The myth of Europe in Africa
Updated: Oct 13
The protagonists of irregular immigration who every day try to cross the Mediterranean to reach the European continent are young men and women, sometimes even children. They are ready to put their own lives at risk in the quest for a better life, hoping to offer to themselves and to the relatives left behind a somewhat more decent standard of living. Moreover, it’s often their parents who push them to undertake this very perilous journey. Unfortunately, many of them do not reach their destination and lose their lives during the trip or they are repatriated to their country of origin, and so their adventure turns into a broken dream.
It all starts at a young age, when children watch the advertising images of products sold in African countries. Most of the time, it is the photo of a Western family smiling, in a house with a decor which gives the impression of a strong economic, social, but above all material ease. What dazzles the most is the apparent happiness of the little ones in the photos, their cleanliness, order, but especially the number of toys around them.
So, the child starts dreaming of this unknown world where it seems that being a child and behaving like one is much easier. The intuition of the possibility of a better life in Europe is gradually becoming a conviction. Growing up, (s)he watches television channels broadcasting films produced in European or in America where (s)he sees people well dressed, where everyone has a car that looks new, driving in huge roads and living in clean houses like the ones pictured on the ads of his young age. In addition, in the films, even if one of the actors plays the role of a poor man, his character is never as poor as him. In fact it is well known that films and theater plays show the reality of a country.
The other factor fueling the belief of Eldorado Europe is the misrepresentation given by returning immigrants. They show great financial availability through their behavior. Most of the time as soon as they arrive, they look as quickly as possible for a nice car that they will use to tour the neighborhood, visit relatives to show their success. In many areas of Africa, owning a private car is a sign of ease.
We can also observe that often, during their return to the homeland, they will start building a house, they will propose to the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood and almost always she will not hesitate to accept, persuaded that her life will change for the better as she hopes to become the housewife of the house in construction. During their stay, some parents of the neighborhood will approach them to seek information for the possibility of travel for their boys. The presence of “successful” returnees is the moment during which the dream of Europe seems real for a whole family, for an entire neighborhood, for a whole city and for a whole country, even if it is differently conceived by each member of the family.
Immigration or parental sacrifice?
The different personal visions of the Schengen zone depend on the hierarchical position that one has within the family. For example the elder males are the ones who see the West as a continent where they have to settle. They see a house or a room for themselves, financial freedom, health security, etc... By reaching Europe, they will gain the admiration of their peers who could not travel, but also the respect of the younger ones who will look up at them and the sympathy of the old ones.
As far as the conception of this part of the world by young girls of the family is concerned, they generally associate it with the conquest of personal freedom, a great feeling of equality between them and men, which despite the patriarchal cultural indoctrination, continues to reside in their subconscious, that part of us who know us more than anyone else and who keep our greatest desires.
These young women are convinced that they will acquire more freedom and balance, even if the West still has a lot to do in this context ( MeeToo movement, gender pay gap) but is still ahead compared to the African situation on women's rights. They also hope to be able to offer a better future to their future children, they believe that the unemployment rate is less important than in the African continent.
Finally there are the parents, who do not imagine immigration for themselves, but for their sons. In particular the first boy in the family. In a family where the eldest is a girl and the youngest is a boy, the parents plan to favor the boy's travel at all costs. According to their beliefs, the boy has more physical and mental strength to find a good job and to help them economically.
It must also be said that men do not get pregnant, so there is no risk for them losing the job because of motherhood. Unlike women, they are not “housewives”, so they do not have an obligation to cook for their partner, keep the house clean, do the washing or ironing for the partner, a role which according to them is traditionally assigned to women.
It should also be remembered that men have the right to prohibit their wives from working, therefore, by securing the boy's travel, the family is less likely to not receive monthly support. Men must concentrate their efforts in working and making money for the family.
This is a senseless calculation of these parents, who sacrifice one child who will provide for the needs of the whole family. The word sacrifice should be understood literally because many of those young people who engage in that absurd trip risk losing their lives or their dignity.
The second absurdity is that these parents know the risks run by their children, but continue to encourage and push them to leave, using all means at their disposal, emotional blackmail if necessary.
Nevertheless, rushing to judgement is misleading. We should not see these fathers and mothers as monsters who for their well-being and comfort take no interest in the life of one of their offspring, but as a kind of survival.
We are talking about parents who live in a part of the earth where the law of the strongest really reigns and where physical strength can make the difference. Here large families are the norms and so sacrificing one out of ten seems to be the solution. The eldest one can be sent to work in a gold mine, in early work, in begging, or now in irregular migration in order to feed the nine others and the parents.
In the video below you can see the interview with irregular migrants, which explains why they want so much to join Europe: