Flight and migration

Flight and migration of people: Few issues divide society as much as that of immigration. We experience emotionally charged discussions about security issues, ethical aspects or cultural points of contention. People either show solidarity with refugees and migrants or have fears, prejudices and hate.

Almost 80 million people on the run

A person who leaves his home country usually has no prospects for the future or finds himself in a life-threatening situation. The latter has ensured that, according to the latest UN refugee report, some 79.5 million people are on the run worldwide. Most of them, ca. 45.7 million are internally displaced and find refuge in another part of their home country. 29.6 million of these people left their homeland during their flight.

The refugee crisis in 2015 showed us what challenges we as a society have to overcome. Integrating refugees from other cultural backgrounds is not an easy task and must not lose importance. In addition, it is essential to do more to combat the causes of flight. People have to find living conditions in their countries that do not turn them into refugees or migrants.

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar cross the border into Bangladesh. They carry their belongings on their shoulders. © Daniel Pilar/World Hunger Aid

The terms refugee and migration, or refugee and migrant*, are often used interchangeably. However, there are important conceptual differences.

Migration: We talk about migration when people are displaced due to bspw. Lack of perspective leave their homeland in order to improve their living situation. There are many reasons for this. In the context of flight, it is important to distinguish between self-selected and forced migration – that is, displacement.

Flight: Refugeeism is a form of migration in which people flee armed conflict or persecution. The Geneva Refugee Convention defines it as people leaving their homes "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Why do people leave their home countries??

The number of people fleeing their homes has increased sharply in recent years. A small number of people make it to Europe, while around 40 million others move within their own country’s borders. But what are the causes of flight and migration?

Persecution due to certain characteristics

Persecution is the most common reason people take flight. They flee from violence threatening them because of their religion, skin color, sexual orientation, political views or nationality. Religious refugees are everywhere in the world: from Muslims persecuted in Myanmar to Christians in the Central African Republic to Hindus in Pakistan.

The armed conflict in Syria has now lasted for over eight years, with disastrous consequences for the economic and social situation in the country.


Armed conflict inevitably leads to people fleeing to save their own lives. Wars are responsible for the most refugees in human history.

The civil war in Syria has driven millions of people from their homes. Around 5.6 million Syrians have been forced to leave their country, while 6.7 million refugees have fled within the country’s borders.

But refugees also fled Syria to escape the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Afghanistan, in particular, had the most refugees of any country in the world for more than two decades between 1981 and 2013.

Poverty, hunger and lack of prospects

Poverty, hunger and lack of prospects are factors for people to leave their homes. In everyday language we often talk about "economic refugees" – a term that is usually used in a derogatory way.

Climate Change

The effects of climate change could result in more than 140 million climate refugees by 2050. Whether it’s rising sea levels, increasing weather extremes, or changing ecosystems: We are already seeing serious impacts on the livelihoods of many people today. Climate change is directly linked to poverty and hunger, but also indirectly fosters new and existing conflicts.

How are climate and flight/migration connected?? The graphic illustrates the diversity of causes. © Welthungerhilfe

Officially, climate change is not yet a valid reason to apply for asylum. In 2013, the first asylum application for climate change refugees was rejected by the New Zealand Supreme Court when a man from Kiribati tried to legally claim this status.

Positions and demands of Welthungerhilfe

Welthungerhilfe has decades of experience in caring for refugees and migrants. This expertise enables us to bring current proposals into the international debate that are both fundamental and solution-oriented. Humanitarian aid and development cooperation have the potential to achieve great things, to fight the causes of flight and to create new perspectives for refugees. A change in the way we deal with these people is needed.

Tackling the causes of flight

When people no longer see any prospects in their countries, suffer from hunger and poverty or their lives are threatened by wars, flight and migration inevitably occur. In order for these people to lead a stable life in their home country, they often need help from the outside. Our work has shown that social and agricultural development projects, as well as measures to counter the effects of climate change, lay the foundations for people to become more resilient and lead more self-determined lives. We call on politicians to use diplomatic means to prevent conflicts and find peaceful solutions.

Provide greater support to countries of origin and neighboring states

Most refugees are hosted in other regions of their home country or in neighboring countries. This happens mostly in Africa and Asia. Poorer countries quickly reach capacity limits as a result. At the same time, international refugee assistance is still severely underfunded. To prevent "lost generations" of refugees, new and innovative approaches are needed, as well as increased financial support. Care services go beyond accommodation and food and must also include further services such as education, access to the labor market, legal advice or psychosocial care as support.

Facilitate integration and develop a new approach to migration

In Germany and the EU, there is no mature migration policy concept that goes beyond short-term solutions. Furthermore, not all EU countries pull together – to the detriment of the refugees. A fair balance of interests between migrants, countries of origin and host countries is needed. It is essential to ensure migrants’ rights to prevent exploitation and discrimination.

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid must work hand in hand

While humanitarian aid as emergency aid alleviates acute crises and supplies people in emergencies, crises and emergencies can be prevented through development cooperation. There is still a significant need for action to combine both approaches. How to support refugees so that they can help themselves as quickly as possible? Efforts to better connect approaches must also involve the government of the countries of origin more.

A common European solution must be found in close cooperation. Key points include:

  • More legal entry opportunities for those seeking protection
  • A functioning system for sea rescue
  • Unconditional compliance with humanitarian standards
  • A rethinking of the relocation of border protection and refugee defense to neighboring countries of the EU
  • A community refugee policy where all member states – according to capacity – take responsibility

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