Thousands of sub-Saharan Africans continue to take the life-changing decision to undertake the illegal and perilous journey to Europe through the Sahara Desert and subsequently through the Mediterranean. This is a journey fraught with danger. The migrants are fully aware of the perils.
Sadly, the majority are clearly desperate to make it to the supposedly greener pastures in Europe, and sadly, the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea are becoming huge cemeteries for these adventurous Africans.
The number of migrants deaths in the Mediterranean reached record levels in 2016. The conspicuous danger does not seem to put off would-be migrants. More and more Africans are risking their lives to reach Europe through the Mediterranean this year. It is a journey that is saturated with hope but often ends in anguish.
The Libya-Italy route has become the most common route for illegal entry into Europe. The lack of an effective central government in Libya, coupled with its proximity to Europe has allowed for smuggling networks to flourish there. But this route between Libya and Italy, known as the Central Mediterranean route, have a higher rate of migrants’ deaths.
Last year alone, more than 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy through this route. More than 590 migrants have drowned on the central Mediterranean route in the first quarter of this year, and the overall number reaching Italy from Libya has risen from about 14,500 in the first quarter of 2016 to 21,900 in the first quarter of 2017. Most of the migrants are Eritrean and Syrian but numerous sub-Saharan Africans also use this route.
While the Syrians or Eritreans can easily claim refugee status because they are fleeing war or brutal regimes, many sub-Saharan Africans, like the Senegalese, Gambians or Ghanaians tend to be migrant workers from countries that are relatively stable. An International Organization for Migration (IOM) Study shows that Nigerians are the largest group of migrants reaching Italy via Libya and as many as 75% of the Nigerians are deemed to be economic migrants. The number of Nigerians reaching Italy via Libya has risen from 9,000 in 2014 to 37,550 in 2016.
Migration in Africa
There are different reasons why migration is extensive in Africa and the decision-making process regarding who will migrate, the patterns of migration, and the benefits or consequences of migration are evolved out of a complex process. While migration can be triggered by unfavourable conditions in the home countries, it is not always the case.
For example, even though Senegal is arguably the most stable democracy in West Africa, it experiences a high emigration rate to Europe due to factors other than political instability.
Furthermore, it is known that families and individuals in sub-Saharan Africa use migration as a practical strategy to ensure diversification of income or to increase resources.
The important thing to understand is that migration tends to be influenced by the existence of an array of socioeconomic factors in the countries of origin that combines to propel migration while the existence of personal networks between non-migrants in the origin area and migrants in Europe tends to maintain and nurture the culture of migration.
Explanations for the proclivity to migrate
There are different views on why Africans migrate even from regions that are ‘politically stable’ and conflict-free.
Firstly, migration can be influenced by households aim to address income risk and to avoid the challenges posed by failures of a variety of markets such as the labour market, credit market, or insurance market in Africa. This view contends that the choices that influences migration are not necessarily made at the individual level; rather, those choices are informed and swayed by a combination of factors such strategies that families or households may adopt for income diversification or risk mitigation as well as the existing economic conditions in the migrant’s home country.
Secondly, migration can be influenced by the existence of networks between migrants abroad and non-migrants in Africa. The emphasis is on how personal networks can trigger and sustain migration. This can help to explain why migration persists even when stiffer immigration policies are being instituted in European countries.
A ‘migrant network’ is the link that connects a migrant to potential migrants, former migrants, and non-migrants in the home and destination countries. This link is usually derived from a familial relationship, common ethnicity or religious affiliation, friendship, or a common heritage. The existence of ‘migrant networks’, however, gives very little insight into the dynamics that trigger migration or why migration may decline or not occur even with the existence of these networks.
Thirdly, migration can be induced by the urge to increase income. This view maintains that that migration is encouraged mainly by rational economic considerations. Wage differentials between countries can influence decisions to migrate as individuals become motivated to maximize income by moving from a region of low wage to a region of higher wage.
Additionally, migration can also be attributed to globalization. This view suggests that migration can be linked to the increased interdependence of economies and the emergence of new forms of production.
Lastly, the character of the economies of advanced countries creates a demand for menial or low-skilled jobs which domestic workers are not keen to take up. Therefore, immigration becomes appropriate and necessary to fill the jobs.
Drivers, consequences and implications of emigration in Africa
The motivations for migration between African countries and Western countries arise from the confluence of diverse factors that exist concurrently in Africa and the destination. The factors might include failure of labour markets, economic downturns, political instability, failures of financial and insurance markets, the relationship between migration and development, households risk management strategies, amongst others in African countries.
