Zoek in de site...

What moves Africans to move through Europe?

Europe is the continent where many African migrants are hoping to make their dreams come true. What are their expectations of the continent? What problems are they encountering and what opportunities are they given? Fortress Europe tracks the movements of West African migrants in the EU, with a central focus on Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Veni grant winner Dr Joris Schapendonk follows individual migrants on their trip through Europe and discovers that the existing image we have of the “African migrant” is not always correct. What makes some migrants far more mobile than others?

Social media

With the project “Fortress Europe as a Mobile Space” Joris Schapendonk is following individual migrants on the basis of trust. Through interviews and informal conversations he is trying to understand the world they live in. Via social media and telephone, he stays in touch with a selection of the respondents so that he can meet with them in the locations they arrive at. This method is called mobile ethnography and is a departure from the traditional school of thought that has no framework for itinerant migration movements.

Africans on the move in Europe

Source: fabiodevilla / Shutterstock.com

Migration: more than from A to B

If we can reach a fuller understanding of migration, the EU will be able to create regulations that allow space for border-crossing opportunities for migrants. This project provides insights into the motivations of migrants by listening to their stories. This is of significance in view of the constant shifts in policy. Schapendonk: “European civilians are constricted to a national framework. For a Dutch person, ‘working in Germany’ is already a big deal. Africans feel these national constrictions far less. If we work on the assumption that migrants are going to stay put in one location, you develop very different regulations than if you see mobility as a baseline.”

The project is also seeking to make a connection with secondary school education. Schapendonk: “I am teaching high school students that migration means much more than moving from A to B with an interactive map that allows you to follow the mobility of migrants.”

Switching gears

The first results of this research show that African migrants have a great ability to switch gears. Schapendonk: “They invest in one location for a while, where they do well in social and economic terms. Suddenly an opportunity will pass by that they grab with both hands and they’re gone. This is one of the most important dynamics that needs to be understood to comprehend this type of mobility.”

The idea that migration is a one-way street (from Southern Europe to northern Europe) is also disproved by Schapendonk’s results. “We always think that Spain and Italy are intermediate stops on the way to northern Europe, but the accessibility of certain economic activities like agriculture makes these countries very attractive.”

According to Schapendonk, the mobility of migrants also offers opportunities to the EU: “With their border-crossing networks and mobility these migrants after all are contributing to a continued unification of the European economy.”


  • Fortress Europe as a Mobile Space? Intra-EU Mobility of African Migrants