Migrants’ EU perceptions and misperceptions


Migrants and refugees (aspire to) migrate due to a combination of factors and are being prompted to move by a variety of reasons. Therefore, migrants’ and refugees’ perceptions of Europe and the EU are manifold, subjective and relate to all aspects of society. They very much depend on the individual’s needs and on the situation in the country of departure.

While most migrants and refugees are informing themselves about Europe beforehand and subjectively feel well prepared before departure, others are having an urgent need to leave. Those who are leaving under acute conditions are often unprepared – financially but also information-wise. However, the subjective feeling of being informed does not automatically mean that they are actually well informed about Europe.

It is important to consider that many of the initial perceptions change over the course of the migration journey or turn out to be actual misperceptions.

Most prominent perceptions about Europe and the EU:

  • Most refugees and migrants hope for an overall improvement in their living conditions. While for some the concepts of Europe seemed to be distant objects, mentioning a general improvement in their standard of living, most advancements are linked to concrete ideas;
  • Perceptions related to the labour market and the European economy seem to be particularly widespread. Refugees and migrants have a strong labour market and job possibilities in mind. Securing work opportunities is a widely spread ambition and work is perceived to be an integral part of the European lifestyle;
  • Educational opportunities are commonly mentioned as a reason for migrating to Europe. Better educational standards and open access to education, no matter what religion, gender or economic background are common beliefs;
  • Human rights including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, protection, and civic rights are perceived to be less present in the countries of origin than in Europe, which is largely associated with the commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;
  • Female migrants and refugees emphasize the rights women would have in Europe, highlighting the free access to the labour market as well as the right to self-determination and a multitude of possibilities;
  • Positive perceptions of Europe are predominant. However, negative beliefs are common and mainly associated with discrimination, racism and islamophobia;
  • Perceptions related to European migration policies, border management and asylum processes are widespread among migrants and refugees. However, only a few references are made to actual EU policies such as the Dublin regulation or the fingerprinting system;
  • Refugees and asylum seekers feel appalled by the intricacies of the European migration regime in the European Union’s outskirts such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey as well as Jordan;

Frustration about long asylum decisions and the difficult integration process in European member states are common.


Crawley, H., & Hagen‐Zanker, J. (2019). Deciding where to go: Policies, people and perceptions shaping destination preferences. International Migration, 57(1), pp. 20-35.

De Haas, H. (2010). Migration transitions. (Working Papers, 24) International Migration Institute.

Hagen-Zanker, J., & Mallett, R. (2016). Journeys to Europe. The role of policy in migrant decision-making. ODI Insights.

Loftsdóttir, K. (2019). ‘Europe is finished’: migrants lives in Europe’s capital at times of crisis. Social Identities, 25(2), pp. 240-253, DOI: 10.1080/13504630.2017.1414594.

McMahon, S., & Sigona, N. (2018). Navigating the Central Mediterranean in a time of ‘crisis’: Disentangling migration governance and migrant journeys. Sociology, 52(3), pp. 497-514.

Timmerman, C., De Clerck, M.-L., Hemmerechts, K. & Willems, R. (2014). Imagining Europe from the Outside: The Role of Perceptions of Human Rights in Europe in Migration Aspirations in Turkey, Morocco, Senegal and Ukraine. DOI: 10.1057/9781137331175_10.

Van Mol, C., Snel, E., Hemmerechts, K., & Timmerman, C. (2018). Migration aspirations and migration cultures: A case study of Ukrainian migration towards the European Union. Population, space and place. SpringerLink 24(5), pp. 202-247.

Migration-Related Risks Caused by Misconceptions of Opportunities and Requirement

MIRROR has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation action program under grant agreement No 832921.

© All rights reserved