When most of us in Europe think of African migrants – though it may hurt to admit it – images of crowded little boats braving the Mediterranean or knock-off handbag sellers lining tourist-filled boulevards may spring to mind. But is this the full picture when it comes to Africa to Europe migration?
With thanks both to the dominant narrative of the media, and our failure in Europe to identify first-generation African migrants unless they are in certain stereotypical situations, Europe’s perception of what African migration looks like today is rather skewed.
These are human beings, not just a statistic, or a fear-mongering “other” to be used by certain far-right figures. And far from being exclusively poor and uneducated men looking for low-skilled jobs, as with any other migrant group, there is a huge variety of demographics and reasoning behind African migration.
Indeed, Africans today are moving abroad for numerous reasons. While some travel to escape war and conflict, many are simply seeking better livelihoods and opportunities, to put their hard-earned skills to good use, and to achieve personal ambitions. But whichever reason it is – can we just agree that the stigma has to go?
To learn more about the facts and realities regarding African migration, we joined a group of experts for a policy insight hosted by Brussels-based think tank, Friends of Europe.
African perspectives: holding a mirror up to Europe’s migration policies
Friends of Europe’s Policy Insight, “African perspectives: holding a mirror up to Europe’s migration policies”, took place last month in Brussels, with the intention of delving deeper into the truth about African migration to Europe, challenging long-held misconceptions as well as exploring ways to facilitate migration for both the migrants and their host countries.
The speakers and participants – including representatives from NGOs, embassies and the European Institutions – examined the policy responses to migration from Africa. Specifically, they focused on the importance of efforts to create educational and employment opportunities for young Africans in their countries of origin, reducing inequalities that create barriers, and creating safe, legal pathways for those who wish to take advantage of the potential opportunities provided by international migration.
Africans in Europe: Today’s Situation
Heaven Crawley, Chair in International Migration at Coventry University, who carried out a major piece of research on the experiences of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015, began the session by stating: ‘we need to get away from this idea that Africa is coming to Europe. The vast majority of migration in Africa actually stays within Africa.‘
On top of that, despite the disproportionate media representation, most Africans migrating to Europe don’t travel by boat, and do so legally on work permits. Those coming from Africa are a diverse mix of young, old, male, and female. They migrate as families and as individuals, for various reasons, and to myriad destinations. So why is our perception so wrong?
Why Africans leave their countries
It is true, however, that Africans are indeed on the move. While fear-mongering headlines warn of mass African migration to Europe, the reality on the ground tells a different story.
In 2017, there were 36.3 million Africans living outside of their home countries. This accounted for around 14% of the global migrant population at the time. But, Friends of Europe claim that ‘these numbers conceal a more complicated picture.’
A landmark report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe, sheds some much-needed light on the key reasons why migrants move from Africa to Europe.
The report interviewed 1970 migrants from 39 African countries in 13 European nations, all of whom self-declared that they arrived in Europe through irregular means and not for asylum or protection-related reasons.
It explores the array of assumptions about migration from Africa to Europe, and challenges the narrative that all migrants from Africa are poor with low education levels. In reality, 58% of those surveyed were either employed or in school at the time of their departure, with the majority of those working earning competitive wages.
Where are Africans going?
In actual fact, the vast majority of African migrants move within Africa. Less than a quarter of them travel to Europe – and most of those who, do so legally. Furthermore, after a temporary period of working overseas, many migrants move on to another destination. It is not usually a simple route from A to B.
Why do so many Africans leave their countries?
Many African migrants move in response to war and conflict but, others simply for economic and educational reasons – seeking better livelihoods and the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and economic hardship.
Many Europeans – even those who support migration – consider the welfare privileges of EU Member States to be the major pull factor. Particularly in countries where migration is becoming increasingly stigmatised, we tend to focus on the healthcare and, in some cases, benefits and housing which migrants can receive.
The truth is that many migrants have no viable alternative to moving, and it is not a question of whether they receive these services free of charge, but more so one of having any future or stability at all. We don’t talk about conflict or human rights violations in Africa as much as the Middle East, despite the fact that 6 out of the 10 main refugee countries are in Africa.
For African migrants, we often assume their move to be uniquely economically driven. Although there are many economic migrants from all parts of the world, we unfairly generalise African migrants in particular, without considering any other potential reasoning.
Kenyan-born Natasha Kimani, Head of Partnerships and Programmes at Well Told Story, proposed that reality could be anything from their lives being under threat from conflict or persecution (which we now almost uniquely associate with migrants from the Middle East,) to personal reasons such as international relationships or overseas work or study (which we seem to think are luxuries reserved only for Europeans.)
“Expats” or “Migrants”?
Kimani continued that Europeans moving to Africa tend to be left out of narrative completely. The truth is, she exaplianed, that migration between Africa and Europe does not flow in only one direction. Although European migrants are often adorned the less-threatening label of “expat,” this does not change the fact that Europeans can be migrants too.
As we at Euro Babble have explored previously, Kimani added that no matter how qualified they are, Africans are always “migrants” and never “expats.” Although merely words, the connotations of these terms has a dramatic impact on the way in which the individuals are perceived – and welcomed – by the host country. It is falsely assumed that expats move by choice and not a necessity, or that expats are professionals and migrants are low-skilled.
