How do people migrate?

Read the selection and then answer the questions

Adapted from ‘The Appification of Migration: A Million Migrants? There’s an App for That’ by Marie McAuliffe on Asia and The Pacific Policy Society website. Full text can be found at The appification of migration

Policy Forum The world has changed fundamentally in the almost 70 years since the largest refugee crisis in Europe following the aftermath of World War II when the Refugee Convention was being developed. Back then, there was no Internet, there were no mobiles or fax machines, and postal services were slow and often disrupted. Telegram and telephone communication was limited and costly. After World War II refugee movements beyond war-torn Europe were regulated by states (including under the United Nations). The UN coordinated repatriation, returns and resettlement of refugees to third countries. In today’s terms, movements were slow, highly regulated and very selective. Information for refugees was largely the monopoly of states and opportunities for migrating to other regions were limited to formal channels. Things are very different now. These days conflict and persecution are still occurring at frustrating and tragic levels, but the context has changed. While the international protection system has evolved incrementally over time, it risks lagging further behind. The ‘appification’ of migration has taken off, making migration processes fundamentally different in specific but important ways. Firstly, mobile phone technology has become the norm, linking migrants to family, friends, humanitarian organisations and smugglers, but equally linking smugglers to agents, and their networks of fellow smugglers in dispersed locations. These links can be found in a variety of apps for people travelling to and through Europe. The telecommunications revolution is enabling the creation of unregulated migration pathways that are fast and affordable for an increasing number of people. Secondly, and for the first time in decades, large numbers of refugees and other migrants in transit and host countries such as Turkey are not sitting and waiting for resettlement or return. They are taking matters into their own hands, principally because they can. Information, advice and money can be shared quickly, and the constraints of geography more easily overcome.

So what can be done to better regulate movement and ensure more certain, safe and sustainable migration, recognising that turning back the clock on connectivity is both impossible and highly undesirable? Firstly, we need to acknowledge that we inexcusably remain data poor in an age of such great global connectivity. More research harnessing new technologies and undertaken from a migrant perspective needs to be done. Such research could be usefully focused on providing answers to how we might better prevent dangerous illicit migration in safe and sustainable ways. Secondly, greater emphasis needs to be placed on improving conditions in home countries, including to reduce conflict and persecution but also to improve countries’ economies and governance so that more people are able to forge safe and meaningful lives at home. Finally, we need to re-think solutions to enhance stability and improve the lives of people who have already been displaced. This would necessarily involve more support to refugee host countries. But just as importantly, deeper thinking about the policy implications of greater mobility is required, as is contemplation of refugees as a potential demographic bonus for highly industrialised countries, rather than a burden. The technology, resources and intellect to achieve these goals are available. States and international partners that are more determined to see glimpses of the world through the eyes of migrants, and more clearly understand unregulated migration pathways and our inter-connected prosperity, are likely to be at a strategic advantage. They will be able to see emerging issues that can be shaped in positive and constructive ways to the benefit of refugees and states.


  1. According to the text, what are some important ways technology has impacted migration?

  2. The text mentions that migrants are ‘taking matters in their own hands’ today more than ever. Give an example of how migrants might ‘take matters into their own hands.’

  3. In your own words, what are the three recommendations the text mentions to ensure better regulation and the safe movement of migrants.

  4. Provide your own definition for what is meant by the phrase ‘the appification of migration.’