Migration Patterns of Afghan and Syrian Refugees


Refugee communities are often disparaged by the modern society, especially because of a widespread fear that such mass exodus will lead to spillover of armed conflicts globally. This piece discusses some of the major origin and causes of migrant crises; and, their complex and diverse effects; finally extrapolating the migration patterns which are concomitant to migration theories and approaches coupled with socio-economic and political rationalities. Its most prominent finding is that the widespread panic regarding a possible spillover of Afghan and Syrian armed conflicts to their neighbors and other regions of the world, merely because of the current mass exodus, cannot be concurred.

The present article analyzes the characteristics and patterns of the most critical contemporary Afghan and Syrian refugee crisis. It subtly touches migration theories and approaches coupled with the socio-economic and political rationalities before analyzing origin, causes and effects of the refugee movements and migrations. The present article finds that the possibility of regional shift of armed conflicts depends mostly on the severity of the conflicts that causes migration crises, rather than mere mass exodus. The migration patterns extrapolated by the analyses of the present article corroborate that the refugee crises are byproduct of conflicts, political deadlocks, climate changes, socio-economic hardships, and failure of government; and their adverse impacts on global peace, security and economy will come to an end only if socioeconomic destitution of the refugee communities can be alleviated through optimum humanitarian assistance, organized resettlement or sustainable repatriation, growth opportunities, legal privileges and protection.

Migration Theories and Approaches

The theoretical maneuvers in the existing literature regarding refugee migration falls broadly into two categories: firstly, origin and causes that examines migrant communities, migration patterns and their evolution; and secondly, effects of refugee movements and migrations that has ripple effects on diverse realms of economic, political and social environment. These two categories can be separately covered within the context of three levels of analysis — micro, macro and meso levels of analysis.

While micro approaches attempt to present individual level of analysis, macro approaches concentrate on the systemic or structural level of analysis. Meso approaches intertwines the micro and macro levels of analyses owing to its tendency to focus on interactions and relations.

This piece employs macro-level theories and approaches in the analysis of the migration patterns in the Afghan and Syrian refugee communities. The applied theories, approached and s rationalities regarding the macro-analysis are further articulated.

Instead of calculation of the positive and negative role of the individual, human capital and the reasons for migration like in micro-level analysis; the theories and approaches at the macro-level pertains to a circular phenomenon of analysis of migration patterns that vets multiple systemic flows — flows of persons, goods, services and ideas between origin and destination. The intertwined variables of such systemic approach “include market forces, sociopolitical forces, power dynamics, geography, information and continued feed-back, social and family networks, monetary transfers and flows of money, relationship between internal and international migration flows, urban phenomenon, and dependency on low-or-unskilled workers and wages” (Rudolph, 2016).

Regarding the analysis of the effects of the refugee movements and migrations, the macro-analysis zooms into “the structural impact of immigration and migration; the impact on the economic structure of the host and home countries; and, the types of immigration such as skilled/unskilled labor, and irregular and temporary migrations” (Rudolph, 2016).

In addition, the political effects of the migration can be observed from two perspectives – firstly refugee movements and secondly the effect of migration on diversity and identity. In the global context; migration can be categorized into legal or illegal, and voluntary or involuntary. Similarly, diverse issues like the internal versus external effects, the constraints of persecution, the refugee management and asylum policies; the domestic political effects on the host county; the political identities of and the relations between minorities and majorities, etc. can be studied.

Most of the migration theories and approaches concern with vetting the socio-economic and political effects of migration. Their rationalities have various foci like “the social, racial and ethnic impact of migration; social cohesion and conflict; issues of identity, discrimination and citizenship; and, the role of multiculturalism” (Rudolph, 2016). All in all, migration theories and approaches tend to inform and justify migration policies mainly related to the role of national sovereignty; the degree of freedom of movement; the influence on citizenship laws, the scope of legal rights for migrant communities and protections; and, the criminal laws in the host country. The following macro-analysis of the migration patterns of Afghan and Syrian refugees will shed some light on the aforementioned realms of the literature.

