BRIDGES Working Papers 17 (March 2023)
This BRIDGES report studies the migration narratives of (potential) migrants in the Gambia as well as Afghan (transit) migrants in Istanbul. A particular emphasis has been placed on the question of how individually held narratives on migration, Europe, and the irregular migration journey interrelate with EU-promoted messages put forward in migration information campaigns.
The locally held narratives highlight the opportunities for a positive life change enabled by migration to Europe. Migrants who made it to Europe are perceived as successful individuals who are now safe (in the Afghan case) and/or able to improve the situation of their families and communities (primarily in the Gambian case). In the absence of legal migration opportunities, the narratives on migration in both countries primarily concern irregular migration. Regarding the narratives on Europe, those of potential migrants in the Gambia are more nuanced than those in Turkey. While Europe is still seen as a place of opportunity in the Gambia, informants also put forward more critical statements on Europe, for instance regarding the colonial past.
The narratives on migration and Europe promoted in EU migration campaigns strongly differ from those of (potential) migrants in the Gambia and those in transit in Turkey. EU-funded information campaigns mostly portray (irregular) migration to and life in Europe in a negative light. However, there is a match between the locally dominant and EU-promoted narratives regarding the issue of risks during the migratory journey. Independently of or alongside migration information campaigns, there has been an intensifying public and private discourse about people suffering or dying on the road. Compared to those from the Gambia, Afghan migrants (in transit) in Istanbul pose fewer questions about whether to accept the risk of irregular migration as, for them, there seems to be no alternative. They increasingly perceive that they are unwanted in Turkey. Onward migration is narrated as a solution to a difficult or even life-threatening situation in Turkey, due to the risk of being deported back to Afghanistan. The narrative of Afghans in Turkey is one of forced migration.
Overall, the study demonstrates that the messages of EU migration information campaigns compete with locally dominant narratives. Information and knowledge about migration constitute just one of the many drivers of migration that interrelate with others.