Exploring migrants’ trust in humanitarian organisations

Seefar’s past research as part of the IMREF consortium has shown that a lack of trust in humanitarian organisations affects migrants’ willingness to seek available assistance. However, evidence on the factors shaping migrants’ trust in humanitarian actors and how organisations can effectively mitigate this access barrier is limited.

This study therefore provides an improved understanding of how, when, and why migrants trust humanitarian organisations, and how this affects access to migrants. Findings are based on a desk review of 39 sources, 16 key informant interviews with field workers, and qualitative in-depth phone-based interviews with 90 transit migrants (including 30 women) in Agadez and Gao.

We find that:

  • Out of 90 respondents, 30 said they have no trust in humanitarian organisations, 25 said they have high levels of trust, and 20 said they either had mixed trust or were unsure.
  • Migrants who expressed a complete lack of trust linked it to perceptions that organisations may deport them or seek to prevent them from migrating, or delay their journeys.
  • Past experiences with humanitarian organisations were a critical factor in shaping trust. The behaviour of field staff was critical in shaping trust.
  • Information from families, other migrants, and smuggling actors, who are key sources of information, influenced migrants’ trust in organisations at different stages of the journey.
  • Greater knowledge about available assistance helped mitigate high or unrealistic expectations of the services that organisations can provide.

The study shows that there is a clear link between migrants’ trust in organisations and their willingness to access them. Migrants who believed there were additional risks associated with accessing organisations (fears of deportation, concerns that humanitarian staff would discourage them from migrating and fears of poor treatment) were unwilling to access assistance and actively avoided interaction with international organisations’ staff. Limited trust and reticence to access organisations often meant that migrants waited until they had no alternative, and were extremely vulnerable, before seeking support.

If you have questions or feedback on the study, please contact amy@seefar.org.

If you would like to talk about the findings in a short call with one of the researchers, please fill out this form

*Seefar forms part of the consortium delivering the Independent Monitoring, Rapid Research and Evidence Facility (IMREF) of the SSS Phase II programme commissioned by the Department for International Development (DFID)/Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

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