The thematic consultation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration taking place 12 and 13 October in Geneva is on “Irregular migration and regular pathways, including decent work, labour mobility recognition of skills and qualifications and other relevant measures”. Migration researchers and policymakers largely agree: Tackling irregular migration requires opening up regular migration pathways, including humanitarian entry procedures, work visas and family reunification programmes. Migration policy discourse to date has given particular attention to facilitating labour migration as a means to meeting labour demand in destination countries and enabling people on the move to fulfil their aspirations.
Less attention has been given to legal pathways that target young people through study visas. However, a recent REACH study conducted with UNICEF, Children on the Move in Italy and Greece, found that education is a key driver of children’s irregular migration in the Mediterranean. REACH interviewed 720 unaccompanied and separated children in Italy who left home with the aim of reaching Europe. Of that total, a significant proportion (38%) said they left for Europe in search of a better education. In doing so, they put their lives at risk, crossing the desert and the Mediterranean Sea, even when aware of the perils ahead.
The same is true for youth who travel irregularly from West Africa to Europe. A REACH/MMP study looking at movement from West and East Africa and the Middle East, found that among West African youth ages 15 to 24, migrating to Europe was a decision they made on their own. In a context where migration was common, youth
migrating in pursuit of their aspirations was part of a transition to adulthood. As one 16 year old from Côte d’Ivoire told REACH: “My parents are still living in Côte d’Ivoire. They do some small jobs or part-time work. I did not need money and I did not leave my country due to economic reasons; my family was able to cover my basic [needs] but I wanted to take charge of my life”.
This sounds not too different from the many European young people who do a year abroad during high school, or embark on Erasmus in their twenties – excited for something new, thirsty for knowledge and experience.
There are some legal pathways that African youth can use to attend schools in Europe, but most are still developing. Students and scholars from a limited number of African countries can take part in the Erasmus+ programme at universities across Europe; Erasmus Mundus Master’s and PhD programmes accept applications and offer scholarships to students and scholars from the Global South. Enhanced EU-Africa cooperation in the field of youth and education mobility – a means to maximise the benefits of regular migration – has been an increasing priority for the EU, as the European Commission’s recent Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership indicates. The 5th Africa-EU Summit, scheduled for November 2017, provides an opportunity for European and African leaders to strengthen cooperation in this area. What comes out of it, and how many individuals will be able to benefit from this opportunity, remains to be seen.
Schemes that promote educational mobility have the potential to benefit the individual and communities in destination and origin countries. Educational mobility affords an individual an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, to realise one’s potential, forge friendships and change worldviews – without putting his or her life at risk. These pathways allow youth to learn about new ideas and meet people from around the world. In the countries where their journeys began, the benefits are even more tangible, as research on brain gain, skills transfer and the link between migration and development and remittances suggest. As states and other stakeholders discuss ways to increase legal pathways for migration in Geneva for the final thematic consultation, it is imperative that sufficient attention is given to pathways for education.