Let’s be real – it is also assumed that expats are white and migrants are anything but.
Development, Migration, and where the EU gets it wrong
Heaven Crawley posed the question of whether we are really witnessing evidence-based policymaking, or if it is more often a case of policy-based evidence-making. She commented on how, although there is no shortage of data on migration, the EU is failing to implement these findings into their policies. Instead, it is the policies themselves which are often what shape the presentation of data.
Crawley continued that the EU trust fund for Africa may sound great in theory, but in reality, it often only funds totalitarian regimes and fails to reach the citizens who it is aimed for. As a result, although such funding is meant to reduce the need for migration, it only increases it.
In general, Crawley concluded that policymakers should be more aware of the fact that development doesn’t prevent migration, as is often suggested. This is because it means that more members of a population are empowered to become global citizens – to study or work abroad out of choice, rather than necessity. But let’s not overlook the moral implications of reduced migration being a key motivation for overseas development…
Lul Seyoum, Director of the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers, emphasised the need to unleash the potential of migrants and refugees – as much for the benefit of the host countries as for the individuals.
Indeed, just as most developed nations are in need of manpower, migrants and refugees are in need of a secure place to live and work. With its aging population, it might be imagined that Europe would welcome motivated future citizens, employees, and neighbours with open arms. Newcomers contribute to the local economy, revitalise areas with declining populations, restore labour gaps and contribute to the economy.
But in spite of the obvious benefits, Seyoum warned, African migrants in particular continue to be shrouded by damaging xenophobic narratives which – once reserved for far-right parties – have become worryingly mainstream.
Africa to Europe Migration: Policy vs. Reality
Meanwhile, European policies continue to centre around strengthening borders and stopping migration. The next speakers examined the policy responses to migration from Africa – focusing particularly on the importance of educational and employment opportunities for young Africans in their countries of origin. This would not only reduce inequalities, but also create safe and legal pathways for those who wish to take advantage of the opportunities offered through international migration.
Although we should destigmatize migration, African governments should still, of course, do all that they can to ensure that their citizens can live comfortably and prosperously in their home country, should they prefer to.
The Bottom Line
Mbakeh Camara, Head of University Relations and Innovation at the University of The Gambia and Founder of Be Inspired Internationally – a charity focusing on the economic empowerment of young people from a disadvantaged background in the Gambia emphasised that those Africans who do seek opportunities outside their country of origin were as entitled to do so as anyone else.
Issiaka Konaté, Director-General of Ivorians Abroad in the Ministry of African Integration and Ivorians Abroad, added that moving countries is a human need and thus should be a human right, commenting: ‘No one can live in a country where everyone looks like them, we need to let go of this fabricated concept. We all belong.’ He noted that public opinion in Africa is also influenced by western media, which, due to the current Afrophobic narrative, can lead to Africans feeling insulted daily.
Friends of Europe’s Director of Europe & Geopolitics, Shada Islam, proposed: ‘We need to change our perceptions. Think of Africa as an opportunity – a potential – and not a beneficiary of our largesse.’
Overall, despite widespread acceptance of human rights and equality in theory, toxic narratives in Europe around migration unfortunately live on. Working from the bottom up to engage individuals, civil society and governments alike and criticising the media outlets who perpetuate generalisations about African migrants is where potential lies to debunk these harmful stereotypes once and for all.
Edo goes after assets, properties of traffickers
The Edo State Government plans to go after the assets and properties of persons behind the wanton trafficking of indigenes of the state.
Governor Godwin Obaseki told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja yesterday that proceeds from such properties would be ploughed into the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees.
Convicting the perpetrators and liquidating their assets, according to the governor, will serve as a deterrent to others who are still scouting for vulnerable Nigerians to traffic.
The governor, who was among guests at an event held at the British High Commission in Abuja on Thursday, however, said that the state had been hindered by delays in prosecution.
He said whereas government had recruited competent prosecutors, judicial processes, long adjournments and handling of victims’ testimonies were delaying government’s move to get convictions.
He said: “We have been able to intensify investigation and prosecution. But unfortunately, we have not been able to get any conviction.
“Not because the prosecutors are not doing their utmost best, but because of the very nature of our legal system.
“We are working very hard with the high courts and NAPTIP to ensure that we get convictions.
“This can serve as a deterrent and punishment to the perpetrators, ensuring that they lose property and they lose assets with which we will now use in supporting the rehabilitation of victims.
“We will work with the judiciary to try and reduce the long adjournments and also the way they treat evidences from victims.
“Many of these victims are afraid of revealing information on their traffickers because of threats, but we are taking measures to provide safe houses for them and to provide cover for them until we are able to get prosecutions.”
The governor said that in the last four years under his watch, the number of persons trafficked from the state had reduced with rehabilitation and reintegration of over 6,500 returnees.
He said that the focus for the government, working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), is to re-humanise the victims and restore their dignity.
He added that the government also, in the process of rehabilitation, extracts information from the victims in a bid to understand the scope and nature of the network.
