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Everybody loves the sunshine : what does immigration really involve for the migrants ?

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Photo by Jeffrey Czum from Pexels

The appropriate definition of an immigrant population varies from country to country. According to the OECD, it is still possible to provide an internationally comparable picture based on birth criteria or nationality. These are the first two parameters most commonly used to define this population. Strictly speaking, the immigrant population is made up of people who live in one country but were born in another, and who still have the nationality of their country of birth. The legal framework surrounding migration reflects this definition.

This definition has therefore largely been taken up and readapted according to the different contexts and channels of diffusion. In addition, all too often immigration is approached only in terms of what it has and can bring to the host country. Many studies have focused on the migratory movement itself but this vision blurs a whole part of its reality: the point of view of the person who migrates himself.

Doesn't this view erase a whole dimension that is nevertheless experienced by many people? It is interesting to understand what the act of emigrating really implies for the person who decides to migrate.

The first step: making the decision to leave

Immigration is a process that needs to be thought for. The act of emigrating involves many obligations and sacrifices that must be weighed and reweighed before actually leaving everything for another place. There is a series of steps that the migrant goes through:

These stages can inturn be classified into three groups of stages thought by Agnes Toth-Bos, Barbara Wisse and Klara Fargo in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations in 2019 :

  1. Before migration;

  2. During migration and eventual repatriation when they questioned the whole idea and wished they could return home;

  3. Continued migration.

Do all migrants go through each of these stages? Journeys tend to have several stages, as people move from one place to another, sometimes at different speeds. Some even end up having to cross the same border several times. Plans change and decisions evolve as the journey unfolds, in response to external circumstances, information gathered and people met along the way (Journeys to Europe, 2016).

The act of departure: what does it consist of? The risks taken

First of all, it is important to remember that a large majority of illegal transnational immigration is done legally, by plane with the acquisition of a visa. Irregular immigrants then find themselves in a situation where their visa is no longer valid.

When migration takes place through illegal channels, coming to Europe requires crossing many borders. This path will have an impact on many prospects for the migrant. As Schapendonk (2012) argues, "It is not so much the beginnings (the A) and the ends (the B) that matter, but rather the in-between, the trajectory itself. The spatial evolution of a trajectory influences the continuation of the same trajectory". The experience lived during the transit will be decisive for the continuation of the trajectory. As such, migration scholars are increasingly aware that the journey is an important part of the picture in understanding the impacts of transnational movements (Collyer, 2007; BenEzer and Zetter, 2015; Schapendonk, 2012).

It is an uncertain and dangerous journey. Many immigrants leave everything without knowing where they will actually arrive. This journey is made at random by the random encounters and information they will make and have. It should not be left to so much luck or bad luck (Gladkova and Mazzucato, 2015).

This immigration is often never a straight line from destination A to destination B. There are many constraints to be faced, such as financial or social limitations as well as border controls. There is also the risk of dishonest smugglers.

Those who stay behind

When the issue of migration is addressed, most of the studies that have been carried out focus more on how Men who migrate succeed in integrating in the places of destination rather than on the impact of their absence on the social and economic transformation of their country of origin, and more particularly on the place occupied by those who remain in this space.

This is obviously a fundamental aspect to be studied, but this vision of migration erases a very important aspect of migration: those who stay behind. Rarely is there a mention made of the point of view of those who remain in their country of origin. Until now, the literature has largely ignored those who have not emigrated, even though they bear the brunt of their compatriots' choices and participate in the creation of this "migratory imaginary" (Fouquet, 2007, p. 84).

Yet, many of those who choose to leave are leaving behind something important: their family; and the void they leave is difficult for them to fill. The departure of a family member to another country creates a real social and economic void for those who remain in the country of origin.

However, migration still benefits the family back home. Numerous studies show the positive effects of remittances on family members left behind (Journeys to Europe, 2016). Migration is often described as an investment on the part of the migrant and his or her family, whose return on investment takes the form of higher earnings in a more developed migration destination. In this context, remittances are often the payback on migration investment that goes to individuals in the migrant's country of origin (Dean Yang, 2015).

Migration is affected by a sad reality: not everyone arrives safely at their destination. Many people die on the way. According to the "Missing Migrants" project dating from 2015 and reported in the 2016 "Journeys to Europe" report, a total of 3,760 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2015. The majority died in the Central Mediterranean while traveling from Libya to Italy or Malta.

Rebuilding a life is also not an easy thing to do, requiring overcoming many obstacles and making sacrifices.

It would therefore be relevant for our authorities to understand how and why these people take the routes they take so that they can work to make this journey safer. A better understanding would also allow much more empathy towards migrants.

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