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By Paul Stanford Kupakuwana

REASONS for migration are usually many and varied, but largely include poor performance of economies, need for access to better health facilities, further studies, political asylum, employment, investment opportunities, personal security, favourable climate and cross-cultural marriages.

Over the last few years, the number of Zimbabweans crossing borders in search of a better life has been rising steadily. These have been dubbed economic
refugees.

Political and economic downswings in some African countries have driven millions of people into journeys all across the globe with the single hope of changing their destiny. For those that have ventured, all sorts of new dynamics have been set up in their own cultures. They have been exposed to new systems of thinking, new value systems, new cultures and new views of the world. The traditional culture does not prepare some for this, so it is a very rude birth.

The migrant labourers are usually faced with multiple challenges. Typically
these include some aspects of racial discrimination; non-regard for Third World work experience, IT knowledge limitations, in some cases the non-parity of educational qualifications, language skills, culture, etc.

In most cases, a migrant whose qualification falls in the so called critical shortage areas such as the medical and allied professions, teaching, social services, information technology, engineering and surveying, seems to have a better chance of finding suitable employment.

However, the significant lack of assimilation of a majority of migrant professionals has seen their relegation to the lowest level of the job market. Sadly, this equalisation has been the experience of many well educated and experienced Africans who found themselves reduced to doing menial tasks such as care work, factory work, cleaning and security work, to name just a few.

Despite the existence of gazetted minimum wages, some jobs are said to be heavy and not deserving of the meagre pay that borders on exploitation and slavery.

The funny part about modern day slavery is that the slave seeks the master. In most reported cases, the migrant worker never gets a sense of permanence or of being part of a particular economic situation. He/she is constantly being recycled by employment agencies. The reality of it all is that the British pound has indeed been a hard currency to earn for some.

Most of these migrant professionals are understood to have sacrificed decent and respectable jobs back in their respective countries under the illusion that life was going to be plain sailing overseas. For those that have had to stoop low, one can imagine the psychological effect and damage to one's ego, and the humiliation associated with a lowered social status. Some migrants have been forced into career changes, such as into nurse training, teaching and IT, demanded by the host country's job market. However, those African migrants with entrepreneurial skills have ventured into setting up various businesses such as nursing and care agencies, entertainment out-lets (pubs and restaurants), security firms, money exchanging, general dealing and commodity broking companies, to name just a few.

The division of family units that has occurred in some cases as either the
husband or wife had to be a forerunner overseas to pave way for the remaining family members has created problems in some quarters. While the original intentions were good, for some the failure to arrange for a family unity in the short term has brought turmoil. Lengthy separations have resulted in marriage breakdowns while other marriages currently exist on paper. The division of families and the aspect of living apart are not good as these encourage people to develop in different directions.

It is common cause that normal people have to occasionally satisfy sexual needs when hormones dictate. The long-term separation of a marriage couple has the potential to introduce other undesirable players in the marital equation. There is the added risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Stories have been told of a proliferation of pseudo-marriages with some African married women having toy-boys of ages similar to their own children, while some married men co-habit (jocularly referred to as living-in) with other women. This cheating, jocularly referred to as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, has placed no sense of urgency on some married migrants in having to sponsor the absent legitimate spouse.

Culturally, the African man is the head of the family. His superior position is
unquestionable, non-negotiable and deserving of the entire family's respect.
This position tends to be threatened by a situation where suddenly a woman becomes the major breadwinner as a result of possessing a job market demanded qualification. For some women, the financial empowerment and rebellion against docility to men often happens to the detriment of their marriages.

It is understood that some women have justified their behaviour by saying that it is a payback period for men for previously oppressing them in Africa. The situation is made worse by a lack of adequate family support systems to buttress and preserve relationships. Instead, some migrants are often surrounded by acquaintances that tend to survive on malicious gossip while deriving entertainment from someone's misfortune.

Bringing up children overseas is another challenge and can prove to be a pain for some especially when these children are expected to uphold African traditions and values. Social service systems in host countries do not tolerate what is deemed as harsh means to discipline children. In Africa the general belief is that if you spare the rod you spoil the child. Thus, the migrant professional can sometimes find himself/herself paying a harsh price for parenting.

It is expected that a majority of migrants will eventually return to their respective countries as soon as the political and macro-economic climates improve. In any case, while the average cost of living is comparably higher overseas, that of dying in a foreign land is even beyond most migrants' pockets.

Scientists know that for every force, there is an equal and opposite force. Hence, Africa should now start bracing itself for the counter force of migration. It is expected that the reflection on the long-term effects of migration should include, on the up-side macro-economic benefits, knowledge and skills transfer, and on the down-side, family separations and importation of highly sophisticated criminal skills, among other negatives.

Kupakuwana is a management consultant and writes from Middlesex, UK. He Can be contacted at: kupakuwanaps@yahoo.com

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