Migration is not a new phenomenon in Africa or in other parts of the globe. Young people are the largest group of individuals migrating each year and they do so mainly in search of decent work, better living conditions, education or as a result of humanitarian crises.
“I am lucky to be alive. Some of my friends died on our way here in 2017. I don’t like to talk about it. It is really hard for me. I want to forget,” Mbaye told Eric. Mbaye is among thousands of African youth who are constantly fleeing the economic hardship in their region.
Mbaye and Mornyang live in Rome, undocumented and make a living by selling beads to tourists who visit the city. Despite finally making it to Europe to live the good life they have always dreamt of and be able to support their families back home, the conditions are equally hard for them, particularly so in an apparent society of plenty.
“I don’t have the documents to live in this country, I don’t like Italy. It is hard for me. I walk all day and my feet hurt,” said Mornyang. Rome, being a huge tourist destination, many African migrants from Nigeria, the Gambia, Senegal, and Mali make a living in the city by selling souvenirs and artifacts to tourists. They usually live in cramp rented apartments in groups where they contribute to paying the rent.
Mbaye and Mornyang’s families back home in Senegal think they are doing well and living a better life in Italy. They send home between fifty to a hundred Euros to their families from time to time.
“I talk to my mother and sisters a lot. They are happy for me because I am abroad. I send money to them at the end of some months, but sometimes I cannot because things are not easy here,” said Mbaye.
The two friends, Mbaye and Mornyang, miss home a lot. They wish to see their families again so they hope to return home in the future. Mbaye told Eric “I cannot go home now and I feel like I am stuck here. I don’t have money to help my family so I cannot go back. There is no money in Senegal, so I have to get a lot of money before I leave”.
There is a general perception among young people in Africa that Europe is the one place that holds the solutions to all their struggles. In the hope to experience life in Europe, they leave home to face often equally harsh conditions in Europe, if not worse.
“Life is hard here when you don’t have the right documents. I won’t advice other people in Senegal to come here the way I came. It is very difficult, and you can die,” Mbaye lamented.
Media attention on African migrants in Europe has, however, thrown a disproportionate light on international migration, even though migration scholars generally agree that intra-African and intra-country migration is the most common form of movement on the continent. That said, with widespread corruption, unemployment and lack of youth engagement across the African continent, the youth are becoming fed up and are leaving in search of places to pursue their dreams, no matter how far away and the journey precarious.
Currently, there are some interventions by nonprofit and other organizations such as Deutsche GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) who have introduced initiatives like “Jobs for Youth: migration and employment promotion project”. With many young people still making the deadly journey into Europe; the question being asked is “Why aren’t African leaders tackling this problem head-on?” Mbaye and Mornyang said they could not see any other way out back home in Senegal, given the upsurge in unemployment and corruption.
Eric Kafui Okyerefo is a 24-year-old from Ghana. Eric runs a digital media startup called The International Clarion where he works with an international team of young journalists to give young people globally a digital voice. He is a Future News Worldwide Alumnus and an Obama Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow. He earned a B.A in communication studies with a specialization in Public Relations at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Follow Eric on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.
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