Deciding Which Road to Take: Insights into How Migrants and Refugees in Greece Plan Onward Movement
In 2015, faced with a mounting humanitarian crisis on its borders, the European Union introduced a plan to relocate some asylum seekers from overburdened Greece and Italy to other EU countries. Yet Member States’ reluctance to make concrete relocation pledges and asylum seekers’ resistance to being moved to destinations they viewed as less desirable meant that a year on, far fewer had been relocated than was originally envisioned. As EU policymakers debate new proposals to deal with future arrivals, including one that would involve creating a regional disembarkation platform in the Mediterranean, a similar blindspot remains: most policy discussions do not take into account how people on the move form and act on preferences for certain destinations.
This issue brief explores the results of a survey of more than 500 refugees and other migrants in Greece. Among them, more than 80 percent had arrived in Greece intending to continue on to other well-known and well-regarded European destinations, such as Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. This analysis examines whether respondents decided to stick to or change their plans after reaching Greece (either by picking a new onward destination or staying in the country). It also considers the factors and sources of information that played into this decision-making process.
The fact that only one-third of respondents changed their plans after arriving in Greece suggests that migrants hold strong and relatively fixed destination preferences, and that changing these through informational campaigns or enforcement measures can be difficult. Perceptions of opportunity, stability, and security—often shaped by information from family and friends—were particularly important in forming these preferences. For policymakers, this suggests that any future relocation plans should be paired with efforts to improve integration and employment conditions.
II. Migrants' Intended Destinations before and after Arrival in Greece
III. Factors at Play during Migration Decision-Making
A. Sources of Information about Destinations and Opportunities
B. Relative Importance of Different Factors
IV. Conclusions and Policy Implications