as return home. By the end of October 2021, it was estimated that nearly 30,000 migrants were stranded in Yemen, 80 in Djibouti and 500 in Somalia (IOM, 2021d).
While classical migration data sources hardly record migrants with an irregular status, mixed migration responses record people regardless of their legal status and therefore are well suited to observe irregular migration (IOM, 2020). However, data sources to understand and analyze mixed migration are limited given the hidden, cross-border and highly mobile facets of movement, making accurate data collection particularly challenging. Key mixed migration data sources include:
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matric (DTM) seeks to capture the number and composition of mixed migration movements, whether on site or en route. The DTM is a system to track and monitor displacement and population mobility, provide critical information to decision-makers and responders during crises, and contribute to better understandings of population flows. DTM was first conceptualized in 2004 to monitor internal displacement in Iraq and has since been adapted for implementation in over 71 countries, including in contexts of conflict, natural disaster, complex emergencies and protracted crises, covering 27.8 million IDPs, 20.1 million Returnees and 5.1 million migrants as of October 2020. Data captured include location, conditions, needs and vulnerabilities, and migration flows; data gathered can be from groups, households and/or individuals.
Some of DTM’s projects include:
- Migration.iom.int is an IOM online platform designed to enhance access to Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) migration flow information products, including a visualization of population flows.
- IOM also aims to track the impact of COVID-19 in human mobility spans across key monitoring initiatives, including on international travel restrictions, mobility and points of entry, and impacts on migrants, IDPs, and flows.
- The Regional Data Hub (RDH) for East and Horn of Africa aims to fill in the existing gaps in strengthening the regional evidence base on migration through a combination of IOM data collection methodologies, research initiatives, and continuous and active engagement with National Statistical Offices (NSOs), key line Ministries and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
The Mixed Migration Centre’s 4Mi project seeks to capture the experiences those moving along mixed migration routes. Since its launch in 2014, 4Mi now consists of a network of over 100 monitors in more than 20 countries, with new data collection programmes in Europe (Italy and Greece) and Latin America (Colombia and Peru) as of late 2019. Regional teams in West Africa, North Africa, East Africa and Yemen, Europe, Latin America, and Asia collect and analyse data on mixed migration. The 4Mi survey contains a series of structured questions and several open-ended questions. Survey responses are collected by monitors, who are often refugees and migrants themselves, at known mixed migration “nodes” and “hotspots”: urban centres, border areas and along transit routes where there is a large presence of people on the move.
Monitors are selected based on their knowledge of their locality and contacts with refugees and migrants. 4Mi seeks to ensure diverse monitor profiles (gender, ethnicity, language skills, economic and social status) to target the broadest cross-section possible of refugees and migrants. Generally, monitors employ a combination of purposive and snowball sampling. The focus of the instrument is on people on the move rather than on those who have settled for the long term, thus–where possible–monitors will only interview refugees and migrants who have been in the country of interview for less than one or two years (depending on the location). In some places, particularly where there can be long periods of involuntary immobility, this time period has been extended. Monitors are trained to balance the number of male and female respondents, and to diversify contact points and origin country. No distinction is made in the sampling process between migrants, asylum-seekers, or refugees, to capture the diversity of movement within in mixed migration.
The Mixed Migration Hub (MHub)- MHub is a North Africa based initiative, providing information on routes, flows and trends in mixed migratory movements across the region. Mhub operates in two key ways. Firstly, it provides support to governments and other agencies on research on refugees and migrants. Secondly, MHub produces knowledge on the human rights protection issues faced by people on the move in North Africa for use by policy makers agencies, donors, public and academia, with a view to inform advocacy, policy and program development.
Mhub produces research either through in-house research and analysis, or through external researchers, commissioned to undertake dedicated multi-country studies. In order to undertake this research, MHub has field researchers stationed in a number of countries along the route who conduct field surveys with people on the move. Furthermore, to improve dissemination and engagement, MHub conducts academic outreach and holds research events with research partners and stakeholders.
MHub seeks to fosters collaborative approaches among key stakeholders and serves as the secretariat of the North Africa Mixed Migration Task Force (NAMMTF). MHub works on behalf of the NAMMTF consisting of various international organizations, including DRC, IOM, OHCHR, MMC, Save the Children, UNHCR, UNICEF and UNODC. Ultimately, MHub seeks to promote a human rights-based approach to ensuring the protection of people moving in mixed and complex flows to, and through North Africa.
Other agencies collecting data on mixed migration. Examples include:
- United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) – UNICEF collects data on children – whether accompanied or unaccompanied - moving in mixed migration groups regardless of the reasons they are on the move.
- IOM’s Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) -The CTDC is the largest global data hub on human trafficking which provides harmonized data from counter-trafficking organizations around the world.
- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)- UNODC collects data on and monitors the patterns and flows of trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling at global, regional and national levels.
- Internal Displacement Migration Centre -IDMC monitors situations of displacement caused by conflict and violence, disasters and development at the global level. While mixed migration definitions do not generally include internal displacement/internally displaced persons (IDPs), internal displacement is relevant to mixed migration as IDPs can later become migrants crossing national borders.
Strengths & limits of the data
When analysing mixed migration flows, there is heavy reliance on qualitative data given the limited quantitative data available. While IOM DTM seeks to capture the extent and nature of mixed migration, MMC’s 4Mi data examine the experiences of people moving along mixed migration routes and the process (drivers, aspirations, interactions with smugglers, to name a few) of mixed migration. Both DTM and MMC data provide a basis to begin to understand mixed migration routes and the profiles of people on the move. Moreover, 4Mi’s continuous, community-based data collection approach allows the construction of a comprehensive picture through comparison with DTM data, which enables insights on indicative trends. In addition, by collecting similar information along different mixed migration routes and triangulating with other sources, MMC’s 4Mi and IOM’s DTM allow for comparative analysis between different routes and across regions.
As with all data collection on mixed migration, there are a number of limitations. Populations on the move are heterogenous and difficult to access. Therefore, random sampling and representative data collection is not possible and data collection projects, including 4Mi, often rely on purposive and snowball sampling methods. This limits the interpretation of data on mixed migration. For example, mixed migration data cannot be used to provide accurate figures of the volume or characteristics of the overall migrant population. As a result, 4Mi takes severalmeasures to improve the diversity of its sample, including the quantity of interviews (more than 10,000 interviews are conducted each year), careful selection of recruitment locations, sampling scheme design, and careful recruitment of monitors.
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