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6 Things We Learned About African Migration to Europe in 2019 From a New UN Report

UNDP representatives presented their "Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe" report last night at Okay Space. Here's what we found out.

Yesterday, Okay Space hosted a discussion between UN luminaries Ahunna Eziakonwa, Mohamed Yahya and OkayAfrica CEO, Abiola Oke about the new UNDP report, Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe. The report examines young Africans who are leaving their homes to make the dangerous journey to Europe for economic opportunities—not solely for asylum or to escape persecution. The evening was both enlightening and sobering, and the main findings may be a little different than what you might expect.

Immigration to Europe from Africa is roughly 90 percent lower than what it was in 2015.

In 2015, slightly over 1 million Africans left for Europe. In 2018, it was just over 100,000. However, the percentage of those who drown on the journey has increased. In 2015, it was 1.6 percent of that million, while it grew to 2 percent in 2018. Meaning just over 2,000 people died enroute in 2018 alone. It is a disturbing factor that, four years on, more people are dying proportionately than when the large migrations began.

Even though most of Africa is rural, most of the youth leaving the continent for economic reasons are from the urban areas.


85 percent of those who the report identified came from urban cities or towns, though only 45 percent of Africans overall live in those urban areas. This means that most of them are coming from regions with "relatively low levels of deprivation." Analysts believe the rapid urbanization of many African cities could be a contributing factor. Benin City, Nigeria, for instance, has urbanized 122 percent in only ten years. These cities cannot actually support the people—and their ambitions and talents—who live there. It plateaus and does not allow for further upward mobility.

Only 2 percent of those who left say knowing the dangers would have deterred them.

This means 98 percent would do it again, despite the knowledge of fatalities and difficulties in crossing. The appeal of elsewhere is greater than death. This realization is crucial for all nations to better comprehend the true elements belying migration, particularly for those that this report is concerned with. Of the 1,970 migrants from 39 African countries interviewed for the report, almost all of them are willing to face death for economic opportunities abroad than stay home. As most of the migrants had relatively comfortable lives at home, they are not migrating to flee death or persecution as with asylum seekers. This prompts great questions and led the report to look at the issue from four angles: home life in Africa, motivations for leaving, life in Europe, motivations for returning.

58 percent of those who left were employed or in school in their home country.

Not only that, in almost every demographic and country, those who left had a considerably higher amount of education than their peers. From Malu, those leaving had an average of five years of education, compared to one year with peers in their age group and two years for the national average. In Cameroon, those leaving had an average 12 years, their peers had seven and the national average of six. Even when broken down by gender, both men and women who leave have about nine years of education while the national average is five and three, respectively.

Though the average African family size is five, most of those who leave have an average family size of 10.

When asked, migrants said their main motivation to leave is to send money home. This information is important as it may impact the motivations for needing to leave. The report reasons that an increase in population may also be playing a role in the motivations to leave. It was also reported that those who go abroad and find work send an average 90 percent of their earnings to their families. Essentially, they are leaving existing jobs to live on 10 percent of their new wage, highlighting that working below minimum wage in Europe is more prosperous.

Though 70 percent of those in Europe said they wanted to stay permanently, those who were working were more likely to want to return to their home country.

Conversely, the majority of those who did want to stay in Europe were not earning anything, 64 percent of them, and 67 percent did not have a legal right to work. Over half of those who did want to return home had a legal right to work. Analysts reason that those who did want to stay would likely change their mind once they had an income. This correlation speaks to a significant relationship between work and migration permanence. It also underlines the claim that migration for this group is focused solely on economic results as opposed to social factors.


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What was most striking about the event, however, was the strong feeling communicated in the space about exchanges between Africans regarding what needs to be done. The discussion did not only surround the facts and figures alone, but also the humanity behind understanding why people migrate. At one point, when addressing the crowd of various influential people on the continent and in the diaspora, Eziakonwa said "What are we missing here? What are we doing by leaving young Africans out of the development discussion? Our programs are clearly failing our African youth."

Later, Yahya responded to a question by stating there was certainly a cultural barrier in which Africans do not often address, listen to or respect the youth. "I can say by looking at you that no one in this room would be given a true say," he said. "This is clearly part of the issue." When asked what can be done by others, the response was to work to change the narrative, to focus on prosperity rather than charity and to provide better access and platforms for African youth to share their stories so that the idea of who migrants are shifts. And so we, as Africans, can better know ourselves.

Check out some photos from last night below with photos from Polly Irungu. Follow and share in the changing of that narrative via #ScalingFencesUNDP and #MyJourney.

Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu

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Anjel Boris, Question Mark, 2019, Acrylic and posca on canvas, 133 by 7cm. Image courtesy of Out Of Africa and @artxlagos

What You Need to Know About ArtXLagos 2019

We talked to artistic director of ArtXLagos, Tayo Ogunbiyi, about Lagos's unique art scene and what's to expect from West Africa's biggest art party.

OkayAfrica is a media partner of ArtXLagos 2019.

In three years, ArtXLagos has successfully established itself as West Africa's premier art fair, cementing its reputation as a center of culture for the entire region. Since its founding by Tokoni Peterside in 2016, the art fair has attracted exhibitors, art buyers and members of the West African art scene and beyond—providing a platform for both emerging and established artists and playing a notable role in the global art ecosystem.

