Naturally, tackling a global issue as youth migration would require a cosmopolitan approach but the truth is that once a young fellow zips his backpack with his or her mind set for a yonder land all that matters is the individual vision and, for some, the visa. To that youth what happens in the future is a personal business. However, with statistics showing that international movement is increasingly becoming widespread even as global unemployment figures sky-rocket, and our world literally becomes a global village with the
advent of technological contraptions as the A380, youth migration has become an important subject for public debate. So whether it’s from the hinterlands of Tunisia to the Las Palmas province of the Canaries or from the bullet-ridden mountain-tops of Afghanistan to the Venice of the gulf one thing is common: youths are moving and it should be our business.
It is always interesting when reasons for migration are given but like migratory birds our minds are set for one thing: opportunity which comes in a myriad of sorts. Most youths move in search of job opportunities which may be scant in their motherland, or opportunities to improve themselves due to limiting factors in their native homes. Tourism is also important as a reason for migrating. With an expansion of on-line dating it is not uncommon for people to travel for connubial intent. With the economic vagaries of the modern world it must be borne in mind that pastures new mightn’t necessarily be greener. That, however, is a secondary issue peripheral to the first step of leaving motherland.
It’s a global issue but the decision to migrate is made in the private corners of our minds. I will set myself as a case study. I reckon that I had a typical childhood. I went to school with a passion to excel. I grew up with an understanding that my country, categorized in many fronts as a developing nation, was powerful and that I could achieve anything I set my mind to within its shores. It sounded rather simple: Work hard and you would be successful. I went to a local university with this over-bloated optimism but the bubble burst when I found out through first-hand experience that reality doesn’t always check with dining-table tales. I studied pharmacy, finished excellently with a distinction but was extremely disgruntled because I knew I had not had the best of education relative to what obtains in the developed world and I was entering a labour market that was presently choked with a teeming mass of unemployed graduates many of whom had left the cloistered walls of the university with good grades. A response to this would be that unemployment is a global phenomenon but everyday I’m glued to the screens of my television I am completely allured by the promise of a better life elsewhere. There is no guarantee of success but risk, I believe, is the capacity to try without guarantee. So I say
to myself, ‘Why remain in your comfort zone? Why not give it a shot? Who would say no to a chance for a better life?’ These are the mind-boggling questions many, like me, within the age bracket of 18 and 30 find themselves enchanted – or taunted – with, whether they are domiciled in Africa or the Americas.
My personal approach involves exploring the lives of youths who have found themselves caught in the intricate web of those questions and answered it with varying approaches and consequences some positive and others untoward. In this way I will navigate the extremes of options a youth is faced with regards to migration.
MOHAMED BOUAZIZI: REMAINED
It’s a name that only came to the spotlight in the light of the conflict that greeted the Arab world in the early days of 2011. Mr. Bouazizi, before his demise, represented the average African youth. He was educated in Tunisia but like many hapless youths roaming the glitzy streets of Tunis he could not get a decent employment, at least one related to his discipline of training. So, being an enterprising young man he employed himself selling groceries in the streets. This, of course, must have been a far cry from what he anticipated while sweating his way through school. He painstakingly toiled in this trade in a desperate bid to survive in Tunisia shoving away the luscious temptation to embark on the hazardous sea trip to Europe which many before him had embarked on illicitly. Many survived the harsh elements of the Mediterranean into Europe remitting hard currencies after settling down. Others were luckless victims of capsized boats who were never heard of again. Others yet make it to Europe only to be deported for want of necessary documents when apprehended by immigration officials. However, only stories of success seem to make the rounds in the corners of the streets whether it’s in Lagos or Kumasi. So, year in and out
millions are venturing into North Africa with dreams of a better life in Europe.
For an educated young man as Mr. Bouazizi, emigrating no doubt was a tantalizing option. First, it can be assumed that getting a visa would be easier. Second, he would probably have a better chance at securing a job in the foreign country. Again, these are assumptions and probabilities. The truth is that obtaining a visa as a youth into Europe without the high-profile affluence of a benefactor is heavy-duty. The embassies of these Promise Lands
are permanently besieged by young men and women clamoring at a shot for a better life. Most end their quest unsuccessfully. It is also worthy of note that in today’s world good jobs – no matter how relative the adjective ‘good’ may be- are hard to find whether it is being sought in the high-end Grands Boulevards of France or neon-lit alleys of Shanghai. These facts were sufficiently discouraging to prevent him from exploring such options. But that is not is the complete story.
Mr. Bouazizi made headlines when he revolted. Like the plastic of Newtonian physics he reached his yield point and buckled when government officials destroyed his wares claiming he lacked the permit to carry out that trade. Considering that that was his source of livelihood it was tantamount to saying he lacked the permit to survive. That was it. He staged the most vivid demonstration of revolt by setting himself on fire. He died days
later and that sparked the furor which reshaped much of the Arab world. While that does not come under the purview of discussions on youth migration it represents the far-reaching implications a decision on the issue can be and ignites a sense of awareness in the hearts of policy makers. Job creation is pivotal in this regard but lurking in the corner is the opportunity to ply your trade as a human being in a foreign land. In retrospect we might daresay that had Mr. Bouazizi gone elsewhere perhaps the Jasmine revolution – as it was later dubbed – would have been averted. ‘Perhaps’ being the action word .
