Many Europeans are apprehensive about migrants coming to the continent. The United Nations has surveyed some 3,000 immigrants from African countries about their personal histories and plans — and came to some astonishing conclusions.
By Christoph Titz
October 24, 2019
Who are “the” migrants from African countries who enter the European Union illegally? They are sometimes portrayed as a homogenous group — and many people bitterly complain about them to score political points.
But the vast majority are people who have left their homelands in search of a safer and better life in a foreign country. They are fleeing poverty, a lack of opportunities and a lack of social safety nets.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has devoted an extensive survey to this group and published the results under the title “Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe.”
Some 3,000 adults from 43 African countries were surveyed. The survey does not include those who said that they fled their homes because of war or political persecution. This reduced the sample group to those Africans who were looking for a better life in Europe, but were not allowed to do so because of European immigration laws. Researchers encountered them living in tent cities in the Spanish town of Lepe, where they toil away in greenhouses — but also in rental apartments with their partners and children in places like Madrid, Rome and Frankfurt.
The results show that some of the supposed certainties about African immigrants to Germany are true, while others are not — both in terms of their social backgrounds and reasons for emigrating.
Where do the immigrants come from?
Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of the surveyed immigrants come from the relatively prosperous and peaceful region of West Africa, primarily Nigeria and Senegal. In addition, most immigrants are better educated than their peers at home. Fifty-eight percent had regular jobs in their home countries or were pursuing an education before they left for Europe. And their earnings were higher than the national average.
They earned significantly more — 60 percent more — than their fellow citizens in their countries of origin, and thus were relatively well-off. Nevertheless, half of those who had a steady income say that it wasn’t enough to live on.
The vast majority of migrants were between 20 and 29 years old when they set off for Europe, and a quarter of them were married or in a committed relationship. Roughly one-third of the men and more than half of the women (58 percent) already had one or more children.
Based on all of these results, researchers came to the well-documented conclusion that migration is a step that only becomes possible when people experience economic and social improvements in their situation. As prosperity increases, it gives people the idea and the opportunity to embark on their journey.
What triggered their decision to leave — and what would have held them back?
A large proportion of the migrants who managed to scale Europe’s fences had jobs and a good education.
But the economic situation remained unbearable for many of them. Not surprisingly, 60 percent of respondents cited work and the ability to send money to their families back home as the most important reason for coming to Europe.
However, the researchers point out that this was almost never the only reason. Nearly all of them indicated two or more reasons — and the ranking of these influencing factors is interesting. The most commonly cited second reason — i.e. after the ability to earn money — was for 26 percent of the respondents the poor “governance/security context” in their home countries.