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UNRISD Podcast: Motivations to Migrate Illegally from Sub-Saharan Africa

10 Jun 2009



10 June 2009 – In this episode, an UNRISD researcher collaborates with researchers based in Africa to examine the motivations behind clandestine migration of Sub-Saharan African youth, and how both Africa and Europe can find solutions.

Please use the link to the right of this page to access the podcast. (7mins 53secs, MP3 file, 3.61mb)

Transcript of the podcast:

Erika Anderson: You’re listening to the UNRISD podcast, and my name is Erika Anderson. Today’s episode examines the motivations behind clandestine migration of Sub-Saharan African youth, specifically those from Cameroon, Mauritania and Senegal.

Quote 1: “When I got home, and told my mother [that Amadou had left for France], she responded coldly, ‘He’s a man.’ That night, I couldn’t sleep, and the next day, I made the decision to leave.”

Quote 2: “At first, I didn’t want to emigrate because I more or less earned a living. But after hearing how the emigrants were praised, “If the men go the forest, it is the goats who remain to guard the village,” I told myself I had to follow in their footsteps.”

Quote 3: “Today I live well because of the money sent by my two sons who have built us this beautiful home. It’s true - we miss them and our home is empty but if they hadn’t left, our family would live in misery.”

Erika Anderson: Though these are not the voices, they are the words of Mauritanians connected to clandestine migration - those who plan to go and a parent of two who have already left. They were published as part of two-year study that culminated in a conference at the University of Geneva’s School of Social Work on Thursday, May 28th.

Katja Hujo: I think what the researchers wanted to achieve with this project was to bring in the personal experience, motivation and let’s say push factors that actually lead these young people to migrate from their countries to Europe, which very often is a very dangerous undertaking and many of the young people actually lose their life during that journey.

Erika Anderson: That’s Katja Hujo, a Research Coordinator of the Social Policy and Development Programme at UNRISD, who played a role in both the research and the conference. As excerpts from interviews showed, clandestine migration is equated with masculinity, social status, and the ability to provide for one’s family. The goal is not to survive, but to thrive.

This study, which was based on interviews with potential emigrants, as well as those who have been repatriated or deported, was unique, Hujo explains.

Katja Hujo: There is a lot of analysis on the pros and cons of migration from the South to the North but there are not many studies actually where the researchers go to the countries of origin and interview and ask people why they actually migrate and how they migrate and what they expect from that experience.

Erika Anderson: What they expect mirrors the El Dorado legend, the fabled city of gold sought by conquistadors in South America. In Senegal, it is called La Kaaw. Coming from the French term, lá-haut, meaning up there or heaven, la kaaw signifies not only a geographic location, but also paradise - in other words, the success and opportunity that is assumed to be guaranteed for those who set foot on European soil. This myth is strengthened, says Mohamadou Sall, a professor and research fellow at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Daka, Senegal, with repatriated emigrants’ often ostentations displays of wealth.

Mohamadou Sall: The construction of beautiful homes, the fact that those who have not emigrated speak highly of those who have the dowry, the matrimonial funds, the fact that women want to marry them because they will build them beautiful homes, only serves to reinforce the myth.

Erika Anderson: Even those who make the journey but never return are valued, and at times, worshipped, while those who earn a living in their home country are regarded as impotent, according to the findings of Abdoulaye Sow, a professor at the University of Nouakchott in Mauritania, as demonstrated by this proverb.

Abdoulaye Sow: It’s better to travel in search of something than to remain living in shame. You see very clearly that an immigrant who searches for work, for example, even if he dies, is more highly valued in death. The motive of this extreme valuation is to forget the fear.”

Erika Anderson: As brave talk and shaming messages towards those who stay flood the air, potential emigrants are pulled by visions of a better life and the need for cheap manual labor. At the same time, they are pushed by despair, the rise of individualism, economic crises, and a lack of opportunity.

Though the number of illegal immigrants from Africa living in Europe is estimated at just one or two percent of the entire African population living abroad, an exact count does not exist. There are only pieces of the puzzle, such as almost 7,000 men who have been repatriated in Senegal. Or the 6,000 bodies of those who didn’t make it that have washed up on the shores of the Canary Islands since 2003.

Of those who survive the days and nights in a dugout canoe, who arrive in Europe, and who find work, two thirds send money home. While those funds have some positive consequences, such as the ability to send their children to school, have access to health care and to electricity, Bamé Nsamenag, from the University of Bamenada in Northwest Cameroon, believes money alone is not enough.

Bamé Nsamenag: Money cannot develop a place; it is the people who develop a place. It’s the tangible, the people who could have contributed, who have been educated at a high level and they understand.

Erika Anderson: As portions of these countries become depopulated, as their intellectuals move abroad in what is known as “brain drain,” as they lose their youth via clandestine migration, whom of the next generation will be there to guide them forward?

The researchers say that the myth of La Kaaw must be broken. But how? Through campaigns that inform mothers, youth, and religious leaders of the dangers of illegal immigration. But that’s just the beginning. Again, Katja Hujo.

Katja Hujo: A final recommendation was obviously to improve the local conditions, to improve employment opportunities for young people. And this in my view is a question of social policy, which is obviously lacking in many of these countries but there is a lack of perspectives, and of employment opportunities and people go abroad in order to get better life chances.

Erika Anderson: That’s the prescription for Africa. As for Europe, the study suggests the creation and dissemination of temporary work permits, a development Hujo finds unlikely in the current climate.

Katja Hujo: I’m not an expert on EU migration policy, but at the moment, the security approach is very strong, and we are in the midst of an economic crisis also where every country wants to protect their own labor markets. So one might be pessimistic but its definitely a task for the future, to create more coherence between migration policies and development policies, and creating employment possibilities for African migrants is one issue that has to be on that agenda.

Erika Anderson: For more information, go to our website, www.unrisd.org If you have any suggestions for future podcasts, email us at press@unrisd.org. Thank you for listening.

For UNRISD news, this is Erika Anderson, in Geneva.