Diaspora Communities As Facilitators of Migration
Almost all migrants rely on the advice and support of family, friends and their personal networks before, during and after migration. This assistance manifests in a myriad of ways, from traditional assistance such as providing financial support and housing, to advising those in their network what time of the year, what country, and whether to use legal, illegal or a mixture of both means for all or part of the journey. Diaspora populations are particularly highly regarded as they are considered ‘success’ stories with knowledgeable and accurate advice. These close and valued connections between diaspora communities and migrants originating from their own country or ethnic group have many implications for policy-making and development efforts, and directly impacts perceptions and attitudes of migrants towards specific countries, methods and routes. People smugglers are acutely aware of this key relationship, with many using diaspora networks for testimonials to secure business, or directly running smuggling operations from diaspora countries.
According to recent reports by the International Labor Organization, diaspora groups tend to support migrant workers on an individual basis, even in the case of irregular migrants or undocumented workers, in addition to family and relatives where strong kinship ties exist. Such support can take several forms: financial support, temporary living space, arrangement of work, and providing information to those seeking legal support.
For instance, it has been found that many of the restaurants owned by Bangladeshi diaspora members in the United Kingdom employ a large number of short-term and fixed-term Bangladeshi migrant workers. This is also the case for Hispanic migrants coming to the United States or Eastern European migrants that have moved to Western Europe, whether in the hospitality industry or construction sector.
Other examples include the Tamil diaspora community, which played a large role in assisting ethnic Tamils leave Sri Lanka following the outbreak of the civil conflict in 1983, and the Afghan diaspora following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August 2021. Since then the Afghan diaspora has played an important role in supporting individuals and groups, who do not want to live under the current government of the Islamic Emirate, to leave Afghanistan.
Through this type of material support diaspora communities reduce barriers and costs to migration for new migrants, as well as assist them in cultural assimilation.
Family Reunification Programs and Sponsorship Visas
Family migration, sometimes known as ‘chain migration’, remains a key pillar of immigration patterns globally. It is common for certain family members to leave ahead of others, establishing a base in a destination country before bringing across their family through some variation of a family reunification visa. In the fiscal year 2019, nearly 70% of immigrants with a green card in the United States received admission due to family ties and sponsorship.
There are a myriad of reasons why an individual may migrate ahead of the rest of their family. Often male, head of household migrants will migrate first to establish an income in order to afford the travel fees to transport the rest of their family. In some conflict-prone countries such as Afghanistan, children and youth are sent ahead in order to pursue less restrictive education, with their parents hoping to follow. Larger families will often pool their resources to send one young person overseas, hoping that the income they can potentially earn abroad can be sent back to support their family. This is common with Rohingya refugee families in Bangladesh.
While most countries receive large numbers of family migrants, policies vary widely, and with immigration currently at high levels, many countries have restricted the parameters of family reunification rights, including Germany and Sweden. This has led to a shrinking in some OECD countries of family migration flows.
On the rise, however, are private sponsorship programs, such as those in Canada and the recent announcement of the United States ‘Welcome Corps’. These programs allow different iterations of private citizens, communities, groups and corporations to ‘sponsor’ a refugee or refugee families if they raise a certain amount of money to support them, pass background checks, and submit a resettlement plan, with criteria varying for each program. Diaspora are key in finding these community sponsors, with reports that some are even willing to pay private citizens or organizations ‘off-record’ to sponsor their family members still stuck abroad.
Smugglers and the Diaspora
People smugglers are highly aware of the frequent and trusted contact between diaspora communities and their relatives and wider networks back in their home country. Smugglers know that the diaspora are key communicators to those wanting to migrate about when is best to leave, what routes are best to take, and where is best to head. Smugglers in many transit and destination countries use these connections to secure further business by using diaspora testimonials - real and fake - about their services, advertising as being based in the diaspora themselves to gain credibility, and using new diaspora arrivals to reach back into a new pool of potential migrants.
Smugglers work at gaining the trust of their diaspora community, sometimes offering discounts for referrals of family and friends or even direct payments, in the hope that their services will be communicated back to many other potential migrants in home countries. Advice from the diaspora is highly convincing for potential migrants, so much so that smugglers often attempt to use diaspora for video testimonials as an advertising and luring tactic. While a general mistrust of smugglers among migrants prevails, testimonials from people they know, or other people within their community who have already taken the same journey these migrants aim to, is extremely powerful. Filmed videos of the migrants already in their destination country, posted on social media in migration groups, is the most common form these testimonials take. Even a video of just one migrant who successfully reached their destination through the smuggler can be widely circulated in order to give the false impression that most of the smuggler’s clients are successful. Oftentimes the people in these testimonials have been paid by the smugglers to pretend they are in the destination country, when they are still stuck in transit in reality.
One example of the impact diaspora advice has on migration flows and patterns was observed by STATT Consulting in the way smugglers adjusted their prices and services after the Turkiye earthquake. Many smugglers in Europe claimed to be in contact with other smugglers based in Turkiye, who have informed them that the aftermath of the earthquake is one of the best times to attempt an illegal border crossing through Turkiye. Smugglers are advising potential migrants that border authorities are distracted, and that migrants can easily pose as assistance workers. This information has rapidly spread from among the diaspora in Europe, to many potential migrants back in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among other countries. Smugglers have used this increased demand to push up their prices and boost advertising for the Turkiye to Europe smuggling route.
There are numerous other examples of how diaspora communities have assisted those living in their home countries to migrate elsewhere. It is undeniable that they provide a vital lifeline to migrants, whether in the form of financial support, housing and employment, family reunification and sponsorship visas, advice and testimonials, or simply a cultural connection to home.
STATT Consulting recognises this, and we remain alert, informed and cognizant of the role of communications between diaspora, smugglers, and potential migrants, their impact on short and long-term migration patterns, and changes within this policy space.