Afghan Refugees

Afghanistan, the poorest Asian nation, has a turbulent history of rebellion against dictatorial monarchy, Soviet communist invasion and Islamic Fundamentalists. Stretched over a long period of time, the roots of the present Afghan refugee crisis lie in the historical events. The historical rebellion, foreign invasion and present Taliban upheavals resulted in surges of mass exodus since the late 1970s. About 2,632,534 Afghan refugees; 106,972 Afghan asylum seekers; 46,148 repatriated Afghan refugees; and 947,872 Afghan Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been recorded; Pakistan, Iran, UAE and Germany being the most prominent host countries (UNHCR Global Appeal Update – Afghanistan, 2015).

The analysis of origin, causes and effects of the Afghan refugee crisis is presented, which shall be used in deducing migration patterns.

Origin and Causes

The origin and causes of the Afghan refugee crisis mostly revolves around armed violence. Some of the chief armed conflicts that gave rise to the mass exodus have been described.

The Saur Revolution: The communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the self-proclaimed Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan in April 1978. Daoud had previously overthrown King Mohammed Zahir in 1973 who was his cousin. The PDPA government pushed socialist agendas like land reforms which repressed the poor and resulted in massive fall of agricultural produce and poverty. The repression between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, the PDPA government executed 27,000 political prisoners. Large number of Afghans started fleeing since then, not absorbing the Marxist beliefs, cultures and ideas that countered Islamic ideologies.

The Soviet Invasion: The collaboration of the PDPA with the Soviet Union in 1988 in promoting communism turned into an invasion of the Soviet Union on December 24, 1979. The invasion was aimed at protecting the unpopular communist (PDPA) regime from downfall. Brutal repression of the Islamic supporters resulted in about 3.7 million Afghan fleeing to Iran and Pakistan by the beginning of 1981 (Margesson, 2007). Mujahdeen, the religious guerrillas were finally successful in breaking apart the Soviet regime in 1989.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda Insurgency: Mujahdeen was supported by the American government of Ronald Regan. The American stance against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan formed proxy warmongers who are known as the Talibans (Brown & Rashid, 2000). Following the fall of communist government in 1992, the Islamic fundamentalist movement of Taliban was strengthened by the spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. In response to the tragic incident of September 11, 2001, the Taliban was ousted in December 2001 by the U.S. military and opposition forces. Since its ouster, the Taliban is concerting insurgency in Afghanistan, backed by Al-Qaeda. The horrific terrorism again spurred mass exodus which is still going on.


The aforementioned origin and causes of Afghan refugee crisis has manifested severe impacts that has rendered Afghanistan a feeble state. Terrorism-failed impoverished Afghanistan is adversely affected by the Afghans feeing the country. Similarly, the regional peace and security is also threatened. Some of the major effects of the Afghan refugee crisis are explained.

Weak Security Force and Local Police: As two-thirds of Afghanistan is mountainous, rural and sparsely populated, the Taliban coerce village populace to launch attacks into the populated areas. The massive mass exodus has resulted in a meager size of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) which is bound to form Village Stability Operations (VSOs) that arms the villagers, including the children. With such ‘Local Police’, the Afghan government has a slim chance of eliminating the extremist groups. This, in turn, has created an insecurity spiral that is engulfing the politics and economy of the country. All in all, Afghanistan has become a very fragile state with weak government and strong terrorist shadow government.

Poor refugee management: Most of the Afghan IDPs and repatriated refugees are struggling in the rugged make-shift camps for survival, often in extreme cold weather. They are bound to scrape on food provided by the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. Malnutrition, improper shelter and lack of proper health services lead to death of many refugees due to flu or pneumonia. For survival, even the children are bound to work.

European Migrant Crisis and Islamophobia: In regards to the emigrated Afghan refugees, many are having similar hardships. While many of the resettled Afghan refugees have found their home in countries like Pakistan, Iran and India and are unwilling to repatriate; others are risking their lives and monies to get into developed European nations. Thousands of Afghan refugees are flocking into the Europe every day along with the Syrian refugees. They pay a large sum of money to smugglers who take them to Greece’s southern islands, Malta or Southern Italy from Egypt, Morocco or Turkey through the Mediterranean Sea-route in unsafe boats. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea and another 34,900 by land to Europe, and more than 3,770 migrants died in 2015 trying to enter Europe through the Mediterranean Sea-route (Migrant crisis, n.d.).

Besides, Islamophobia is in the rise which makes the refugees unwanted in the host country. They are secluded from the societal mainstreams, and are bound to seek refuge without much legal rights and protection. The host societies also fear lowering of the wage floor in the informal labor market which can adversely affect the economy of the host countries.

