Misconceptions about migration are common
In general, the view of migrants is oversimplified. People move either because they are forced to, and are then categorized as refugees, or voluntarily, which make them economic migrants. NAI researcher Jesper Bjarnesen is guest editor of the journal ‘Conflict and Society’, which in its latest edition questions that black or white distinction.
Many of those labeled as economic migrants are forced to leave their home because of poverty. There is no other option. On the other hand, some of those labeled as refugees often have several choices to make. For instance where to seek asylum and if they later decide to establish in the new country or prefer to go back home.
"Therefore, a too categorical approach of migration is misleading”, Bjarnesen says.
He has long experience of conducting research on migrants from Burkina Faso living in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 3 million Burkinabe live there and many of them have been there for 20 to 30 years. When they left, Burkina Faso was one of world´s poorest countries while Côte d’Ivoire was better off and many of the migrants found jobs in the cocoa sector. They often faced similar problems as migrants in Europe, discrimination and even violent attacks occurred. In 2002, civil war broke out in Côte d’Ivoire and many migrants returned to Burkina Faso. According to Bjarnesen, this case shows that it is not easy to understand migration. Observers thought it was a good thing since migrants were moving back home. Migrants themselves did not see it that way. Many had lost everything in Côte d’Ivoire and had to start from scratch again.
"So even if they came ‘home’, they found themselves more in a refugee situation than before”, Bjarnesen says.