World population statistics show that youths between 18 and 30 years of age make up a large percentage of the world’s population. Young people are the catalyst of economic might as was demonstrated in the early days of Japan’s economic surge. The strength of youth can be exploited negatively as is evident in Somalia, the war-ravaged East African nation reputed for the ills of a chronic civil war. Their territorial water is infamous for dare-devil piracy. For most of the young people born into this nation the options are quite
limited. It’s either they get recruited into the ranks of the Somali rebels or they join the throngs of youths heading West. K’naan, popular for his hit song ‘Wavin’ flag’, which was the signature tune of the 2010 world cup competition staged in South Africa chose the latter. For K’naan, stateside was Canaan land and indeed it has been. He has bagged a string of awards and gained international recognition. For many like him the decision to leave the shores of Somalia was not difficult to make. A nation fraught with violence and vices is not exactly the most viable platform to groom a dream whether it’s in music or
Young people want to achieve. Many have talents which they hope to transform into a source of livelihood but sometimes the milieu of their native land may be an impediment for a variety of reasons. For K’naan it was the political climate; for the young Mexicans braving the fence that divides the USA and Mexico it is the harsh economic situation back at home; and for many others across the globe it might be an adverse climatic condition like the tsunami or hurricane. The debate on how receiving nations should treat
immigrants – both illegal and legit – can only be well-rounded when these factors are put in the equation. Home, it is said, is where heart is. Most youths find it extremely difficult to make a home in their native country and so have their hearts set for foreign lands where things might not exactly turn out as well as they covet but at least they would have a shot at a better life and be contented that they tried. It can be stated almost as an addendum to the freedom of life act that a person must have the chance to choose the best
things in life. This may not exactly be in sync with many national and international laws on migration but it is a case that can be made anywhere.
So what becomes of Somalia when all of its young people are gone? Who will till the farms and lead the sheep and goats to the meadow? Certainly not K’naan nor any of the others who have headed West. That represents the downside of youth migration. Loss of manpower and brain drain are critical issues that must be addressed with regards to migration. While it might be easy to criticize a young person for developing a foreigner’s land at the expense of his own it must be put in context that patriotism cannot be as important as self-sustenance and survival in a personal scale of proportions. At what point
a young person makes the decision to leave is really a personal decision and the state can only alter that by improving conditions at home and not tight-fisted legislations. We would not cite K’naan nor Somalia if things were favourable in the horn of Africa. This case can be made for Mexico, Vietnam, Nigeria and every other nation where the youths have become disillusioned by the state of affairs and are chanting the anthem for exodus.
DES SANTOS: RETURNED
I met Mr. Des Santos many years back and I reckon his experience would help in
this debate on youth migration. Born in Brazil, he is a professional footballer. His dream from childhood was to play in one of the big leagues of Europe and he set out to achieve that dream by joining a soccer academy at an early age. He hoped some scout from Manchester United football club or Real Madrid football club would notice him, sign him on and his life would change forever. That was not to be. The competition was simply too much for Brazil is known for a rich football culture and the league is reputed for a large crop of budding stars. Not everyone gets to be picked by the European scouts and Des
Santos never got picked. He left the academy and soon joined a local club in
the lower rungs of the Brazilian league earning a meager pay. That was not the dream he had nursed all his life. Desperate for a turn-around he travelled down to Nigeria where he hoped he could display his talents without the throng of competition which had smothered his dream in the Brazilian league. That was when I met Des Santos. He was a young man claiming to be only 18. Considering that age-doctoring is commonplace in football, I was a little skeptical when he gave me that figure. The important thing was that he eventually made it into the Israeli league which is at least close to Europe even though that was not
exactly what he hoped for. Next he went to Jordan, then Ukraine. The last time I heard from him he had moved back to Brazil. He had quit football and was helping run a family business. He sounded rather reticent about it and I understood why.
Many have taken that ultimate first step of leaving abroad. They leave behind family and friends who are filled with plenty of hope that their kinsman would make it big in the foreign cities and soon the wealth would trickle down. Things often turn awry for the migrant and returning home is never on the cards because of that feeling of letting themselves and their families down. So it is not infrequent that skilled foreigners remain in their new country without a job and the will to look elsewhere not especially their
homeland. The shame of futile homecoming can be intimidating. Some, like Des
Santos aren’t so thin-skinned. When he travelled out of the Brazilian shores it was a personal decision so returning should also be a personal decision. Sometimes it is not so simple. In some African communities it is quite common that a village owns a collective purse with which they send some of indigenes abroad. It is usually expected that such people start remitting money as soon as they settle in the foreign land. When such party reneges on this commitment his or her family back home is threatened. So for such people returning home is never on the cards even when they are barely surviving.