Economic doom and Inflation: The economic growth rate of Afghanistan is only 1.9% which is primarily the result of the Afghan refugee crisis. In addition to the economic doom, the country is facing massive inflation. The price of land and apartments are sky-rocketing in the Afghan city centers causing an extreme scarcity of land for shelter. As the remote areas are used by the insurgents to launch attacks, the IDPs and repatriated refugees are bound to find shelter in the urban areas. Besides, there are limited basic infrastructures, meagre employment opportunities, water scarcity and poor health services that has made sustainable repatriation of Afghan refugees unlikely.

Gender Violence: Sexual violence and other forms of gender violence generally gets unreported. Justice is rarely dispensed even if such violence is reported. Females are largely kept away from the educational institutions and administrative bodies.

After looking into the various premises of the literature concerned with the Afghan refugee communities, Syrian refugee communities will be similarly explored.

Syrian Refugees

Syria, a semi-presidential republic nation that lies in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East region of Asia, is currently facing the most horrendous crisis of the present world. Syrians, who gained its independence in 1949 from Turkey are flocking in massive numbers to Turkey again seeking refuge and better life. They are not only flocking to Turkey, but other neighboring countries as well. What started as a peaceful protest on March 15th, 2011 in Damascus (the Syrian capital city) and Aleppo against the dictatorial regime protracted into one of the most overwhelmingly bloody civil wars.

The retaliation against the rebellion manifested into a heart-wrenching civil war that claimed more than 250,000 people, mostly non-rebels, within five years. Once over-crowded urban Syrian city centers have turned into rubble where scarcity of food, drinking water, shelter, basic health services, and safety have become the way of life. The armed resistance of the dictatorial government against the rebels, led by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has resorted to gruesome incommunicado detentions tortures, gassing, and killings. The five-year civil war spurred mass exodus which is still going on. About 7.6 million Syrian IDPs, and approximately 4 million Syrian refugees are praying for their safety and bright future while seeking refuge at the present (UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update-Syria, 2015).

The analysis of origin, causes and effects of the Syrian refugee crisis is presented, which shall be used in deducing migration patterns.

Origin and Causes

Though it is almost self-evident that the current Syrian refugee crisis spurred because of March 2011 Arab Springs mass uprising in Syria and ensuing dictatorial repression of the rebellion by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad; this critical crisis of the modern time has its root also on the climatic changes, securitization of natural resources, and pan-Arab tradition of Syria that provided refuge to unsustainable number of Iraqis exiles and refugees. The overall assumptions regarding the origin and causes of Syrian refugee crisis have been elaborated.

Arab Spring Uprising in March 2011 and Retaliation by Dictatorship: The very first killing during the March 2011 demonstrations took place in Daraa where four activists were killed by the Syrian security forces. The demonstrations which were in line with the Arab Springs Movement sought for democratic reforms, liberties and release of the political prisoners who suffered brutality during the 40-years-long Syrian dictatorship. The peaceful protest turned violent since then and by July, there were numerous groups of anti-Assad fighters which were joined by many defectors from the Syrian Army and the government officials. The defectors from the Army formed the Free Syrian Army that escalated the armed opposition against the Assad regime. The civil war gradually became the battleground of the Assad regime, its oppositions, Islamic extremist terrorist groups, proxy foreign warmongers, and individual ethnic groups. The violent civil war failed to oust the Assad regime that brutally tortured civilians and rebels in incommunicado detention centers. This horrific violence primarily led to the mass exodus.

Climate Change: The 2007−2010 drought, which was the worst drought ever recorded in Syria, had a prominent role in the Syrian conflict. The drought led to massive crop failure and a trend of internal mass exodus of farmer communities to urban areas. Widespread change in climatic conditions like temperature, precipitation and sea-level pressure, which can be attributed to anthropogenic forcing, have resulted in severe and persistent droughts in the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent zone that extends from the Persian Gulf, through Iraq, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. As a country with “poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies”, the 2007-2010 drought had a catalytic effect on the political unrest (Kelley et al., 2015).

Securitization of Natural Resources: Natural resources are often regarded as issues of national security in the Middle East, thereby leading to securitization of resource management policies. Large-scale internal migration, which was signaled by the early 2000s drought, and failure in management of water resources to mitigate migratory trend manifested into broader rural neglect (Weinthal et al., 2015). Such inefficient securitization of the natural resources also catalyzed the mass uprising.

