GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1248

Evie Browne
Publication Date
July 31, 2015

Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC)

"Understanding the decisions to leave is a key part of the success of communication campaigns to deter irregular migration. However there is very little evidence on the impact and effectiveness of these campaigns and anecdotal evidence suggests that they have limited, if any, effect on migrants' decisions to leave."

This report, provided for the United Kingdom (UK) Government's Department for International Development (DFID), examines the evidence on the impact and effectiveness of campaigns to communicate about irregular migration, which the International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines as the movement of people that takes place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit and receiving countries. These campaigns generally occur in countries of origin and are not intended to stop migration, but, rather, to inform people of the risks and dangers of irregular routes, smuggling, or trafficking. Anecdotal narratives in the literature suggest that information campaigns have very limited effects on migrants' decisions to leave, as conditions of poverty, inequality, conflict, and lack of economic opportunities at home, as well as reports from trusted social networks about conditions abroad, play a much stronger role in migrant decision-making.

Looking at publically available literature since 2008, the report finds that the factors that may improve effectiveness of information campaigns are:

  • Trust in the information received (Many potential migrants do not trust information disseminated through mass media/official channels.);
  • Focus on specific groups of migrants (e.g., women and girls);
  • Inclusion of real-life testimonies from returned migrants;
  • Repeated messaging rather than one-off campaigns; and
  • Integration of the campaign into broader migration policies and campaigns, including directing migrants to legal opportunities.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides some guidelines for stakeholders, summarised here as:

  • Disseminate information, education, and communication (IEC) materials to inform individuals of the risks of irregular movements, including human trafficking and smuggling.
  • Use simple, targeted messages that are age, gender, and culture sensitive and translated into appropriate languages to reach a wide audience.
  • Encourage the involvement of persons who have experienced hazardous journeys to help influence individual choices and shift attitudes of host communities.
  • Include contact details for support services in information leaflets, as well as the rights and obligations of persons on the move and available international protection and legal migration options.
  • Initiate awareness-raising activities on the plight of refugees and the protection needs of persons travelling within mixed movements.
  • Involve law enforcement, government officials, politicians, and local communities in information strategies, and encourage open debate to identify outcomes for persons travelling within mixed movements.
  • Cooperate with relevant actors on developing information campaigns in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

Types of measureable impacts of these campaigns include: levels of awareness and information retention, changes in perceptions, changes in attitudes, and changes in behaviour. The remainder of the report contains case study examples of information campaigns:

  • The IOM-/EC AENEAS-funded regional project Capacity Building, Information and Awareness Raising towards Orderly Migration in the Western Balkans (2008-2010) - Its approach hinged on establishing Migrant Service Centres (MSCs), which provided information and services to potential migrants. Forty country fact sheets are regularly updated and distributed to MSC visitors, along with individual advice. A media campaign used newspapers, TV, and radio spots to advertise the MSC services, which seemed to increase numbers of visitors directly after a campaign. Other project components included capacity building and policy development. The evaluation of the project's effectiveness states that the MSCs have been successful in reaching out to unemployed people (potential migrants). However, anecdotal evidence suggests that very few of the MSC visitors actually manage to use the legal channels described in the fact sheets and move abroad.
  • Zimbabwe's Safe Journey Information Campaign project (2005-2010) - Respondents showed a higher awareness level of potential risks of illegal migration, such as sexual abuse, and a higher awareness of safe migration rules and regulations. The most successful materials used in this project were "edutainment", IEC tools, and radio shows.
  • IOM Kenya project, Horn/Gulf of Aden/Yemen: Improving Protection of Migrants - Phase III (2012-2013) - Measures included: distributing education materials, posting warning posters, broadcasting radio programmes, carrying out community dialogue workshops, putting on educational plays and concerts, having returnee migrants give talks, and working with local leaders. An external evaluation concluded that these activities were implemented successfully, but do not seem to have reduced the numbers of migrants.
  • IOM's Regional Programme and Dialogue on Facilitating Safe and Legal Migration from South Asia to the EU [European Union] - Operated in both South Asia and EU countries. Flyers, brochures, and videos aim to educate migrants about EU country-specific migration procedures and requirements, basic rights, precautions on the dangers and risks of resorting to irregular migration, and overall guide and basic know-how on how to access legal channels for migration. An external evaluation notes that the lack of feedback mechanisms among beneficiaries limits the assessment of the impact of the information campaign materials and services in terms of behaviour/perception change and knowledge acquired, and that irregular migration is itself extremely difficult to measure.
  • IOM Libya's Transit and Irregular Migration Management project (TRIM) - The campaign was launched in 2006 to inform migrants in Libya about the existence of the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programme. This campaign consists of 10,000 leaflets distributed by the Tripoli office to selected embassies of African countries as well as to representatives from the Catholic Church in Tripoli. In turn, these institutions were supposed to distribute these leaflets directly to migrants and to community leaders. An external evaluation concluded that leaflets are not distributed effectively, and that there was relative lack of knowledge about IOM and the AVR programme among the migrants. The evaluation recommends that any new campaign should be community-based.
  • An IOM/Government of Belgium-funded project delivered by the Indian Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) - In an effort to deter irregular migration to Europe, 25 street fair/road shows were offered in 15 villages of Jallandhar city, in the Punjab, reaching up to 10,000 potential migrants in 2009. A second round of road shows was held 6 months later (10 in the same villages and 20 in new villages, with a slight shift of focus to educational institutions). These events consisted of performance, speeches, and a film showing, highlighting the problems of illegal migration and emphasising legal routes. The project was deemed successful; e.g., 90% of attendees during the second round of performances showed awareness on the pitfalls of illegal migration. The authors highlight that changing attitudes is a long-term process, and repetition of shows and messages is likely to be more successful.
  • An IOM video broadcast in Cameroon - Broadcast on television for 10 days, the video framed the dangers of illegal migration and also supported local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in distributing flyers and books; awareness-raising performances were also held in schools. However, it was found that the campaign was not treated seriously by its intended audience, and it is doubtful that it had any effect.
  • Ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal examining the management of unauthorised migration in fishing boats from West Africa to the Canary Isles - Findings suggest that information campaigns have a limited effect on migration behaviour because: potential migrants may consider themselves better informed about the risks than those producing the campaigns; when potential migrants perceive that information campaigns are driven by vested interests, they are likely to dismiss them as biased propaganda; and awareness campaigns may be irrelevant to prospective migrants who consider the attempt at changing their life to justify the risks involved.

In short: "The literature is fairly clear that the causes of irregular migration are not lack of information about the dangers, as information interventions assume, but poverty, conflict and lack of opportunities, which information interventions do not address. These factors may be beyond the reach of policymakers."


Email from Isobel Wilson-Cleary to The Communication Initiative on October 21 2015; and GSDRC website, May 16 2016. Image credit: Musings on Map