Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Rational Actors, Passive and Helpless Victims, Neither, Both: EU Borders and the Drive to Migrate in the Horn of Africa

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Abstract:  This article argues that neither borders nor the ways in which migrants see them constitute significant deterrents to the migrants’ resolve to migrate. The argument is based on an investigation of migrants en route to Europe from the Horn of Africa and the ways in which they see EU external borders and how that contributes to the decision to migrate. The article advances critiques of rational choice models of migrant decision-making that are based mainly on economic factors and contributes to theoretical explanations of why some people in the Horn of Africa migrate irregularly, despite measures enforced by state authorities to curb their movement. The article draws on a qualitative thematic analysis of personal face-to-face interviews conducted with migrants from four countries in the Horn of Africa who were in Ethiopia at the time of the research. In the interviews, there was sufficient evidence that migrants had realistic perceptions of European borders and that life in Europe might not be rosy. But this did not dampen the resolve to migrate. Solutions other than those that inhibit movement but understand, are sensitive to and include the perceptions of migrants are more likely to effectively address challenges associated with irregular migration.

Keywords:  borders; European Union; Horn of Africa; migration; migrants’ perceptions



© Christopher Changwe Nshimbi. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.