CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1It is a commonplace to highlight the degree to which the media and politics have focused on sub-Saharan migration to the Mediterranean region. Almost daily, we are presented with images of migrants in frail boats and up against barriers at the gates of Europe. Those images convey a uniform portrait of the sub-Saharan migrant as young, poor, and willing to do anything to reach Europe—and so may cause us to forget the diverse realities of migration in Africa. It is these multiple, changing realities that this book purports to take into account, through a series of contributions by young researchers and practitioners who delivered papers at a conference entitled ‘Statelessness and Transcontinental Migration’ held in Barcelona in 2014. The book presents different perspectives on how changing conditions around the Mediterranean—particularly, the EU’s closing of its external borders and the changes triggered by the Arab Spring—affected the decisions of sub-Saharan migrants already travelling in the region. The authors are particularly interested in low-skilled migrants, i.e. the largest category of migrant flows within Africa and the group that encounters the most impediments to international mobility.

2The book’s 10 chapters were written by researchers from different social science disciplines, all of whom use qualitative methods and focus on movements of individuals from West Africa (Ghana, Niger, and Senegal) either headed toward southern European countries (Spain, Greece, Italy) or to countries often mistakenly thought of as transit spaces (Morocco and Turkey). While the many geographic areas, perspectives, and analytic approaches in the book may seem to undermine its consistency and thematic unity, they also bring to light the complexity of migration processes in Africa and effectively counter some standard notions about movement on the continent.

3Over its various contributions, the book recalls that Africans migrate primarily to other African countries—and are more likely to move within their own countries than to anywhere else. Julie Snorek’s chapter on rural migration in Niger shows how shepherd communities, who until now moved around on a seasonal basis to diversify their income sources, have been forced to give up that way of life and settle lastingly in small cities due to increasingly regular droughts. More dependent than ever on migration contingencies, these groups simply do not have the means to send migrants to places offering better economic opportunities. Moreover, sub-Saharans wishing to emigrate outside their subregion are not all dreaming of Europe. In her chapter on employees from West and Central Africa working in call centres in Morocco, Silja Weyel shows how this economic sector, which has greatly expanded in the last 20 years, has become a primary source of jobs for educated migrants from French-speaking Africa, workers sought after for their proficiency in French and their salary demands, which are lower than Moroccans’.

4Whereas major theories on international migration may lead to the dehumanization of migrants, viewed in turns as rational actors and household or network members, this book works to reconstruct them as individuals whose actions are conditioned by a set of economic, social, and cultural factors but who are still agents with a degree of autonomy, even when extreme conditions seem to preclude any possibility of choosing. The book also stresses the need to take into account the many different motives behind individuals’ decisions to leave, at a time when political discourse and the media regularly cite an opposition between ‘economic migrants’ and refugees.

5The texts in the second part of the book call upon readers to look beyond people’s motives for emigrating and to take account of their ‘secondary’ decisions as well, ones they make after leaving and throughout the migration process. The trajectories of the sub-Saharan migrants that Marieke Wissink and Orçun Ulusoy encountered reveal how the economic crisis and xenophobic attacks in Greece, economic development in Turkey, and immigration ‘securitizing’ have led migrants to conceive different plans: whereas some decide despite everything to try to attain Europe over the dangerous Balkan route, many then turning towards other destinations after they leave, others decide to remain in or return to Turkey. Migrant decisions depend on migrants’ ability to continually redefine their migration plans in response to the constraints and opportunities they meet up with, and this diversification ‘shows that migration needs to be conceptualized as a process, rather than as a straightforward movement from one country to another that can be stopped or deterred’ (p. 134).

6Last, the book shows the multitude of actors involved in managing migration in the Mediterranean region today and how this affects migrants. Tendayi Bloom explains how privatizing migration management—either directly, by delegating the work of border surveillance or detention-centre management to private security companies, or indirectly through sanctions against migrant transporters— makes it hard to read national policies and determine chains of command and accountability while endangering human lives when commercial ships are dissuaded from assisting migrant vessels in trouble. She notes in passing that ‘securitizing immigration’ in this manner in no way prevents migrants from leaving but does make them more vulnerable and more dependent on human trafficking networks when undertaking and pursuing their journey.

7The editors recall in their conclusion that for most of the migrants presented in the book, changing conditions in the Mediterranean region affected decisions on how and where to migrate but in no case changed their decision to leave. Despite contributions of varying quality, this book will be of great interest to anyone wishing to understand not so much why individuals decide to migrate as the circumstances in which and mechanisms by which migrants define and redefine their strategies and routes in response to the opportunities and constraints they encounter on their paths.

Uploaded on on 26/02/2020
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