Tonnes of Research on Migration. But Where's the Emigre?

Apr 16 , 2022
By Tigist Solomon

There were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, according to International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The phenomenon is significant within sub-Saharan Africa as well, with around 21 million documented people living in other African countries. Migration to the Middle East, Europe and North America from sub-Saharan Africa though has received the most research attention.

There is an equal number of immigrants and emigrants around the world, according to Migration Data Portal. Based on IOM data, there were 281 million emigrants and immigrants in 2020. Nevertheless, existing research and studies on migration emphasise immigrants, those who arrive in the new destination in search of settlement opportunities. Very limited investigations have included the situation of emigrants in their studies.

To fully understand the situation and conditions of migration, detailed studies of the origin of migration from the country of departure are essential. The living conditions of emigrants from their place of origin is key to discuss and analyse before any research on immigration and immigrants can be done. Migration is the result of both emigration and immigration. The former is essential in the migratory process to access the immigration phase and be considered an immigrant.

Unfortunately, most of the existing studies describe the negative impacts of migration on destination countries where issues such as employment, access to health and the overall economic situation of the host country are analysed. Additionally, the researchers pronounce the adverse outcomes of migration by examining the role of smugglers and traffickers on migrants and the hostile experience of migrants during the migration process and after arrival at the new destination.

Topics such as border security and protection as well as the economic and social integration of migrants are major topics of discussion for politicians and governments. These subjects are indeed used during presidential elections to obtain more votes from voters. Former presidents such as Donald Trump in the United States, Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy had made migration and immigration a central topic in their debates.

They had, in fact, captured the attention of most voters and thus did well in their elections. Similarly, the member states of the European Union (EU), as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have used migration policies and regulations as a key topic of discussion to accentuate their unification. Border protection issues receive more attention than any other topic when developing trade union policies and rules of governance.

A comprehensive understanding of migrants is needed by looking at the initial emigration phase. Migration researchers, including researchers from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia, are doing a disservice to the phenomenon by focusing more on immigration. They appear to be advocates of destination countries and thus fail to properly analyse and understand the real-life experience of those who choose to migrate and are at the emigration phase.

No less alarming with migration studies is that most research, including those conducted by African scholars, is funded or co-funded by western foundations and institutions. Thus, the research has an obligation to satisfy the demand of donors by meeting their needs and expectations. As a result, most African migration scholars tend to focus on smugglers, illegal migration and all the negative experiences that result from the phenomenon rather than highlighting some of the positive outcomes.

In fact, minimal research has been conducted to demonstrate the positive experiences associated with migration from sub-Saharan countries. A good balance and a fair observation of the migration situation from different angles using a rational assessment is necessary when conducting research on any subject, including migration.

African migration researchers should keep a watchful eye on this situation and pay attention to the self-interest of donors. Instead of focusing only on traffickers and smugglers, it is essential to understand the situation during the emigration phase and find ways to address the push factors.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 16,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1146]

Tigist Solomon is passionate about socio-economic issues, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. She can be reached at

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