Complex migrations: Syria and Ukraine


Since time immemorial, people have been moving from where they were born to other regions, whether near, far or very far away. With the acquisition of knowledge, discoveries and inventions, the possibility to move has been made more accessible while pushing back the limits of mobility. The development of technologies around transportation by land, air and sea has thus shaped migration and increased the migrants flows.

Curiosity and the need for growth have been the motivating factors for individuals who have embarked on the discovery of new worlds. A part of this adventurous population was however forced to exodus across the oceans. This was the case of convicts, a kind of “second chance”, or slaves, who had no choice. The relationship between chosen and forced migration is not really measurable at the time of the discovery of the new world. However, there has been a need for discovery at least since the Renaissance. This need can be traced back to economic growth.

Refugees and migrants evolution worldwide from 2000 to 2015

Factors leading to migration

Nowadays, in the face of migratory phenomena, it is more the causes than the motivations that explain the situation. These causes are poverty, war and climate change. These factors push populations to leave their territory in order to survive and in the hope of returning one day, perhaps, to their native land. Depending on the situation and the means available, migrants leave their territory for neighboring countries or other continents. In the last few decades, the number of displaced people has been growing. According to the report of the United Nations agency for migration, the volume of displaced people has increased from 84 million in 1970 to 244 million in 2015, and then to 281 million in 2020, or 3.6% of the world population. The same report indicates that in 2015 more than 740 million people were displaced within their country of origin, mainly for reasons related to poverty, climate change or natural disasters.

Finding a definition for migration

The phenomenon of migration leads to statutory and social problems in host countries that view migrant populations in different ways. Beyond any scientific classification, there is no internationally recognized legal definition of migrants. Most agencies and organizations consider migrants to be people who live outside their country of origin but are neither asylum seekers nor refugees. While the migration phenomenon is a complex, multifaceted reality, it is important to distinguish between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Refugees are people who have fled their country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution. Their lives and safety are threatened, so much so that they feel they have no choice but to leave their country and seek a place where they are no longer at risk because their own state is unable or unwilling to protect them. Refugees, on the other hand, are entitled to international protection. Asylum seekers are people who have left their country and are seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights abuses in another country, but who have not yet been legally recognized as refugees and are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. The right to asylum is a human right.

Syrian and Ukrainian migration in comparison

Women and children emigrating from Ukraine to other Europeancountries
Mainly women and children are migrating from Ukraine.

The migration phenomenon has recently been characterized by mass movements in a short space of time, particularly in Syria and Ukraine. While the common reason for these two examples is war, the form of the phenomenon is different. Within three years, 3 million Syrians have fled their country. In 2022, according to the UNHCR, this figure almost doubled. 65% of this population, or 3.7 million, found refuge in Turkey. With 840,000 people, the 2nd host country is Lebanon with an estimated population of 6.8 million. In the case of the war in Ukraine, the population fled the country within a few months. Between February and May 2022, about 6 million people found refuge in European countries. The other difference with Syria is the population. On the Syrian side, the proportion of men and women is equal, while on the Ukrainian side, women and children account for 90%. The war is the cause for the population movements, but the social context of these two countries is also completely different. If the men stayed to fight in Ukraine against the Russian invader, it is because they are motivated by the hope of victory to return to their former lives. On the other hand, on the Syrian side, this hope is not persistent in the sense that the life of before has been forgotten. Future events will tell if the hope of the Ukrainians is consistent with reality.

The question of return: Syrian refugees in Turkey

Syrian immigrants in Turkey praying on a public square
Life is harsh for refugees in Turkey, and going back to Syria will be even harder.

The question of return is on everyone’s mind. However, a displaced person who lives more than two years in the same place settles there physically and psychologically and his chances of return are compromised. If some Ukrainians have already returned to their region of origin, this is not the case for Syrian refugees in Turkey. After almost 10 years of exile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is establishing instruments to force the Syrian refugees to return to their country while the war is not over. The political will of the host countries is driven by the social context and by popular pressure. In the case of Turkey, the solidarity of the Muslim community takes a back seat. Indeed, anti-migrant sentiment, exacerbated by socio-economic problems, is growing in Turkey. This issue is instrumentalized for political purposes beyond the national debate and serves as a hybrid weapon…

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