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: The number of Iraqis seeking refuge or prosperous future inside Syria exceeded 1,000,000 in 2008 (Amnesty International, 2008). Maintaining its “pan-Arabist tradition of keeping its borders open to other Arabs since 1960”, Syria has become a traditional refuge for exiles and displaced peoples in the Middle-East region (Sassoon & Joseph,2009). On account of lack of tented refugee camps, most of them are bound to find their domicile in over-crowded dirty apartments where rental prices are spirally increasing upwards. As a result of their status as “guests” in Syria, they are not allowed to work legally. With high unemployment rates — 80% for women, and 53% for men, many of them resort to crime and prostitution. Though they have free access to the public education system, they were deprived from free healthcare system since 2006. To make the matter worse, majority of Syrians believe that Iraqis in Syria have caused inflation, scarcity of job opportunities, over-crowding in major urban centers like Damascus, and rise in crime and prostitution. The overall stalemate between the Syrians and the Iraqis in Syria also played a relatively trivial role in the destabilization of Syria.

On the foundation of the explored origin and causes of the Syrian refugee crisis, the article will elaborate the effects of the crisis further. 


Aforementioned origin and causes have turned Syria into an earthly hell. Not only war-torn Syria became a failed state, its ripple effects is crippling the economies and socio-political stability of its immediate neighbors and the European Union. Some of the major effects of the Syrian refugee crisis have been explained.

Fatalities and Hardships among the Syrian Refugee Communities: Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries cannot avail legal status and employment opportunities, making survival difficult. Whereas, refugees who illegally try to enter Europe through Mediterranean are helpless in case of wreck most of the time. As making the illegal entry into Europe safer will give rise to more influx of the refugees, even the European countries have cut their budget in rescuing the refugees in the sea.  

Women are violated by both the insurgents and pro-Assad militias. Proper shelter, drinking water, health centers and schools are not available.

Xenophobia: Xenophobic people proclaim that the refugees will destroy the ethnic cultures of the host country, cause socio-economic instability and rise in crimes. Such attitudes add hardship to the refugee communities. Especially, LGBTs, females lower class refugees are assaulted, harassed and humiliated, often within their own communities.

Starvation amongst the IDPs: Many IDPs, especially people under seize are starving owing to obstruction of humanitarian aids by the ongoing conflict. In lack of even the most basic health services, trivial diseases like polio are claiming lives.

Rise of several armed terrorist groups: The Syrian civil war has given rise to numerous non-state armed extremist groups that include Islamic State and Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

Impacts of Immigration on Informal Labor Market and Consumer Prices: The informal labor market of the host countries like Turkey, Iran and Jordan have received supply of inexpensive informal labor from the Syrian refugees substituting the native workers mostly in the informal labor intensive sectors. A study that attempted to evaluate the impact of immigration of Syrian refugees in Turkey concluded that though prices in formal labor intensive sectors have not fluctuated significantly, the prices in informal market has decreased approximately by 4%; and, ordinary level of consumer prices had declined by precisely 2.5 percent because of immigration (Balkan, 2016).

Based on the analysis of origin, cause and effects of the refugee migration crisis; following migration patterns were deduced.

Comparison and Contrast Between Syrian and Afghan Refugee Migration Patterns

In regards to the migration patterns among the Syrian and refugee communities, following similarities, differences and findings can be extrapolated from the preceding analyses which are concomitant to the concepts and theories in the literature.


A substantial degree of similarities exists in the migration patterns of the Afghan refugees and Syrian refugees. People are fleeing war, persecution and extreme hardships in both contexts. Both refugee crises primarily originated from the brutal repression of the dictatorial regime. Once the ruler for six years, the Taliban in Afghanistan became insurgents after they were overthrown from the national government in 2001. In a similar manner, the Bashar al-Assad regime wielded horrendous resistance against the innocent civilians and rebels who demanded his ouster in 2011. In both countries, the dictators are coercing the civilians to bear the greatest brunt of the unrest. War-mongers often recruit the civilians to fight in the war, which leads to fear and panic among the civilians leading to exodus.

Besides, both of these refugee communities are being disparaged by the modern societies, except the citizens of their immediate neighboring countries. The ups and downs these refugees have to go through are almost similar.