Listening to a documentary on a short-wave radio station I heard the account of an ill-informed young African doctor who travelled to the United States of America with the hope of plying his trade with a better return. He was unaware that his qualification was not sufficient to enable him practice in stateside. He had to obtain some extra qualifications which would of course require money. Clueless and cash-strapped he resorted to a menial job – or jobs, I should say – too ashamed to return to his native land. At the end of the day the moral of the story was that a bird in hand is worth two in the
forest. Surely that is an ageless creed but how does one reconcile that with the timeless truth that one should always strive for the best? Again, we find ourselves in a quandary that cannot be easily resolved by some philosophical gibberish. It can be stated that once the tide changes in a foreign land it can never be considered cowardly to go back home as is the case with many Chinese youths after the economic upswing. Kong Jiesheng, a Chinese writer said, “Chinese people who live in foreign lands can never forget the pain and insults of the past. Today, to be standing on the bend of a river in my homeland, I can proudly say, ‘We are Chinese.’” For Des Santos, Brazil was homeland and like the prodigal son he listened to the call of the samba and retraced his step back home. Whether he is a coward or a hero is a matter of
mind over matter.
Having seen some real life scenarios of youth making that ultimate decision to leave or remain in the land of their birth it is imperative to consider the approach policy makers should adopt in defining legislations on migration.
The Mexican public was hugely enraged by the 1994 American government decision to erect steel walls around its border with Mexico. Some pundits suggested that it smacked of racism but in trying to be fair to the American government it can be argued that they were only being protective of their own citizenry. So how does a government balance its self-interest while trying to be the all-embracing beacon of hope as was the case with the American government? There really is no simple solution to that and the immigration issue forever remains a contentious one whether it’s into the United Kingdom or Switzerland. Every country has its own problems to tackle like unemployment, crime, housing and transportation. Taking foreigners might not seem like the smartest thing to
do. History, however, suggests that the economic prosperity of some nations as America is inextricably tied to the presence of migrant workers who are often more than content to do the less glamorous blue-collar jobs. Some even make it big eventually but that’s not the dream young people are leaving their native lands with. Travelling to a developed nation only to start scrubbing dirty toilets simply is out of the game-plan for most migrants.
Operation gatekeeper can be tagged as an exception to the rule not just because it was only meant to restrict illegal immigrants but because fencing a country at such an enormous cost is a peculiarity to the USA. There are other subtle approaches by governments around the world to curb immigration. Some years ago, the British government restricted the influx of Nigerians within a certain age bracket into Britain but that was greeted with
staunch criticism by the Nigerian government. Considering that Britain has a string of investments in the oil-rich West African nation and would have been well-disadvantaged had the Nigerian government taken it too seriously it wasn’t surprising that they soon relaxed their stance and adopted a subtler approach which was just as innocuous: making visa acquisition more difficult. How do you fault that? Some other governments have embarked on similar schemes. Others make it easier for only skilled workers to enter their
countries. So it’s not unusual to see campaigns in many African nations by developed countries offering doctors and nurses access to their countries with a promise of a better life. Who fills the vacuum left by these health professionals once they have left? Aren’t these governments deviously hypocritical in offering such qualified assistance?
One thing must be established first in drawing a guideline for immigration and that is that every sovereign government should call the shots on who should cross its borders. However, in doing so it must be open, honest and empathetic. The rules must be known to all and applicable international laws must be duly followed. `Also, illegal immigrants must not be treated as outcasts. Breaking the law does not make one a cannibal. Illegal immigrantsshould be treated with respect and migration authorities must give the accused
the benefit of defending themselves in a court of law. This has not always been the case. There have been reports of bona fide migrants who were bundled out of some countries in an unjust manner.
USA PATRIOT ACT
Living in a post September 11 world, it is understandable that many governments
across the world are rather conservative when migration is on the agenda. There
is an ominous fear of terrorists across the world. This has led to a wave of stringent restrictions on migration of young people especially from countries described as “sponsors of terrorism.” The truth is that not everyone from Afghanistan or Iran is a terrorist. Making the distinction is not an exactly easy task and so it did not come as a shock when the United States government enacted the PATRIOT ACT, an acronym for
Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Its provisions were seen by many as a violation of fundamental human rights. Some described it as unconstitutional. Looking at it holistically and in the context of the attack on the world trade centre it would not be wrong to fault a nation’s policy whose overriding mission is to protect its own people. However, a little discretion can be put to good use by listening to all parties involved and taking the right decision. That at least would be a step in the right direction.
Usually, the attitude of these foreign governments to migrants is that of pity, especially with asylum seekers from war-torn nations such as Kosovo or disaster-ridden countries like Japan but this pity translates into hatred once their capacity to accommodate the migrants gets stretched. It should be in the priorities of rich and developed nations of the world to habour migrants coming in for such reasons else they would be viewed as cold and indifferent and that won’t help its reputation outside its borders.
It would be almost clichéd to state that our world has become a global village. Beyond the supersonic planes and ultra-fast internet gizmos, people are getting smarter. That’s why it is called the jet age. Governments across the world must tackle the issue of emigration and immigration with a sense of importance. The impact can be quite astounding, whether it’s a revolution-provoking effect in Tunisia or a multi-platinum selling album by a USA-based Somali musician it is time to come to the round-table with the youths seated too.