Migration trends across the Mediterranean: Connecting the dots

Altai Consulting


Who are the men and women, and increasingly children, who make the journey from their home countries across vast expanses of desert and eventually across the sea? What are the triggers, patterns, and push and pull factors shaping their decisions? This report draws on unique and in-depth qualitative research conducted in countries of the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean to create a fresh understanding of the dynamics of of the migration flows across the Mediterranean. It suggests that regular monitoring and verification of migrant trends and patterns will allow us, over time, to create a reliable and substantiated picture of migration across the region.

Fieldwork was conducted between November 2014 and February 2015 across seven countries in the MENA region and Europe (Egypt, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia). Across the sample of locations, 60 in-depth interviews were conducted with migrants and 73 key informant interviews were conducted, resulting in a total of 133 in-depth qualitative interviews.

Key findings:

Typically, the considerations that factor into the decision between the two Mediterranean routes studied: how heavily border-crossing points are controlled; the ease of passage to Europe; the possibility for regularisation at some point along the route; the levels of abuse and conditions in the transit countries; the risks involved; the duration of the journey; the cost of the journey; the presence of networks or friends along the way or in transit countries.

The Western Mediterranean Route

  • Nearly 90% of irregular migrants in Spain entered regularly but became irregular over time. Only 10% came by boat from SSA through the Mediterranean
  • Traditionally, the main countries of origin of people coming through the Mediterranean have been Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea and Nigeria. Since 2013 there has been a shift towards more migrants from countries of concern (asylum seekers).
  • Push factors are far more influential than the pull factors, with the most significant being the need to flee from instability.
  • Main routes of travel include: through Mauritania; across the desert; Morocco to Spain by land and sea.
  • A high majority of Nigerian and Cameroonian women arriving in Morocco have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation

The Central Mediterranean Route

  • While Libya remains the main departure point (despite the 2014 crisis), Egypt has eclipsed Tunisia as a significant  departure point for irregular migrants travelling to Europe.
  • In 2014 Italy saw a dramatic increase  in arrivals (170,100 – three times the 2011 record), with a 300% increase in the number of women arriving in the context of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation.
  • While some argue that Mare Nostrum acted as a pull factor, conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan and worsening repression in Eritrea has led to increased numbers of people on the move towards the North African coast.
  • Smugglers prices are now dependent on nationality rather than journey, with targeted packages  (e.g. safer boats) at particular groups.


Any effort to manage the irregular flows across the Mediterranean requires a package of coordinated responses that take into account the variety of countries along the way, actors in these countries, and the spectrum of risks and vulnerabilities. Medium-term and long-term responses may need a longer time frame to be refined and perfected but these categorisations do not imply that the interventions are not required immediately.

Short-term responses include:

  1. Protection at sea
  2. Access to asylum

Medium-term responses include:

  1. Counter-smuggling and anti-trafficking measures
  2. Information campaigns
  3. Regularisation campaigns

Long-term responses include:

  1. Increased legal alternatives to dangerous journeys
  2. Coordination and cooperation
  3. Regional mobility schemes
  4. New approaches to a coordinated European asylum system
  5. Integration of migrants and asylum seekers at destination
  6. New approaches and alternatives to camps


Altai Consulting (2015). Migration trends across the Mediterranean: Connecting the dots. IOM MENA Regional Office, Altai Consulting.