“We have rehabilitated over 6,500 victims of trafficking and irregular migration working with partners like the IOM.
“We have also used the opportunity to extract a lot of data to understand the nature and scope of all these trafficking network and crisis.
“With that information, we now understand what drives people and what have driven people to be trafficked, the areas they come from, their social situation and economic situations.
“That has helped us to put strategies in place to combat trafficking in Edo state.
“You would see from records available that the incidence of trafficking and irregular migration in Edo state over the last three years has dropped dramatically,” he said.
JIFORM to African leaders: give youths social security to combat human trafficking
As the world marks the 2021 Day Against Trafficking In Persons on July 30, the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) has urged government in Africa to pay more attention to the social security schemes to stem the tide of human trafficking on the continent.
The global media body with over 300 journalists covering migration across the continents is hosting its 3rd global migration summit in partnership with the Altec Global Inc, Toronto Canada and others at the Niagara Falls in the country between November 29 to December 6, this year.
The President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi in a statement noted that “the major pull factor of human trafficking in Africa is poverty. The youths being trafficked need jobs, shelter, security and empowerment. Before we can ensure that the victims’ voices lead the way as the theme of the 2021 anti-human trafficking day implies, every government on the continent must not pretend on the relevance of improved socio- economic status for their citizens. Time to do needful is now by being honest and set aside undue semantics and theories.
“We salute the doggedness of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) in Nigeria. The law establishing the agency should be reviewed to mandate the leadership of the agency to be totally professional and hierarchically structured as uniformed organization.
“NAPTIP needs more funding to recruit more hands and have its presence in the 774 local governments in Nigeria. The agency should be more strategically involved in the migration process of mostly young Nigerian ladies to be sure of their mission at the airports through collaboration with the Nigeria Immigration Service.
“Youth empowerment is very key to any preventive measure. Poverty, economic hardship and ignorance are the major weapons being used by the traffickers to sway victims in Africa especially Nigeria.
“Therefore, for the theme of this year’s anti-human trafficking day to be meaningful in Nigeria and Africa, JIFORM agrees totally that listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking are very important. Survivors are key actors in the fight against human trafficking.
“But how well have we re-integrate many of them into the society? The victims play a crucial role in establishing effective measures to prevent this crime, identifying and rescuing victims and supporting them on their road to rehabilitation.
“We cannot agree less with the United Nations that many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced revictimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support. So, we must rise to implement the preventive measures and defend the victims.
“Learning from victims’ experiences and turning their suggestions into concrete actions will lead to a more victim-centered and effective approach in combating human trafficking. The media too must play its roles to carry out more campaigns to complement what is expected from the government” Ajibola added.
IOM rushes to help refugees as deadly monsoon rains wreak havoc in Bangladesh
Cox’s Bazar – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today many of the more than 13,000 Rohingya refugees forced out of their camps by flooding in Cox’s Bazar which has killed at least six people were returning to their shelters to salvage belongings after a break in heavy rains, but the risk of more casualties remained high.
IOM said a total of more than 21,000 refugees had been affected and almost 4,000 shelters were destroyed. Food distribution centres, health facilities and water points have been damaged during three days of non-stop rain.
The six confirmed dead were killed in landslides or drowned in two IOM-managed camps and officials fear more flooding and landslides will prevent help reaching others among the total of 884,000 Rohingya refugees in the country.
Access to the camps is hazardous as constant landslides block the main roads leading to the camps, and major routes used by refugees and humanitarian actors are under water.
Up to 2,000 people have been evacuated from landslide-prone areas in Teknaf upazila (sub-district).
“Heavy rainfall is expected during the next few days, and as such, challenges are likely to increase,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
“Over the past few months, IOM has been assessing the risk of landslides, strengthening drainage networks, installing slope protection measures and upgrading key pathways. However, despite multiple disaster risk reduction measures being implemented, the camp congestion, excessive rain and poor soil quality, make it extremely difficult to cope with the elements,” Pereira said.
One hundred Rohingya Disaster Management Unit (DMU) volunteers trained in each camp have been working around the clock and focusing on helping the most vulnerable, including the elderly and pregnant women. IOM teams are assessing the damage and working closely with the different sectors to refer those affected for relevant assistance. Mobile medical teams have been deployed and the protection emergency response unit has been activated.
Staff on the ground are clearing drainage pipes, repairing damage and distributing emergency shelter kits, core relief items, and aquatabs to prevent waterborne diseases.
IOM has sent in Cyclone Preparedness Programme volunteers to urgently assist host community members.
Families have taken refuge in six different multi-purpose cyclone shelters where they are currently being assisted with relief items, protection and medical support. Since 2019, IOM has been supporting the rehabilitation of MPCS so community members can take shelter in case of disasters.
The current flood emergency further exacerbates the massive humanitarian needs of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. After almost four years since the latest influx of Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, IOM is relying on its partners to continue to support the response.
Additional support is needed to enable teams to continue to assist those affected, as well as the rest of the refugees currently residing in the camps. As always, IOM advocates for the continuation of a comprehensive humanitarian assistance for refugees across all camps.
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