Migration, therefore, becomes a medium whereby households and individuals seek to escape the economic and political instability as well as failures of the futures market, labour markets, capital markets, or existing economic stagnation. When sections of the population lack access to formal labour, insurance and financial markets, households tend to ensure security by sharing risks/rewards and providing the resources for some to migrate to diversify income sources. This is the case in Ethiopia, where families usually address food insecurity by temporarily shedding numbers to reduce stress on existing food supply and other resources by encouraging members of the family to travel to various places to bolster income and resource levels for the households.
Usually, the decision to pool risks often instigates a ‘migration contract’ which controls the reciprocal obligations of the members of the households. This migration contract is reflected not only in the household members pooling resources to fund the cost of migration for the migrant but also in the migrant’s pattern of sending remittances from abroad or engaging in investments in the home country.
Remittances from overseas migrants were said to have contributed up to 12% of Senegal’s GDP in 2010. Remittances tend to be a prime example of how Senegalese households see migration as a medium to diversify their income and ensure security that they would not have been obtained only in Senegal. Remittances are not only valuable for the maintenance of individual households but are also contributing to developmental projects at the community level. The remittances usually take different forms and may come through formal means through bank transfer, Money Gram, and Western Union or through informal means such as gifts or cash sent through other migrants visiting home. According to a research, real estate tends to be the main investment choice for Senegalese migrants as it is generally considered a safe investment with minimal bureaucratic bottlenecks.
The relationship between managing risk and remittance provides insights into how households or communities can encourage migration to maximize their income and minimize their risks.
Thus, it is important to look at migration beyond the decision-making of individual migrants or the structural considerations of the destination country but considers it from an all-encompassing approach that considers other social entities. Economic insecurity and unstable income sources propel households and individuals to seek additional or alternative sources of income. Migration, therefore, becomes a strategy by which the households are achieving income stability through both the diversification of income sources and the build-up of human and financial capital.
A second way to look at the migration from Africa to Europe is to look at how social networking, transnationalism and colonial ties are stimuli for migration.
Social networks may exist through family relations, religious affiliation, or ethnicity. Networks provide potential migrants with vital migration-related resources. These resources include information on job opportunities, routes for migrating, financing, or even potential marriage partners to gain legal status. An example is how potential migrants from Mexico use their networks to get jobs in the USA outside of the formal job market. Some employers favour this mode of employment since the referencing given by current migrant workers eliminate the recruitment information asymmetry problems for recruiters regarding the new migrant workers.
The networks between the home country and destination country easily link household’s livelihood strategies to the formal and informal labour markets in Europe. Potential migrant without such social network abroad may find it difficult to access vital migrant-related resources.
In some cases, historical ties between countries can be used to help explain the migration patterns. The French, for example, initiated the process of recruiting people from Senegal during the colonial era for the army and administrative posts. By the 1950s, the rapidly expanding French industries recruited a vast number of Senegalese males. A significant and vibrant Senegalese immigrant community was already existing in France before the government begun immigration restrictions. The existing networks, then became a major conduit for legitimate immigration to France, especially through family reunification. The established Senegalese community in France made it easier for potential migrants to obtain better opportunities in France through the existing networks. The same cannot be said for Senegalese migrants in places like Spain and Italy, where the more recent Senegalese networks are not as established as the communities in France, and therefore newer migrants are channelled into informal labour activities like street hawking.
It should be noted that the existence of networks does not always encourage migration, especially for females. The results from a research indicated that Senegalese women with spouses abroad were less likely to join their husbands because of different social factors.
There are also instances where family members of migrants will prefer to remain in the home country rather than migrate due to fear of loss of remittances and investments, especially for the extended family members.
The results of a research also found that spousal reunification appears to be relatively uncommon among Senegalese migrants. This result is consistent with the perspectives that emphasize family dispersion to diversify the sources of income and risk. It also shows how complex the family structures are in sub-Saharan Africa, and how these structures influence the way family may choose to disperse to diversify income security.
In terms of the maintenance of the social networks between the migrant community and those in the home country, the concept of transnationalism can help explain how this is done. With the advances in communication, individuals easily maintain cross-national relationships, which in many cases encourages migration. Family reunification is generally more likely to occur in Europe among people able to integrate easily into the host society, as opposed to the popular notion that family reunification is more common when migrants tend not to fully integrate into the host societies. Migrants who easily integrate into the societies will have access to vital migrant-specific information like job opportunities that would encourage potential migrants from home country to move abroad.
Migration out of Africa is fraught with challenges. Many in Europe see it as a menace to the homogeneity of their societies. Others are wary of migrants because of the cheap labour they supply that may make them more employable than the citizens. But migration may always occur if the conditions that exist in African countries that propels migration continue to exist.