A sending country perspective: Imagining Europe from the outside

Published 23 August 2011 / By COMPAS Communications

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The European Union (EU) is one of the major migration destinations in the world. In recent years research on this fact has been focused predominantly on a receiving country perspective. This somewhat Eurocentric perspective examines migration flows into the EU and its implications for the ‘host’ societies. A sending country perspective has been neglected and is highly under-researched.

The EUMAGINE research project (‘Imagining Europe from the outside’), funded by the 7th framework programme of the EU, is undertaking research from a sending country perspective. It focuses on four of the most important sending countries at the fringes of the EU: Morocco, Senegal, Turkey and Ukraine. These four countries experience high rates of emigration, transit migration and, increasingly, immigration. They are migration hubs, particularly for migrants envisaging going to the EU.

It raises the questions ‘What and how do people think about migration as a project? Do they consider or reject leaving one’s country as an option? Which aspirations and imaginations dominate and drive the process of deciding to migrate?’

Not only the socio-economic ‘push-factors’ are addressed in EUMAGINE project, but other reasons for leaving one’s country of birth, such as the situation and role of human rights within these four countries, are also considered. Imaginations of the situation of human rights in the EU or ‘Europe’ and the related social and economic freedoms that come with them were hypothesised to influence decision-making processes. To this end, particular research areas were selected in each country where mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative research methods) are applied to examine the imaginations and aspirations of migrants as well as non-migrants.

Why leave?
The decision-making process involved in leaving behind the country where one was born and one’s family and friends can have many facets and is highly complex. Reasons and driving forces range from economic (e.g. higher salaries in other countries) to reasons of utter frustration and destitution about politics and widespread corruption in the country.

For some people it is a life-project, for others it can be an ad hoc decision. For many people it is a question of being able to move since in many instances the individual’s financial situation does not allow for a decision to travel or migrate. Some people describe having chosen their destiny and some describe their decision as a forced by the situation in their country, i.e. there is no other way than the ‘migration-way’. Many people suffer physical or emotional hardship, some people are just very happy to leave a part of their lives behind while others never considered leaving their country where they already live their dream lives. The varieties and complexities of backgrounds and reasons for migrating are infinite.

Why focus on the Ukraine?
At COMPAS our EUMAGINE research focuses on Ukraine. Ukraine is, and has been, a country of migration. The territory of Ukraine is situated on the European-Asian crossways; amongst east-west and south-north routes of migration. Ukraine is one of the most significant emigration as well as transit countries worldwide while at the same time Ukraine shares a green border with the EU (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) that is 621 km long. As a direct neighbour of the EU, Ukraine plays a vital role in the geopolitical strategy of the EU. A difficult and often ambiguous relationship has developed over the years between the EU and Ukraine as towards migration-related issues. Various agreements were made between Ukraine and the EU. Most recently the EU-Ukraine Association Agenda (2009) was agreed upon. However, experts have described Ukraine’s role in the framework of the EU’s migration agenda as a ‘buffer zone’.

What we known so far about Ukrainian migration
Evidences from secondary data and literature brought together in a country report on Ukraine, have outlined the circumstances of how Ukraine has developed predominantly as a sending country. Ukraine experienced several political and economic crises leading to societal disruptions. Emigration rates reached record-high levels in the mid 1990s and immigration started to set in first abruptly (return migration in the early 1990s) and then increased gradually and at lower levels in the beginning of the new millennium.

Ukraine migration flows are split into two directions: in western Ukraine emigrants mainly head towards the EU, the U.S. etc., while in eastern Ukraine they head towards the Russian Federation. An ethnic division between western and eastern Ukraine (Ukrainian and Russian respectively), increasing frustration about the diminishing accomplishments of the Orange Revolution, low income levels due to instable economies and industries, an education system that mismatches the demands of the labour market, as well as dominating social issues of corruption, drugs and crime are phenomena and current drivers of contemporary migration patterns in Ukraine. However, it is questionable which other imaginations and aspirations play a role in the larger picture of making a decision to migrate.

Research results still to come
The EUMAGINE research consortium is currently undertaking primary field research. In Morocco, Senegal, Turkey and Ukraine, a large-scale survey was completed with a total of 8000 respondents. Conducting this survey had hidden challenges such as highly differing weather conditions in the four countries as well as highly attentive dogs in the rural areas of Ukraine, for instance! This quantitative part of the research will be followed by field observations and in-depth qualitative interviews as well as interviews with international organisations, embassies and the NGO sector.

A full analysis of the results of the EUMAGINE research will be published in due course on the project’s own website. Research results are expected to tell us more about imaginations and aspirations of people in particular related to human rights in the EU answering if and how this influences the decision to migrate or not to migrate.