‘Migration is a historic and multifaceted phenomenon involving humanitarian, human rights, and demographic issues. It has deep economic, environmental and political implications. It generates many different, legitimate and strongly held opinions. Not always the strongly held are legitimate; not always the legitimate are strongly held.’

António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General

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Very little has been known until now about the personal stories of African migrants who take on the risks and incur the costs of travelling through irregular channels to Europe.

What were the circumstances of their lives at home? What are the factors that motivated them to leave? What are the opportunities, challenges and experiences faced on arrival to Europe?

Read more in findings

As part of the wider Scaling Fences project, photographs and stories of those who made the journey to Europe were gathered to bring greater insight to the experiences and perspectives of this contemporary group of travelers.

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For many who choose the path of irregular migration, the inheritance of a brighter future at home in Africa seems out of reach. Disinherited from Africa’s promise and seeing no viable path toward the higher aspirations they hold for themselves, a growing number of educated, driven young Africans are opting to migrate irregularly to Europe in search of greater opportunity. UNDP, together with a documentary team, has produced 6 short clips to highlight the phenomenon of irregular African migration to Europe by showing the experiences of individuals choosing to leave, as well as the responses of host communities in Europe and of the families and communities they leave behind in Africa.

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Migration has become a defining issue of political contest in Europe’s democracies and elsewhere. The movement of peoples across sovereign borders often triggers a deep sense of fear and uncertainty. How we respond as a global community will have decisive implications: not only for individuals on the move, but for development outcomes in origin countries and for societies in destination countries.

Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe is a contribution to the effective operationalization of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It seeks to help broaden and better inform public debate, and to support policymakers in forging evidence-based, humane and productive long-term approaches to the phenomenon of migration.

The study draws on the most extensive and intensive survey ever undertaken of Africans who had migrated to Europe through irregular means from multiple African countries. It follows the Journey to Extremism: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment report published by UNDP in September 2017.

The voices reflected in the Scaling Fences report are those of people who have chosen to migrate in the context of being relatively more educated and better off than their peers.

They are overwhelmingly young and have, in a number of ways, manifestly gained from development progress on the African continent in recent decades. Yet they share a widespread perception that opportunities to build on this progress and fulfil their aspirations at home are closed.

This perception is held so profoundly that it has led to a radical rejection of their circumstances in favour of a potentially perilous and irregular journey to an unknown future in Europe.

Patterns of travel of Scaling Fences Respondents: Country of origin and host country

  • Origin
  • Host country
Hover over to see number of respondents

The core message arising from this study, that migration is a reverberation of uneven development and particularly of a development trajectory that is failing young people, sends a strong signal to policymakers. We must not become distracted by the false promise of short-term fixes: unnecessarily harsh domestic policies and diverting much needed development assistance from core priorities.

Doing so may only serve to further circumscribe the ambitions of young Africans instead of fostering and harnessing their potential as an engine of transformative change.