Migration to the EU: a survey of first-line practitioners’ perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic

Executive Summary

This report details the results from a survey of first-line practitioners working in the field of migration, launched by the PERCEPTIONS consortium between October and December of 2020. First-line practitioners have been identified as an understudied group in migration-related research (Bayerl et. al, 2020), and the present report aims to help address this knowledge gap. The results also aim to serve as a reference for future migration-related policymaking and research. Within the PERCEPTIONS project, the insights presented in this report will help to inform the creation of materials to support both migrants and practitioners alike.

The survey itself aimed to explore perceptions of Europe that first-line practitioners observe among migrants, how practitioners believe inaccurate information may influence migration, and the impacts of COVID-19 on the field of migration-related work. It was aimed at first-line practitioners of all sectors, from migrant advocacy organisations to border security experts, and was distributed in 14 countries and 11 languages. In total, 788 responses were received, with 589 participants from European countries (the majority from Bulgaria, Italy, and Spain) and 199 from non-European countries (the majority from Algeria). The sample was relatively balanced between participants working in border enforcement and those working in migrant support services.

Key findings that emerged from the survey include the following:

  • First-line practitioners surveyed overwhelmingly considered external factors (e.g. violence, different political situations, different levels of opportunity, etc.) and general negative conditions in the country of origin (e.g. war, a weak economy, etc.) to be the main drivers of migration. Practitioners from countries defined as transit countries (Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia) considered person-specific threats in the country of origin (such as religious persecution, etc.) to be especially important in motivating migration.
  • Practitioners considered that migrants have a positive idea of Europe and considered this perception to be moderately correct. However, they assessed migrants’ perceptions of some aspects of Europe as relatively less favourable. A less positive perception of the rule of law is, in particular, an aspect that should be analysed in greater depth.
  • Practitioners who had more direct contact with migrants attributed greater accuracy to migrants’ perceptions of Europe with regard to tolerance and non-discrimination, overall quality of life, and women’s rights.
  • Most respondents disagreed with the imputed belief that migrants who come to Europe based on inaccurate information are more likely to commit crimes or become radicalised. However, responses were quite polarised, with male practitioners, practitioners from transit countries, and intergovernmental practitioners being more likely to agree with such a belief.
  • Overall, respondents tended to believe that migrants who make decisions based on inaccurate information are more likely to encounter threats themselves (e.g. use of dangerous routes or human smugglers), but are not more likely to pose a threat to host societies (e.g. via crime and radicalisation).


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