Poverty not a factor in migration to Europe - UNDP

Saturday October 26 2019

Migrants wait to be rescued by the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in the Mediterranean Sea at the Libyan coast on August 2, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG


African migrants heading to Europe may be searching for career fulfilment on a personal basis and or do so out of pressure to support their families, and not necessarily because of poverty.

A report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released this week titled Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe, says that many of the irregular migrants heading to Europe illegally have formal employment back home and are fairly educated.

But stagnating career growths, inability to save for the future and low incomes have propelled them, many of them under the age of 35 to seek greener pastures in the West.

The report is based on a survey of illegal immigrants to Europe, and the researchers interviewed 1,970 migrants from 39 African countries mostly from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire but also included Somalia and Eritrea from East Africa.

The polled respondents are now residing in 13 European countries mainly Italy, Spain, the UK, Germany, Austria and Belgium but had arrived in Europe “through irregular means and not for asylum or protection-related reasons.”

But while the desire to circumvent legal channels could point at poverty, the UNDP findings suggest deeper personal aspirations. For example, despite many of the group earning “competitive incomes” back home, half of those earning regular pay said it wasn’t enough to support families.


Another 38 per cent said they earned enough just to get by with 12 per cent admitting they had earned enough to save for the future.

Once in Europe, the migrants were more challenged to remain away from home, influenced by the “apparent shame of not achieving their “mission” of sending funds back to families and communities.”

Yet when in Europe, those who sent money back home spent just a third of their pay to support families. This amount though constituted 85 per cent of what they used to earn back home, indicating pay could help reduce illegal migration.

“Taken together, these findings raise important questions as to the quality of jobs and opportunities for personal advancement in Africa,” the report says.

“It would seem that despite being relatively successful in economic terms within local contexts, available opportunities fell far short of meeting respondents’ aspirations.”

It means having a job or finding one in Africa was not enough reason to discourage illegal migration especially since 58 per cent of those polled were either employed or in school.

“The core message arising from this study, that migration is a reverberation of uneven development and particularly of a development trajectory that is failing young people, sends a strong signal to policymakers,” Achim Steiner, the Administrator of UNDP said in a forward to the report.

“We must not become distracted by the false promise of short-term fixes: unnecessarily harsh domestic policies and diverting much needed development assistance from core priorities.