Men, mainly young and single, make up the majority of migrants coming into Europe in the recent crisis. But the negative portrayal of young migrant men in popular debates does not tally with the picture that emerges when you interview them, says researcher Jon Spencer.
Failing in education, demonstrating inappropriate sexual behaviour and having a violent and criminal approach to everyday life; this is the way young male migrants are characterised as many popular debates.
Media reporting of a number of events over the past twelve months has only added to the stereotyping of young migrant men in the public discourse across Europe.
But for the majority of young migrant men this stereotype is not only inaccurate but also presents them with a number of challenges in their everyday lives.
Our research, published today, sought to investigate the well-being of young migrant men. And our findings make visible, for the first time, the needs of this group that are counter to the ‘popular’ narrative about young migrant men.
We found that for many young men there are a number of family and self-imposed expectations, the main ones being the desire to succeed and contribute to the host society.
The young men in the sample expressed a desire to take advantage of the opportunities that the host society provides and to secure employment and a fulfilling future. However, they also described incidents of discrimination and racism, and their sense of being marginalised in many host societies.
We also found that young migrant men are often in a very vulnerable position, because migration means separation and the loss of proximity to family, loved ones and close friends.
We conclude that there is a real need to ensure that young migrant men are supported to maintain strong attachments, as strong emotional bonds provide a sense of continuity and, crucially, belonging.
This raises policy questions in relation to the need to have positive and supportive family reunification policies across the EU. Young migrant men require the opportunities to engage and take advantage of educational resources. Education is a critical element in securing employment and is an advantage to the host community as an educated workforce makes a valuable social and economic contribution to society.
Employment also provides a sense of social recognition and value, and so increases self-confidence and provides opportunities for personal development. This makes a contribution to financial independence that allows for individuals to support themselves and their families. So, the lack of access to educational and employment opportunities leads to frustration, boredom and feelings of uselessness and isolation and is detrimental to personal well-being, as well as being potentially detrimental to the societies they have joined.
It is imperative that there is social tolerance and acceptance, and nowhere is this more visible than in the area of religious observance. For a proportion of the sample religion, in particular a sense of spirituality, was critical to their well-being. It provided a means of dealing with challenging and difficult situations and religion also gave them a link to ‘home’ and a sense of being connected to family. The research indicates that religion is critical in building social bridges between different ethnic communities. The positive aspect of religion is not reflected in the negative stereotyping of Muslims in the much of the media across the EU.
The evaluation of the costs and benefits of migration are for many young migrant men subjective evaluations and so difficult to measure. What the research shows is that safety, financial stability, education and a sense of increased personal autonomy are common expectations. The young men viewed their lives as being transitional, with their migration being a transition to a ‘better place’ to live.
Our research confounds the ‘populist’ discourse about young migrant men and strongly suggests that they are committed to making a contribution to society through education, employment and in the social realm. They are committed to their families and friends and local communities and are proud of their cultural heritage, but at the same time they are enthusiastic about the society of which they are new members.
Our research points clearly towards positive policy approaches that are inclusive and support young migrant men to make the contributions to society and community that they clearly are keen to make.
There is an urgent need now to counteract the discrimination and marginalisation of young migrant men, especially those from non-European countries, and to put in place policies that are supportive of their overall well-being. This is not just for their sakes, but for the sake of the societies they are now living in.
This presents a significant challenge to EU policy makers, especially at this time of mass migration, which is a significant humanitarian crisis in Europe.
We wait to see whether those in positions of power are brave and progressive enough to rise to this challenge.
- The MiMen project was co-financed by the European Commission (EC) in the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals (EIF) and there were seven partner countries; UK, France, Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland and Italy. The full report can be downloaded here.