Empty dinghy washed up on a beach

Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (MEDMIG)


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Total value of project


Value to Coventry University



Project team

Professor Heaven Crawley (PI), Coventry University; Dr Franck Duvell (Co-I), University of Oxford; Dr Nando Sigona (Co-I), University of Birmingham; Dr Katharine Jones, Coventry University; Dr Simon McMahon, Coventry University


University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), Forum Internazionale ed Europeo di Ricerche sull’Immigrazione (FIERI), Yasar University, The People for Change Foundation (PfC)

Duration of project

14/09/2015 - 13/06/2016

Project overview

In the first six months of 2015 more than 100,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean, arriving at the shores of southern Europe in search of protection or a better life. In the same period more than 1,800 people lost their lives, drowning as overloaded and often unseaworthy boats sank into the sea. By the end of 2015, this had risen to the unprecedented figure of one million arrivals and nearly 4,000 recorded deaths.

The MEDMIG project set out to better understand these migration dynamics as part of the ‘Mediterranean Migration Research Programme’ established through the ESRC’s  £1 million ‘Urgency Grant’, co-funded by the Department for International Development.

The study was based on a multi-sited transnational research design to simultaneously gather and analyse data from a large number of migrants. We conducted 500 semi-structured interviews with migrants, who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe during 2015. We worked with our international partners in each country to carry out these interviews in Greece (Athens, Lesbos) and Italy, (Sicily, Apulia, Rome, Piedmont, Bologna), Malta and Turkey (Izmir).

We also carried out over 100 interviews with governmental, non-governmental and civil society organisations to gather broader insights into the experiences and journeys of the migrants with whom they come into contact. Finally, ethnographic observations were also conducted at each site.

Our analysis was grounded within existing meta-level frameworks for understanding migrant journeys, including the political and policy contexts within which this migration takes place.

We also explored the structural determinants of migration at the meso-level, focusing on both the opportunities and constraints that shape migration. Doing so enabled us to take account of the cognitive and behavioural processes that shape migration at the micro-level, including aspirations, individual perceptions including perceptions of risk, decision making and the interaction of migrants with the different actors including smugglers that facilitate migration.

Drawing on the voices and experiences of those who made the journey and a rich understanding of EU and Member States responses to this multi-faceted migration flow, the project provides a new conceptual and empirical framework for understanding unprecedented levels of migration and loss of life in the Mediterranean seen during the so-called ‘migration crisis’ of 2015.

Project objectives

1. To shed light on the dynamics (determinants, drivers and infrastructures) underpinning the recent unprecedented levels of migration across, and loss of life in, the Mediterranean by mapping the geographies, routes, and journeys of migrants arriving in Italy, Greece and Malta as well as those seeking to enter the EU from Turkey.

2. To examine the interaction of migrants with a multitude of non-state actors (for example agents, facilitators, intermediaries and civil society organisations) and state actors (for example navy / coastguard) in order to better understand the decision making processes which influence their journeys.

3. To explore the relevant opportunities and constraints in countries of origin and refuge/transit to highlight how migrants' decisions on their journeys interact with dramatically changing global economic, security and political contexts.

4. To compare the Central and Eastern Mediterranean routes in terms of migrant backgrounds, motivations, aspirations and journeys, and the impact of the differential policy response on migrant flows and outcomes.

5. To provide a robust evidence base to inform the development of policy responses by governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental actors.

6. To bring together a network of academics from across the case study countries with international governmental and nongovernmental actors to engage in dialogue on the scale of the migration crisis, its dynamics and drivers and opportunities for future collaboration.

  • The research sought to push the theoretical and conceptual boundaries of migration studies, gathering and analysing data on migrants who made the journey across the Mediterranean into Europe with the view to better understanding the dynamics of this particular migration process and inform the development of appropriate strategic, political and policy responses to the so-called ‘migration crisis’ in Europe.

    The primary beneficiaries of this research have been:

    1. The academic community working across a range of disciplines have benefitted from the improved evidence on migration across the Mediterranean (four distinct geographical contexts) and increased availability of systematic and comparative data available for further research. The evidence resulting from our multidisciplinary approach has reduced the significant limitations of the more frequent academic research on 'the migrant experience' driven by, and tied to, abstract and distinct migrant categories created by law and policy to contain - and make sense of - migration flows. Future research will be able to draw on the new insights into the ways in which nationality, economic status (class), gender, race and age shape the journeys and experiences of migrants, and situating the multidimensional individual within broader historical, social, economic, and political contexts at local, national and international levels.

