Migration as a successful model? Looking to sub-Saharan Africa

25.07.2018 - Article

For some time, the issues of flight and migration have been dominating political discourse in Germany.

Migration as a successful model
Migration as a successful model© Ifa

In the public domain, there are also recurrent discussions on irregular migration to Europe, the integration of refugees and deportation rules. The reasons why people leave their home countries are rarely addressed, and flight and migration are often equated without differentiation. For the ifa study “Migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe” the communication expert Anke Fiedler spoke to people seeking to migrate, and examined motives, sources of information and the perception of German engagement in sub-Saharan Africa.

ifa (Institut for Foreign Cultural Relations): Why do people decide to leave their home countries?

Anke Fiedler: There are many reasons: Armed conflicts, persecution, war. But also the desire for a better life, the lack of a perspective at home, searching for a job or thirst for adventure. But why do we always mean refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East when we speak of “people who leave their home country”? We Europeans also leave our countries and move to Canada, the USA or Australia, for example. Why do we do that? The reasons are complex.

ifa: How do people who want to migrate inform themselves about routes, transport, and about the living circumstances at the destination?

Fiedler: The study “Migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe” shows that personal contacts are the most important source of information; thus. relatives and acquaintances already living abroad. This has also been confirmed by previous studies. Additionally, social media is very widespread as a channel of communication. Most migrants have far more realistic expectations concerning the living conditions in the destination country than is often assumed. Equally, they are also aware of the risks involved in their flight.

ifa: Nevertheless, not all of them succeed in settling in the destination country. Many people get stuck in a transit country and must eventually return. Which experiences do they have when they return to their countries of origin?

Fiedler: Those who were successful abroad are admired. Migration is viewed as a route to success. But those who return empty-handed often face difficulties. As “failures” they face the challenge of reintegrating into their “community”. They are seen as losers and are exposed to strong social pressure. But of course this observation cannot be generalised. In this regard, the experiences are also very diverse. 
African intracontinental migration exceeds migration to Europe.

ifa: The media often paints the picture of an uncontrollably growing flow of migration to Europe. Does that correspond with reality?

Fiedler: The media often use the metaphor of the “full boat”. However, current studies show that migration in Africa is more intra- than intercontinental, and far less migrants come to Europe than is suggested to the public. The dimension of internal migration which significantly exceeds that of migration to Europe is underrepresented – if it is shown at all.ifa: To which extent does reporting in the media do justice to the multiple causes of flight?

 ifa: What can politics do to promote a more differentiated approach to the topic?

Fiedler: Current research in communication sciences for example by Kai Hafez, Carola Richter or Christine Horz, shows that migrants are usually portrayed rather negatively in the media. People's motives are rarely covered, which results in migration being portrayed less as a complex social phenomenon but rather as a threat.

© Ifa

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