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WYR 2013 Chapter Three

The Variable Duration of Transit Migration

Migrants can spend a day or several years in transit. Prior to their departure, migrants may have detailed travel itineraries with specific arrival times, a general idea of how long their journey should take, or a flexible schedule with no set end point. Even with the most careful plans, changes may occur.

In some instances, as illustrated above, the intended final destination may turn out to be a transit country, while a planned transit stop might become a place of permanent or long-term settlement. Migrants frequently find themselves stranded in certain countries because they run out of money, fail to make it across a border, or are abandoned by the smugglers transporting them. Most of the participants in the consultation on transit migration confirmed that the time they actually spent in transit was not consistent with their pre-set plans. In their experience, the concept of being ‘in transit’ took on different meanings, depending on the circumstances. As one participant pointed out, young migrants do not always choose to be in transit; for those seeking legal access to the next destination, bureaucratic red tape and the lack of essential information and support can result in their being ‘stuck in transit’ for an indefinite period.

Daniela, female, age 28 Italy → Switzerland

I would like to focus on a new type of transitional migration: the one done because of university studies. In particular, I would like to focus on a situation experienced here in Switzerland. It is full of young graduates that keep moving from one place to another to study for years because this is the only legal way for them to stay in Switzerland.

A number of participants said they felt that they were in a constant state of transit as they sought the destination country best suited to their needs. For some, this might have reflected a degree of flexibility with regard to the final destination, while for those who had a preferred destination country in mind, lengthy transit stops were likely required until it became feasible to progress to the next stage. The amount of time spent in a transit country typically depends on a migrant’s ability to make use of available opportunities and support structures to prepare for travel to another transit point or the destination country. This may involve learning the basics of the language, working until enough money is saved for the next leg of the journey, acquiring the necessary legal documents, and re-establishing or strengthening social connections in the destination country.

Health challenges experienced by youth migrants in transit

A common myth is that migrants are carriers of disease and are a burden on health services. The reality is that most migrants travel when they are young and healthy. Nonetheless, there are travel-related health risks, particularly for transit migrants living in distressed circumstances. Dealing with challenges such as substandard accommodations, poor sanitation, and food deprivation can take its toll on the physical and mental health of young migrants. In some cases, female migrants may be coerced into engaging in transactional and unprotected sex with unscrupulous individuals such as travel intermediaries and corrupt border officials in order to facilitate their cross-border passage, putting them at risk for sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. In any case, few migrants utilize non-emergency health-care services while in transit because they are unsure about their health rights as non-citizens or do not know how to access the services they need. Many are unaware of the fact that countries often have policies covering the provision of certain services to all those in need, regardless of their legal status, language proficiency, or cultural background.

The importance of social support for youth migrants in transit countries

A number of participants in the online consultation affirmed that various forms of support had made a difference in their transit migration experience. Assistance ranged from strangers translating labels in the grocery store to others facilitating access to emergency health-care services and diaspora communities providing transportation and accommodations. Some help came from family and friends back home, but much of the assistance originated in the transit country.

Youth Voices- Support Networks

Nicola, female, refugee Ghana → Philippines: In Ghana, the most useful support I received when I first arrived was a childhood friend I knew from Liberia sheltering me in his house. In the Philippines, [I was helped by] a friend I knew in Ghana. The Filipino guy I was sharing a room with stole my cell phone and money when I was ... taking a bath. When I told my friend about it, he sent me some cash.

Zandile, female, aged 20-35 years South Africa → The Netherlands: I had problems understanding the language in my transit country, but it was made pretty easy [for me] because the institution I was affiliated with handled all the paperwork.

Daniel, male, age 35 Nigeria: The most [valuable] support my wife and I received when we first arrived in Makurdi was care and concern. The family we met were so hospitable. This family helped us with health care, as we had had a terrible accident and they swiftly took us to a nearby hospital for immediate medical attention. Besides [that,] they helped us in getting around our transit community.

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