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Migration myths

by Joseph Miller

In brief

Proud of her new citizenship: an Indonesian immigrant in Baden-Wuerttemberg

Proud of her new citizenship: an Indonesian immigrant in Baden-Wuerttemberg

Laurence Marfaing from the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) accuses the media of distorted coverage. African immigrants, she ­argues, are only a small fraction of people moving to the EU.

Most Europeans do not realise this because news items typically relate to boat accidents or problems in Greece, Spain or Italy. Boniface Mabanza of KASA, an NGO run by German churches with a focus on Southern Africa, agrees: the media, he says, always seem to focus on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the occurrences there.

In April, Marfaing and Mabanza met at a conference organised by VENRO, the umbrella organisation of German developmental non-government organisations in Bonn. The idea was to discuss EU migration policy and how immigrants are portrayed in the media.

Most African migrants, according to Marfaing, migrate within their continent. Some 7.5 million people from West Africa do not live in their land of birth, according to her, but only 15 % try to go to Europe – and even fewer actually get there. Many Africans will take jobs wherever they find them, so they migrate, often as seasonal workers, Marfaing argues. One way that the EU wants to stem immigration is by providing funds and technical assistance to African nations. Countries that receive EU aid are required to take illegal immigrants back. In Marfaing’s view, this approach does not work, and free movement of goods and people would prevent smuggling of both.

Doris Witteler-Stiepelmann of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), agrees that there is more to stopping the influx of immigrants than just blocking the borders; aid and know-how must be transferred to these lands as well. She additionally remarks that brain drain is two sided. Those who work in Europe for a while may have more to contribute to their country’s development when they return home.

Joseph Miller