Some of the differences between the migration patterns of the Afghan refugees and Syrian refugees lead to complex and diverse narratives. For example, owing to the difference in the temporal characteristics and length of the crisis, the likelihood of voluntary repatriation is higher in the Afghan refugee communities than the Syrian refugee communities. This is obvious owing to the fact that Afghan refugee crisis started in the late 1970s, while the Syrian refugee crisis took off in the mid-2011. Besides, there are enough evidence that the many Afghans have sustainably resettled in the host countries while such resettlement is sparse in the context of Syrian refugees.

In addition, the Afghan refugee crisis especially affected the Asian nations while the Syrian refugee crisis is affecting the European Union as well. Besides, there is only one significant extremist group in Afghanistan, the Taliban; while there are more than a dozens of armed rebel and extremist groups in Syria. All in all, the gravity of Syrian refugee crisis is higher than that of Afghanistan.


Refugee communities are mostly unwelcome in the developed society owing to a fear that immigration will lead to rise in crimes, violence, economic doom and spillover of armed conflicts globally. However, it is partially corroborated. The main finding is that it is only a myth as the effects of the migration patterns do not pinpoint to the propensity of the refugee communities in concerting the terrorist activities. Such fears can be made possible only by the armed extremist groups who have access to modern weapons and higher international mobility.

It became evident that several factors like climatic changes, uneven national policies on natural resources and inefficient management of foreign communities may also lead to refugee crisis. Looking at the migration patterns extrapolated by the analyses of the present article, it seems that the refugee crises will endlessly impose threats to the global economy, peace and security unless the elite nations, which are mostly goaded by self-interests, stand together against the dictators and armed extremist groups; and broker peace truces and cessation of hostilities. The global bodies should also make distribution of humanitarian aids to the people in distress prompt, optimum and effective.


To deduce the characteristics and patterns of the Afghan and Syrian refugee migration crisis, this piece delved on origin, causes and effects of the refugee movements and migrations, through application of macro-level of migration theories and approaches coupled with the socio-economic and political rationalities. It was deduced that several factors other than conflicts like political deadlocks, climate changes, socio-economic hardships, and uneven policies on natural resources and inefficiency in management of foreign communities can contribute to refugee crisis. Besides, modern society is being xenophobic, especially fearing Islam culture; however, it is concurred that it is only a myth that the refugee communities can incite armed conflicts in the host country. To cease all hostilities and resolve the refugee crisis, all international bodies should stand together in solidarity to fight terrorism and dictatorship. All in all, the refugee crises and their adverse impacts on global peace, security and economy will come to an end only if socioeconomic destitution of the refugee communities can be alleviated through optimum humanitarian assistance, organized resettlement or sustainable repatriation, growth opportunities, legal privileges and protection.

The origin, causes and effects of the refugee migration should be explored to deduce the accurate migration pattern. Migration pattern cannot be accurately extrapolated merely by using migration theories, approaches, rationalities, analogies, simulations, or academic notions. Formulation of straight-forward theories to analyze migration pattern is difficult as the migration patterns are complex and diverse. Therefore, the study of origin, causes and effects of the refugee movements and migrations is of paramount importance in the examination and analysis of migration patterns. Especially, macro-level analysis is helpful in deducing the bigger picture of the migration patterns.


Amnesty International (2008). Suffering in Silence: Iraqi Refugees in Syria. AI Briefing MDE 14/010/2008, p. 1.

Balkan, B., & Tumen, S. (2016). Immigration and prices: Quasi-experimental evidence from Syrian refugees in Turkey. Journal of Population Economics J Popul Econ.

Berti, B. (2015). The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Regional and Human Security Implications. Strategic Assessment, 17(4). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.iiss.org/en/publications/survival/sections/2015-1e95/survival–global-politics-and-strategy-december-2015-january-2016-522a/57-6-02-heisbourg-12d7

Brown, L. C., & Rashid, A. (2000). Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Foreign Affairs, 79(4), 159.

Kelley, C. P., Mohtadi, S., Cane, M. A., Seager, R., & Kushnir, Y. (2015). Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 112(11), 3241-3246.

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Sassoon, Joseph (2009). Iraqi Refugees: The New Crisis in the Middle East. NY: I.B. Tauris, p. 61.

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Weinthal, E., Zawahri, N., & Sowers, J. (2015). Securitizing Water, Climate, and Migration in Israel, Jordan, and Syria. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 15(3), 293-307.

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Written by Roshan Adhikari

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