Complexity of Choice in Asylum Seeker Decision-making

A more nuanced, holistic approach to asylum seeker policies while challenging prevailing narratives.

Date Published
26 Oct 2023
Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy Lilian Miles Sebastian Ille Felicity Kersting

This policy brief draws on an extensive review of academic and policy literature, as well as the authors’ engagement with asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and in North Africa, to propose that policymakers adopt “complexity theory”- identifying and explaining patterns of change and feedback effects across dynamics systems - to understand the decision-making process of asylum seekers.

This policy brief suggests that adopting a "complexity theory" can offer asylum seeker policies a more nuanced, holistic approach, challenging prevailing narratives that solely emphasize individual desires and often fuel political biases. 

This policy brief recommends several key policy actions: 

  • Since asylum seeker decision-making is complex, non-linear, and multidimensional, policies should reflect the diverse range of factors that influence asylum seeker decision-making which is shaped by factors on many levels: individual, familial, political, national, and international.
  • Asylum policies need to be grounded in an understanding of the contexts with which asylum seekers interact. Instead of analyzing asylum seeker decision-making in an atomistic manner, it needs to be understood as part of an adaptive process in complex social systems in which their beliefs, expectations, and decision-making adapt and change dynamically.  
  • Asylum policies should reflect an understanding of more comprehensive micro-behavioural data and analyses which explain motivations as well as how asylum seekers process information.  
  • Asylum policies need to account for perception and behavioural biases, such as confirmation bias. 

Access 'Complexity of Choice in Asylum Seeker Decision-making' here.  

Suggested citation: Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, Lilian Miles, Sebastian Ille and Felicity Kersting . Complexity of Choice in Asylum Seeker Decision-making : UNU-CPR, 2023.

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