Transnational Migration

In their article “Africa <> Europe: A Double Engagement”, Ralph Grillo and Valentina Mazzucato bring a contribution to the literature about contemporary migration of Sub-Saharan Africans as migrants or refugees in Europe with a focus on the various aspects of the continuous and simultaneous relationships these migrants keep with people at their places of origin, as well as with fellow migrants elsewhere (Grillo and Mazzucato, 2008: 175-176)1. The authors characterize such ties as “double engagement” which proceeds in the “manifold transnational linkages which result in flows of people, goods, money and ideas, and the creation of new institutions that cross national boundaries…’here’ and ‘there’”(Ibid.: 176). In order to support their arguments, they review some examples of Ghanaian, Senegalese, Somalis and other migrants and refugees in Britain, Denmark, France, Italy and the Netherlands by taking into consideration three main aspects of their transnational lives, namely: livelihoods, families and identities. Besides, I also look at the case of young Cameroonian migrants overseas. Grillo and Mazzucato’s paper stresses that African migrants show high flexibility and adaptability in new places. They manage to earn their living and to meet the social and economic expectations of their families and communities back home. Likewise, they are also able to connect with people in their host communities. In fact, the diverse socio-economical and political constraints experienced by some Africans in their home communities and countries shape their behavior for greater accommodation in other environments and contexts. Therefore, most migrants reflect a double engagement by easily getting involved in (in)formal income generating activities to maintain their livelihoods and to support their relatives, as well as in political processes2 both in their host and home communities. Moreover, as (temporary or permanent) residents or (neo-)citizens in their host and home countries, they contribute directly or indirectly to the local and regional economies through their expenses and investments (e.g. taxes, goods and services). Similarly, Fleischer (2007: 422)3 argues that young Cameroonian migrants are under strong pressure once they arrive in Germany. Individuals are expected to complete university degrees with high grades and to access employment at the same time. While pursuing their studies, they are compelled to work on a part-time basis both to finance their own livelihoods and to support their relatives in home communities. Close and extended families are usually expecting regular remittances for different purposes: payment of school fees of siblings, health care, investment in land or local businesses, social events (e.g. funerals, births, marriages), or simply improving the family’s living standard (e.g. purchasing a car, electronic equipments, clothing, etc.). Additionally, migrants are expected to substantially helping in further migration of younger siblings abroad.

Though transnational migration is recognized as a coping strategy out of poverty through diversifying the opportunities of getting a better living by resettling in foreign countries, it has a direct impact on kinship and family relations and therefore acts at changing gender relations within and between generations. It separates family members (husband from wife/wives, children from parents, siblings from each other, or mothers from children/relatives), with critical effects on the distribution of roles and power relations within households. For instance, even though some migrants succeed in bringing their family in Europe, this does not guarantee that the family is united (Grillo and Mazzucato, 2008: 187). Partners may live in different places within Europe or in a different continent (America, Asia), leading to the redistribution and redefinition of new roles within and outside families (e.g. emerging role of non-relatives in Ghanaian social networks – Ibid.: 188), and to new social and power structures that cross lineages, clans and ethnic affiliation4. Being caught into transnational linkages here and there, (African) migrants are kept in a permanent identification process which is not just limited to (black) race or ethnicity or religion, but rather brings into play multiple facets of the ongoing individual or collective transnational experiences. They acquire flexibility and develop ways to cooperate with different political regimes, religious and cultural practices, lifestyles and norms; however, at the same time, they are struggling to maintain their ‘roots’ with origin places. Definitely, migrants depend on national and transnational kinship networks that secure access, assurance and safety, but also involve sanctions, strong dependency and often are highly hierarchic in nature. In most cases, families consider migration as an investment strategy in human, financial and social capitals that involves specific obligations in return (Fleischer, 2007: 436). Consequently, the ‘double engagement’ demonstrates continuous efforts of migrants to adjust all the aspects of their life between ‘here’ and ‘there’, but also of their bonding and bridging ‘there’. This calls social scientists for refining the concepts of identities, family, community, and to design new approaches to analyze international migration.


  1. Grillo, R. and V. Mazzucato (2008). Africa < > Europe: A double engagement. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34(2): 175 – 198.
  2. Laura Morales and Katia Pilati (2011). “The role of social capital in migrants’ engagement in local politics in European cities.” In Laura Morales and Marco Giugni (Eds.). (2011) Social Capital, Political Participation and Migration in Europe. Making Multicultural Democracy Work? Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  3. Fleischer, A. (2007). Families, Obligations, and Migration: The role of kinship in Cameroon. Demographic Research 16(13): 413 – 440.
  4. Goulbourne, H., Reynolds, T., Solomos, J., & Zontini, E. (2010). Transnational families: Ethnicities, identities and social capital. London and New York : Routledge.

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