    2. National migration policy makers in Greece, Italy, Malta, Turkey and the UK have benefitted from access to our systematic and comparative dataset and analysis on migration in the region which has provided important new insights into migrant motivations, aspirations and journeys and better understanding of the dynamics behind migration processes.

    3. Civil society organisations working with migrants in each case study country which campaign for the rights of migrants and grassroots organisations and provide immediate assistance to arriving migrants have been able to use our data and findings to better understand the needs of their target populations and more effectively advocate on behalf of those implicated in the ‘migration crisis’.

    4. International policy makers and practitioners from the European Commission (DG Migration and Home Affairs Irregular Migration and Return, European Asylum Support Office, Frontex, Europol) and international organisations (IOM, UNHCR, OHCHR, ICMPD, UNODC) have benefited from the data for the refinement and continued negotiation of the EU Agenda on Migration and emergency measures in response to the migration crisis. Improved communication of evidence to national and international policy makers has created better understanding of the causes and implications of the migration in the Mediterranean, with the aim of supporting improved strategic, political and policy responses.

    5. International and national public audiences have benefitted from new media stories and narratives about the motivations, aspirations and challenges of migrants who undertake the journey to Europe. It is hoped that better informed public narratives will, in turn, create increased political space for an appropriate policy response to migration in Europe.

  • Crawley, H. and Jones, K. (2020) ‘Beyond here and there: (re)conceptualising migrant journeys and the ‘in- between’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

    Crawley, H. and Hagen-Zanker, J. (2018) ‘Deciding where to go: policies, people and perceptions shaping destination preferences’, International Migration

    McMahon, S. and Sigona, N. (2018) ‘Navigating the Central Mediterranean in a time of ‘crisis’: disentangling migration governance and migrant journeys’, Sociology    

    Baldwin-Edwards, M., Blitz, B.K. and Crawley, H. (2018) ‘The politics of evidence-based policy in Europe’s ‘migration crisis’, editorial introduction for Special Issue of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

    Crawley, H. and Blitz, B.K. (2018) ‘Common Agenda or Europe’s agenda? International protection, human rights and migration from the Horn of Africa', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

    Crawley, H. (2018) ‘Ensuring respect for rights in the provision of refugee protection and assistance - Summary of an expert meeting held at UNHCR, Geneva’, Geneva: UNHCR

    Crawley, H., Düvell, F., Jones, K., McMahon, S. and Sigona, N. (2018) Unravelling Europe’s Migration Crisis’: Journeys Over Land and Sea, Bristol: Policy Press

    Crawley, H. and Skleparis, D. (2017) ‘Refugee, migrant, neither, both: categorical fetishism and the politics of bounding in Europe’s ‘migration crisis', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44(1), 48-64

    Crawley, H. (2017) ‘Migration: refugee economics', Nature 544, 26–27

    McConnell, F., Crawley, H., Jeffrey, A., Kuus, M., Smith, A. and Vaughan-Williams, N. (2017) ‘Interventions on Europe’s political futures', Political Geography 60, 261-71

    Crawley, H. and McMahon, S. (2016) Beyond Fear and Hate: Mobilising People Power to Create a New Narrative on Migration and Diversity, Coventry University / Ben and Jerrys

    Crawley, H., Düvell, F., Jones, K., McMahon, S. and Sigona, N. (2016) Destination Europe? Understanding the Dynamics and Drivers of Mediterranean Migration in 2015, MEDMIG Final Report, Coventry University

    Crawley, H., Duvell, F., Jones, K. and Skleparis, D. (2016) ‘Understanding the dynamics of migration to Greece and the EU: drivers, decisions and destinations’, MEDMIG Research Brief No.2, Coventry University

    Crawley, H. (2016) ‘Managing the unmanageable? Understanding Europe’s response to the migration ‘crisis’, Human Geography – Special Issue on Geographical Perspectives on the European ‘Migration and Refugee Crisis’, 9(2), 13-23

    Crawley, H., Duvell, F., Sigona, N., McMahon, S. and Jones, K. (2016) Unpacking a rapidly changing scenario: migration flows, routes and trajectories across the Mediterranean MEDMIG Research Brief No. 1

    Crawley, H. (2016) Beyond ‘mass movement’: understanding the dynamics of migration into Greece, Humanitarian Exchange 67, 10-14

    Crawley, H., Düvell, F., Jones, K., McMahon, S. and Sigona, N. (2018) Unravelling Europe’s Migration Crisis’: Journeys Over Land and Sea, Bristol: Policy Press ISBN 978-1447343219

    For more information please see the MEDMIG website. 

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