Crossing into the unknown

New trends in migration (2012)

After jumping the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, illegal migrants climb into a waiting vehicle that will transport them to the nearby town of Musina Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
After jumping the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, illegal migrants climb into a waiting vehicle that will transport them to the nearby town of Musina

Hamid’s parents migrated from Afghanistan before he was born and he grew up in Iran where life as an unregistered refugee was hard, particularly after his father returned to Afghanistan never to be heard from again. At the age of 15, Hamid paid smugglers to get him into Europe using money his two older brothers had raised from selling off their tailoring business.

Hamid was oblivious to the economic crisis in Europe and particularly the impact it had had on employment opportunities in Greece, the first and last European country he reached. With no money to continue his journey, Hamid ended up unemployed and homeless in Athens. After 15 months, he was ready to give up and return home.

In many respects, Hamid is a modern-day migrant: an unaccompanied minor - an increasingly common phenomenon throughout the world - who was a refugee, but became an irregular migrant and, after a relatively short period away, returned home.

The global financial crisis has not stopped migration, but it has led to increasingly complex patterns of movement and some changes in destination. According to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) World Migration Report 2011, the total number of migrants worldwide remained at a fairly stable 214 million by the end of 2010. However, migratory flows to many developed countries have slowed as jobs have become more scarce and labour migration policies less welcoming.

Meanwhile, temporary or “circular” migration, in which people come and go between countries, is on the rise, according to The Economist, which has also noted the increase in young, mostly educated workers heading to the booming economies of China and South Korea.

Increasingly, the traditional distinctions between refugees, asylum seekers, forced and economic migrants are becoming less clear as people move from one country to another for a combination of reasons. In some cases, these may include fear of persecution, but often they also include the wish to improve economic prospects or reunite with family members.

Many refugees and asylum seekers now use the same routes, modes of transport and smugglers as migrants, a phenomenon of “mixed migration” that local police and immigration officials are often ill-equipped to deal with. The result is that asylum seekers entitled to receive protection and assistance, often end up arrested, detained and even deported.

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