UN World Youth Report

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WYR 2013 Chapter Three

Transit Decisions Among Young Migrants

Whether youth migrants choose to transit through certain countries on their way to a final destination depends on factors such as available travel routes, travel and visa regulations, legal barriers to exit, travel costs, and the presence of family members, existing diaspora communities and organized travel networks they might rely on for support. Visa restrictions may compel migrants to resort to irregular migration, which may involve at least partial dependence on informal travel agents, including smugglers.

For many of the international youth migrants who shared their stories during the consultation on transit migration, the choice of a transit country was often based on perceptions of socio-cultural similarities and consequent expectations of an easy transition. Their transit decisions were also strongly influenced by factors such as visa costs and the processes associated with obtaining visas for transit and destination countries.

Lonneke van Zundert, female, age 34 years: The Netherlands → Hong Kong SAR China:

[One goes] by choice… because ... the transit country is visa-free, easy on issuing visas, or known to have a flexible entry policy.[It also helps if there is] a large community of citizens from the home country, or if the migrant has contacts. [It is best if the] the geographical location [of the transit country] is close to final destination (with the possibility of entering the destination country illegally), and if opportunities are available to save up/prepare for the final destination.

 

Young migrants who are aware of the support options available in transit improve their chances of safe travel. Youth often follow traditional migration routes where there are certain ethnic or transnational networks that furnish accommodations on arrival in a transit country and provide employment assistance to young migrants who have to work to finance the next stage of their journey. While in transit, youth migrants can maintain contact with their family members at home or with other contacts at various destination points along the way using mobile phones and e-mail. Financial transfer services are now widely available in most transit countries, making it easy for families to send funds to young migrants to help cover their expenses along the way. Young migrants should give careful consideration to their choice of travel mode; although air travel is comparatively expensive, it offers greater safety and ease, especially for those accompanied by young children, and it may even prove more cost-effective when the expenses of a long overland journey are factored into total transit costs.

Although careful planning may reduce some of the travel risks, evidence suggests that the transit journey can be the most dangerous part of the migration process, as many migrants have limited social networks and support and are therefore vulnerable to threats that could affect their well-being and their ability to move to a destination country.

At the beginning of their journey, some young migrants are not sure what their final destinations will be. For others, countries initially intended as final destinations can turn out to be transit countries, as young migrants sometimes realize that other countries might offer them even better opportunities or easier integration. During the pre-migration stage, many young people decide on a destination based on a perceived sense of social and cultural continuity and similarity between the country of origin and the destination country. Such expectations can actually interfere with integration. For example, a young migrant may assume that a common language and shared history will make socio-cultural challenges easier to overcome; when they expect to be considered ‘insiders’ but are instead treated as ‘outsiders’, they are often unable to develop a sense of belonging and may then decide to move again—transforming what was once considered the destination into a transit point. In the accounts below, several young migrants share their experiences of trying to find countries best suited to their needs.

Youth Voices- Finding a Place to Call Home

Timothy, Male, Nigeria → United States → Nigeria ↔ Germany → Liberia ↔ United States: On the 17th of April, 2008, I travelled to the United States for the very first time. After a not-too-long flight—it was one of the first direct Lagos-to-Atlanta flights—I ended up at Disney World, where I spent an entire week. Before I knew it, I was back in Nigeria. A year after Florida, I was in Germany for three months. Seven months after Germany, I moved to Liberia for a year. Six months after that, I was back in the U.S. for a few months, and then I returned to Liberia for another year. After that, I returned to the U.S., where I currently live and study. All together, I was on the road for five years, which is not necessarily a long time, but in our jet age, where a day equals a decade, it is a long time to roam around away from home, and enough time to feel displaced and slightly disoriented. For free-movers like me, the prominence of one’s place as an outsider leads to an overwhelming sense of displacement—a feeling that is not necessarily the result of one's relocation, but an awareness of one’s identity in a new place, and the urgent need to adjust in order to make progress.

Ausrine, female, age 27 Lithuania → United States: I call it my… journey in quest of finding myself in a ‘best fit’ country.

Victoria, female, age 24 Republic of Moldova → Romania: I am originally from the Republic of Moldova, and I moved to Romania, a neighboring country, for my studies. My home country is not part of the European Union, while Romania is. I chose Romania as a final destination, but I have been here for almost five years, and it has now become a transit country. The Republic of Moldova and Romania have the same historical background. At one point in history they were even the same country. So, the social and cultural life of these two countries is almost the same, and we are considered to be Romanians abroad. We speak the same language, but with different accents and even some different words. It seems [like it would] be easy to be integrated in this society, but it hasn’t been. The fact that I have a different accent from the rest of the Romanian population makes me feel like an immigrant all the time, even if we speak the same language and share the same ethnicity. Of course, [on paper] I am an immigrant, because I have different citizenship. However, because of Romanian citizenship policy, I have obtained Romanian citizenship. Now I am a citizen of this country, but I still do not consider myself integrated. I cannot say that this country is my home. I want to emigrate again.

 

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The UN Focal Point on Youth aims to build awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations, working toward greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means for achieving peace and development.

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