Food Insecurity a Critical 'Push Factor' in Migration, Study Finds

Food Insecurity a Critical 'Push Factor' in Migration, Study Finds

Food insecurity is a critical "push" factor driving the rise in cross-border migration and can exacerbate or be exacerbated by armed conflict, a report from the World Food Programme finds.

Based on surveys of and focus groups with refugees and migrants from East Africa, West Africa, Asia, and the Middle East currently living in camps in Greece, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, the report, At the Root of Exodus: Food Security, Conflict and International Migration (76 pages, PDF), found that countries with the highest level of food insecurity, coupled with armed conflict, had the highest level of outward migration of refugees. In addition, when coupled with poverty, food insecurity increased the likelihood and intensity of armed conflict. The report estimates that each additional year of conflict and each percentage point increase in food insecurity increases refugee outflows per thousand by 0.4 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. Food insecurity and resource constraints were key drivers for migration from Bangladesh and East and West Africa, while sustained conflict, which destroys employment opportunities and access to markets, were triggers for migration from Syria and Afghanistan.

The study also found that the act of migration itself can cause food insecurity among migrants, given adverse travel conditions, the cost of transit, and the lack of income opportunities. Moreover, access to food and secure livelihoods are important factors in a migrant's decision whether to settle in the first relatively safe country they reach or to continue onward, despite their desire to remain close to home. Nearly eight in ten Syrian refugee families in the study had been internally displaced at least once and 65 percent twice or more, while nearly all such families strongly affirmed a desire to return to Syria if the situation there stabilized.

To prevent further displacement, reduce forced onward migration, encourage more cost-effective humanitarian interventions, and yield greater socioeconomic benefits (both in the long- and short-term), the report calls on the international community to invest in social supports and food security initiatives at or near migrants' and refugees' places of origin; provide more support to vulnerable segments of host communities; and implement a cohesive and uniform refugee policy across host and transit countries that includes consistent refugee processing criteria, benefits, and duration and principles of assistance.

"At WFP, we are doing everything we can to care for refugees who are hungry or starving across the world," said WFP executive director David Beasley. "With millions of our brothers and sisters having fled their homes and facing so much hardship, it is our duty to shed light on their tragic situation....By understanding the dynamics that compel people to move, we can better address what lies at the heart of forced migration and what must be done to end their suffering."

"New WFP Report Finds Food Insecurity Accelerates Global Migration." World Food Program Press Release 05/05/2017.