Academic journal article Population

Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE): Advantages and Limitations of a Multi-Site Survey Design

Academic journal article Population

Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE): Advantages and Limitations of a Multi-Site Survey Design

Article excerpt

Sub-Saharan immigration became a major concern in Europe in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Images of migrants attempting to scramble over barbed-wire fences in Ceuta and Melilla in 2005, followed later by footage of brightly painted boats being hauled ashore on the Canary Islands, captured the attention of the general public and political decision-makers. The idea of an "African invasion" gained in currency, despite quantitative analysis showing that sub-Saharan migrants accounted for a minority of migrant flows and populations in Europe (de Haas, 2008; Lessault and Beauchemin, 2009). But the fact remains that African migration has long been under-presented in international migration research (Grillo and Mazzucato, 2008; Hatton and Williamson, 2003; Lucas, 2006). The goal of the Migration between Africa and Europe project, or MAFE project for short, was to collect quantitative data with a view to shedding new light on African migration patterns, their causes and consequences. Addressing the classic methodological problems facing the designers of international migration surveys, this article presents the approach adopted by the MAFE project.(1) With survey methods remaining often uncertain and ill-documented in this research field, the aim is to explain and discuss our methodological choices so as to help future survey designers go further in their quest for new solutions.

Migration is by no means an uncharted field in socio-demographic research. Some previous surveys served as invaluable sources of inspiration for the MAFE project. Two major characteristics of the project were inspired by the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) (Massey, 1987), namely its transnational sample, with data collected in major urban regions of both Africa and Europe, and its retrospective nature, with the collection of quantitative life histories. Previous life history surveys carried out in Europe and Africa served as a starting point for the design of MAFE event history questionnaires (Antoine et al., 1999; Poirier et al., 2001). Lastly, the sampling strategy was based in part on that of the project Push and Pull Factors of International Migration (Groenewold and Bilsborrow, 2008).

The design of a survey naturally depends on its scientific objectives. The aims of the MAFE project are as wide-ranging as those of the MMP and the Push-Pull project. The idea is to produce data that can be used to analyse migration trends, causes and consequences at micro level. The project's founding assumption is that migration should not be seen as a one-way flow from Africa to Europe, and that return migration and transnational practices are important and need to be understood in order to develop appropriate migration policies. That idea is conveyed in the name of the project, which addresses migration between Africa and Europe rather than from Africa to Europe. The idea also justifies the project's transnational approach that consists in conducting quasisimultaneous surveys in three origin countries and six destination countries (Table 1). More than 4,000 household interviews were completed in Africa and over 5,400 individual life history questionnaires (also called biographic questionnaires) were filled in for migrants interviewed in Europe, and for returnees and non-migrants interviewed in Africa.

This article explains how the MAFE project surveys were designed. The first section looks at how migratory experiences were recorded, showing how the concepts of "migrant" and "migration" were operationalized when selecting the respondents and designing the questionnaires. The second section presents the nature of the data collected and highlights the need for longitudinal, multithematic and multi-level data comparable in time and space. The third and final section focuses on sampling problems, which can prove particularly complex when dealing with international migration. Descriptive in nature, this article seeks to remedy the lack of factual data on the design of surveys on international migration. …

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