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Profound Changes among Young People with a Migrant Background

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May 30, 2016 / 0 Comments
Photo: AFP / R. Gabalda

Both rims of the Mediterranean region are facing today difficulties, from disarray to impotence, and violent extremism. Young people, bearing the brunt of these worries and of exclusion, are a favorite niche for radical movements. In 3 articles Jacques Ould Aoudia depicts the push and pull effects across the Mediterranean region, playing in favor of violent extremism’ propagation. The author will identify as well key solutions to pulling young Mediterranean people out of this threat.


This article is the second in a series of three.


Over the last 30 years migration has changed in profound ways, similarly to the change witnessed by countries of origin.  We will detail below some of these changes as observed in France and Morocco.


Profound changes in places of origin and migration


It all started with the migration of rural inhabitants from isolated mountainous areas of Morocco, who were recruited under labor agreements to work in the mining and metallurgy sector in Europe during the 1950s and 1960s. Migration has since involved more people from urban backgrounds, individuals who were better educated, including more women. Together with the children of this first generation of migrants, the new wave of migration formed what has come to be known as the “diaspora”, also defined by Moroccan institutions as “Moroccans abroad.”


In this context it is important to note that generally in order to influence migration, develop public policies for integration or tailor a specialized program for an NGO, it is critical to understand the ties between migrants and their country of origin. How have the ties between diaspora and country of origin develop in tandem with the profound changes occurring in the Moroccan diaspora?[1]


For the earliest migrants, the bond with the country of origin was strictly linked to the prevalence of community habits and rules. At the risk of incurring exclusion from the group, migrants had a duty to support family members who remained in the home country, but had also, very often, a duty to participate in projects for the development of community infrastructures in their home towns. Most Moroccan migrants of those early generations supported community projects in their hometown through money transfers, participation in different projects rehabilitation of mosques, school equipment, connecting the village to electricity plants, providing clean drinking water, paving the roads, among others. During this period, migrants constituted the main community leaders, with their projects, financial support, prestige, cars, know-how… And thus they became the main players in local rural development.


By the end of the 1980s, the association Migrations & Développement (M&D) has formalized and systematized this model of migrant intervention in their home countries[2]. It is based on this model that M&D has planned its activities to empirically reach an approach to integrated rural development, thus in the regions of origin of migrants who founded the association: the regions of Souss Massa and Drâa Tafilalet[3].


Some 30 years later, this model based on the prevalence of community habits and rules is no longer functional.


Firstly, the migrant has become one player among several others, such as local elected officials, development associations, decentralized agencies which are continuously increasing capacities to advance local and rural development.


On the other hand, members of the diaspora have profoundly evolved; they are better educated, gender balanced, and have, in their majority, been born in France. They have distanced themselves from the community pressure. They are more individualistic, more inclined towards engaging in projects being implemented in France and they no longer harbor, like the older generation, the thoughts of returning to the home country.[4] Their global vision and goals resemble those of fellow young people in France: start a family, find a job and a place to live in, focus on the education of the children etc.


How did the ties with the home country (of the parents) get affected by the changes that occurred both at the diaspora and migration levels?


The ties with the home country of the parents remains strong despite the intention of permanent residence in the “host” country.  The focus has however shifted to questions about identity. Whether this focus came as a response to the rise of racism (i.e. the “glass ceiling”: or blocking professionally and socially the advancement of any individual who has an Arab name or a foreign appearance), or whether it emanated from a more positive angle: asserting one’s identity and origins, this quest for identity comes in a complex multiple-identities context.


Young people born in France of migrant parents are particularly sensitive to the identity question.  It taps into a deep social malaise among large groups of people living in the suburbs, either young people born of migrant parents or those who are native-born. A discomfort that has both a social and an identity-related components inextricably linked for the concerned individuals. Therefore approaching the issue from one angle, while neglecting the other, leads to severe errors of judgment.


Disclaimer: The content of this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and does not reflect the views of the institutions with which he is affiliated, nor does it reflect the opinion of the Center for Mediterranean Integration.


[1] Such generational changes affect other diasporas as well. According to accounts gathered from interested parties, they have occurred in the diasporas of the countries of the Andes in Latin America, the Malian diaspora, and those of Vietnam and China. Each of these diasporas, with its own distinctive features, is facing the renewal of ties between members of the new generations and their parents’ country of origin.

[3] From Tinghir to Tiznit, or a depth of 530 km, in the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, in the South central part of Morocco, the first region of mass emigration, to the big cities in Morocco and to Europe.

[4] This could change with the deepening of the social and political crisis in Europe: many young Moroccans, especially university graduates, envisage returning to Morocco. But an « open » return, allowing for movement between their parents’ country of origin, the host country and, often, third countries.


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