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Why African youths are obsessed with Europe

Nigerian psychologist, Prof Erhabor Sunday Idemudia, talks about migration from Africa

A conference of European and African leaders took place in the Maltese capital, Valetta, in November to find a solution to the refugee crisis. The EU offered African countries aid amounting to 1.8 billion euros to fight the causes of emigration and relieve Europe of the pressure of young Africans seeking to enter the Union illegally. The money was also in part to persuade African governments to accept those forcibly returned from Europe.

Critics have described the aid as misplaced as it is incapable of solving the myriad problems that push migrants out of Africa. The Nigerian psychologist Erhabor Sunday Idemudia (pictured) has been researching into the causes of emigration from Africa and the situation of African migrants in Europe for many years and has written a book about his findings.

In an interview with Lilo Berg*, Professor Idemudia talks about his findings – of the dreams, illusions, pride and loneliness of migrant Africans.

[Pictured: EU-bound migrants in a Libya detention centre. Many of the migrants spend years in transit, enduring much suffering, in a journey that has been described as an odyssey. Hundreds are feared to die annually in the desert and Mediterranean (© Internews Network)]

INTERVIEW

Mr Idemudia, how are African migrants in Germany doing?

Not particularly good, to put it briefly. Most complain about discrimination because of their skin colour, irregular jobs and endless troubles in daily life. Their dreams have not been fulfilled.

What did they expect?

They believed that they had come to the promised land, where milk and honey flow and where money lies on the street. It sounds strange but that is the impression many young Africans seem to have had of life in Germany and other Western countries. 

Are they not aware of the refugee drama in the Mediterranean or the increasing hostility towards foreigners in Europe?

Of course, they’re not unaware of what is going on. The mass media and the Internet are full of this information. But young people simply don’t want to believe it. They are distrustful and think that these reports only want to destroy their dream of a better life. They take to the road without money and without knowing what awaits them where they’re going to.

You started your first study into the situation of African migrants in Germany about ten years ago. What has changed since then?

The trend is the same; it has even become stronger, as our findings show.

‘I’m an Alien in Deutschland’ is the title of the book in which you published the findings of your research project. Why did you choose this title?

The phrase came from a participant of the study and he expressed the feeling of many African migrants in Germany: they feel strange, sometimes like aliens.

Do migrants all over the world not feel that way?

There is a certain degree of the so-called acculturation stress, an inner tension that is there when you’re finding your way into a new culture; that is actually normal. Usually, after the first shock that feeling goes away gradually. On the contrary, our study revealed that with many Africans in Germany that stress feeling increases the longer they live in the country.

Do you have an explanation for that?

The emotional pressure doesn’t go away; it endures. What bothers many Africans is that they don’t find decent jobs. We also heard complaints of a generally stressful life, of discrimination and prejudice. 

Who are particularly affected by the chronic acculturation stress?

Those most at the risk of this phenomenon are the so-called economic refugees, who left their homelands for economic and not for political reasons. We didn’t find any differences in the acculturation stress experienced by legal and illegal migrants. Students feel the least stress, and the unemployed with higher education the highest. Separation from the family, wife or husband makes people particularly susceptible to this stress.

Could it be that life without family or partner particularly burdens African migrants psychologically?

That is possible because children and families belong to a happy life. For Germans that is different. Many could imagine a fulfilled life without children or close relatives. Happiness is culturally determined. We’re currently developing a testing procedure in my university in South Africa to determine what Africans understand by happiness.

African migrants rarely find happiness in Germany, yet many stay for a long time in the country. Why?

The participants in our study have lived in Germany for an average of 7.5 years, some for as long as 20 years. They stay because the conditions are better here than in their home countries. But there are rarely any who want to live for ever in Germany. At the latest most want to return home at 60. That is why you seldom see grey-haired Africans in Germany like in Great Britain.

ou have been studying the situation of Africans in Germany and Europe for many years. What drives you?

So many young people from my homeland are walking into their doom – I want to do something about it. Europeans cannot imagine how obsessed the African youths are with Europe. It is like a rampant disease. And they are motivated by thousands of conscienceless human traffickers who promise these young people heaven on earth. And when they have no job and see no future in their homelands, they make their way to the north.

Why then don’t those who are unhappy in Germany warn their people at home?

Most are too proud to tell the truth. So people at home don’t know when they’re jobless or deal with drugs or work as prostitutes. Those who have badly paid, menial jobs such as a dishwasher in a restaurant, for example, do not talk about it either.

What would you do to stem the exodus of young people from Africa?

Until now there has not been a comprehensive study of the situation of African migrants in Europe. We want to close this gap with a new study which we started this year. As soon as we have a convincing scientific study ready I want to contact the governments of Nigeria and Ghana and other affected countries so that we can go to the public together.

There was a successful campaign on TV and other mass media against Aids. Why shouldn’t we repeat that against another epidemic, mass migration?

What alternatives do young people then have?

There is much more that governments can do for education, training and giving future perspectives to the youths. In view of the strong wave of migration from the south, European governments are ready to help. A small but very important foundation stone is scholarships which should enable a greater number of young talents from Africa to stay temporarily in Europe but without financial hardship.

You are again in Germany after 12 years. What is your experience of Germans?

I have very nice colleagues and I enjoy being in their company. Moreover, I love making friends. Young people are more open than the older ones.

Don’t you experience racism in the street or supermarket?

I think I wouldn’t notice that at all. My antenna is focused on other things. It is the person who has prejudice who should experience stress, not me.

When you arrived in Germany for the first time in 2003, there were no refugee boats in the Mediterranean and no Pegida movement. How do you see this development?

That is a big problem. Right-wing political movements not only in Germany but also in many other countries worsen the problem. We need sustainable solutions and those can only be achieved by the EU member countries in co-operation with African governments. We would like to contribute to that with our study.

© Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung/Foundation

The interview was originally published in German in the magazine Humboldt Kosmos, a publication of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung/Foundation. 

Erhabor Idemudia is a professor of clinical psychology at the North-West University in Mahikeng, South Africa. He is an Alexander Von Humboldt Fellow. Professor Idemudia returned this year as a visiting scholar to Bremen, to undertake research work at the Jacobs University and the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences. The Nigerian-born academic was a research scholar in the German city under a fellowship of the Humboldt Foundation in 2002-2003.

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