Despite the life-threatening risks involved in irregular migration, hardly any of those surveyed said they would have stayed at home had they known of the dangers | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Ansa/Eidon/Maxpap/Eidon/F. Frustaci
Despite the life-threatening risks involved in irregular migration, hardly any of those surveyed said they would have stayed at home had they known of the dangers | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Ansa/Eidon/Maxpap/Eidon/F. Frustaci

A new UN study takes a closer look at who the migrants coming from Africa to Europe are - and why they left. One of the findings: Migrants are often more educated than their peers who stayed home.

The vast majority of African migrants who live in Europe come from the most developed sections of their own societies, the study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found. This shows that "migration is a reverberation of development progress," the authors of the study said.  

They surveyed more than 3,000 migrants and refugees from 43 African countries to find out more about their personal backgrounds and why they migrated. The UNDP's "Scaling Fences" survey claims that its methodological approach is the only study of its kind to take a comprehensive look at "the biographic details of migrants' experiences."

The UNDP study describes irregular migration from the perspective of migrants as "an investment in a better future: embraced by individuals whose development trajectory is already in ascendance, enabling a radical rejection of the constraining circumstances at home in order to scale metaphorical and even physical fences to personal fulfillment and better opportunities."

Young forward-thinking and ambitious the majority of African migrants to Europe were found to be more educated than many of their peers in their home countries  Photo picture-alliancePhotoshotMAbdoThe myth of the economic migrant

So why do migrants leave their home countries, according to the study? Nearly 1,100 of those surveyed (36%) said that their primary motivation was to avoid war, conflict, persecution from the government, gang violence or violent extremism and terrorism. In short: They were seeking asylum. 

After taking those whose main objective was asylum out of the sample group, two-thirds of the remaining migrants participating in the survey said that the prospect of having gainful employment in Europe was "not a factor that constrained the decision to migrate."

Nearly the same number among the remaining migrants stated that their main motivation for migrating was the fact that they had been "treated unfairly by their governments," especially with regard to their political views and ethnic affiliation, stopping short of calling this persecution. Yet many still expressed love and respect for their home.

This leaves roughly only about a quarter all the migrants surveyed by UNDP as potential 'economic migrants,' although few actually said that economic opportunities were their main motivator. 

Nearly all of those surveyed said they had at least two or more reasons for embarking on their journeys.

The majority of those surveyed said they had completed secondary education or were still involved in secondary education when they left their home countries  Photo DWShisia WasilwaThree additional years of schooling

One of the most important findings of the survey was the level of education among the majority of the respondents was relatively high. The study revealed that those who made their way to Europe had, on average, enjoyed three additional years of education compared to their peers of the same age whom they had left behind.

About 58% of the participants in the survey said that prior to their irregular immigration to Europe they either had a job in their home countries or were still enrolled in school.

However, questions relating to educational background were only asked to those who had not stated earlier that persecution was their main reason for migration.

Young, willing and able

About half the survey participants were aged between 20 and 29, with the overall average age among all respondents being 24. The vast majority (85%) reported that they came from an urban environment, and nearly half said that they were familiar with the concept of migration because a family member had moved to live elsewhere.

While more than half of the migrants highlighted in the study said their families had provided them with financial support to make their journeys to Europe, almost 80% of them stated that they were now sending money back to their families and communities.

In fact, 60% said that being able to send money back home and help their families financially this way was also one of the main motivations for them to migrate in the first place. But only about a quarter of the respondents who had migrated since 2015 stated that they were legally allowed to work in their host countries.

Refugees working at a hotel on the German island of Sylt  Photo Picture-alliancedpaCCharisiusMany underestimate danger

The study found that many migrants underestimated how dangerous their journey to Europe would be. 56% of the migrants surveyed by UNDP said they had expected their journeys to be dangerous. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of 93% confirmed that the actual journey was indeed a dangerous undertaking.

However, only 2% of the respondents said that greater awareness of the risks would have caused them to stay at home.

Nonetheless, two thirds of those surveyed said that living in Europe was not their long-term goal and they would like to be in a situation whereby they could return to their home countries.


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