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via C-SPAN

Op Ed: In Defense of the Black Boogeyman

What the disciplining of Ilhan Omar tells us about anti-semitism and black dissent in America

American congresswoman Ilhan Omar, is being accused of anti-semitism after tweeting criticism of pro-Israel lobbyists last week and saying that American support for Israel is "all about the Benjamins." While this brought on criticism from the Democratic Party and many members of the Jewish community, many other members of the Jewish community and others on the left argue that she did little wrong.

Most galling, perhaps, have been the calls for Omar's resignation from Congress by members of the Republican Party who, somehow are claiming the moral high ground on anti-semitism despite offering a welcome home to unrepentantly racist president, Klan members, neo-Nazi sympathizers, and virulently anti-semitic ideologies and individuals alike.

But the storm around Omar's questionably worded but not factually incorrect tweet about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American right wing's financial influence on political activity has been particularly disconcerting. And it's because of the long standing trend of demonizing and very publicly punishing Black dissent, particularly as it relates to Black people speaking in public support of Palestinians.

There has been a recent trend that positions Black people as "the new face of anti-semitism." This accusation is relatively far-reaching, from crassly accusing Black Jews of wearing "Jewface" for speaking about anti-blackness and erasure within Jewish communities to Tamika Mallory's refusal to denounce Louis Farrakhan to Alice Walker's unfortunate endorsement of anti-semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke to any one of the hip-hop lyrics that include some variation on "Jewish money." It should go without saying anti-semitism is condemnable from any and everyone, even other racialized people. And in reactively careening from one incident to the next without anchoring in analyses of power, we fail to recognize distinctions between anti-semitism from Black people and from whites. And so we remain unsuccessful in properly combating either.

James Baldwin wrote: "In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man." The adoption of harmful anti-semitic stereotypes that have become a feature of Black colloquialisms (because they are so prevalent in the broader American psyche) is a product of Black misunderstandings of race and white identity: of incorrectly believing the white skin of many Jewish people protects their communities from racial violence and discriminations even as it does afford other social benefits.

A refusal to animate the Black boogeyman at the center of right-wing political imaginations is an affirmation of our commitment to social justice.

And so while Farrakhan is a contemptible individual who remains unfortunately relevant, his vile and unapologetic anti-semitic language cannot be positioned as functionally equivalent to, for example, the unconscionable acts of racial terror at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In that case, the murderer, Robert Gregory Bowers, was explicitly motivated by conspiracy theories about a mythological white genocide in the United States, a myth that has managed to migrate to this country from South Africa. Bowers' suspicions were affirmed, apparently, by the synagogue's participation in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and support for the large group of Central American migrants traveling northward to seek asylum in this country. "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered," he wrote online before his own acts of murder.

The collapsing of support for Palestine into a broad hatred of Jewish people (and the racist use of the state of Israel as a proxy for the Jewish diaspora) has been deliberate. This is a political conflation that is championed most prominently by the Christian right whose concern for Israel is driven by geopolitical and religious motivations rather than any kind of actual concern for the safety and well-being of Jewish communities. There is also a deliberate isolation of support for Palestine from broader oppositions to far-right nationalism, racism, and [settler] colonialism in reducing Israel/Palestine to a single nation-state issue. Anti-semitism and anti-blackness are linked to one another through violent Christianity and European colonialism that constantly seek to "other" communities based on some essential racial identity. It is nonsensical to oppose one without vehemently opposing the other because, as Frantz Fanon wrote: "The anti-semite is inevitably a negrophobe."

The dragging of Omar is situated into a broader international right-wing strategy of fracturing whatever exists of a political left by playing on reactions to her tweet's language, as well as her positions on Palestine and Venezuela. During a meeting for the House Foreign Affairs committee (of which she is a member), Omar relentlessly pressed Elliot Abrams, America's special envoy to Venezuela, on his record of supporting interventionist foreign policy in a way that was uncharacteristically brave by Democratic Party standards.

Abrams previously served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, and during his tenure, facilitated and covered up US-sponsored mass atrocities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. His name has become a synonym with bloody regime change in Latin America.

American public politics revolves heavily (but not exclusively) around an idea of citizenship that excludes and criminalizes Black people. It invites people to participate in our public disciplining and Omar's Somali, Black Muslim, and refugee identities make her a beautiful target for bipartisan political point-scoring.

Because our politics are not proactive, international, and liberatory in nature, the weak American left is constantly goaded into political arguments on the right's terms. A refusal to animate the Black boogeyman at the center of right-wing political imaginations is an affirmation of our commitment to social justice. It is a commitment to the possibility of a just world that has not yet been foreclosed, a world where the safety and self-determination of Palestinians, Afro-diasporans, Muslims, and Jewish people are not at odds with one another.

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Ilhan Omar Has Become the First Somali-American To Be Elected to Congress

She is also one of the first Muslim women to be elected to the House, taking Keith Ellison's seat.

Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American to serve as Minnesota's state legislator in District 60B, cannot be stopped.

She is now the first Somali-American and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Vox reports.

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