Below is a translation by Ida Sophie Skriver Olsen of her original Danish-language report for Globalnyt, a Denmark-based international news agency. It is edited and published with the author's permission.
“Do not go, it’ll be okay.” That is the message of a recent European Union-supported music video that seeks to keep young Guineans from traveling to Europe as undocumented migrants.
In the video which has trended on YouTube, the popular Guinean rap group Degg J Force 3 target young people with the repeated message: “Do not go, it’ll be okay”. The song is titled “Falé,” which means “bridge” in Susu, a local Guinean language, and aims to discourage youth from risking the perilous journey as undocumented migrants through the North African desert and across the Mediterranean Sea.
In the last four years, an influx of people fleeing conflict and economic insecurity have arrived to Europe by sea. About 16,000 have perished or went missing in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations. Since January 2017, Guinea has ranked the third most common country of origin for arrivals, behind Syria and Nigeria.
Guinea is currently facing many political and social challenges that make it difficult for the country to retain its youth. The urban infrastructure in many cities is crumbling under the pressure of a growing population and climate change. Epidemic threats such as Ebola are never totally rid of in the region and the healthcare system is still fragile.
The “Falé” video shows two men leaving their homes, heading towards Europe in the hopes of finding prosperity in order to provide for their families. The young men meet up in the desert and a discussion unfolds about whether to go.
One of them decides to stay and upon his return to his hometown he kneels and kisses the ground. The other decides to persevere, and the video ends with a shot of his jacket washed ashore on a beach along the Mediterranean Sea.
“Do not go. The sea is killing you, death will wait for you,” the song pleads, discouraging potential migrants from making the journey northwards. This highly emotional approach is combined with a message invoking civic duty: “Undertake and succeed at home.”
The video is funded by the EU and distributed by the local department of the UN migration organization, the IOM. The February 16 launch of the video also marked the start of music group Degg J Force 3's tour through Guinea, which is being undertaken in collaboration with the IOM with the purpose of raising awareness amongst Guinean youth of the risk of migrating to Europe without a visa.
“We need a change of mentality among the youth. We have to stress that they can do anything at home and succeed,” Ablaye Mbaye, one of the singers of the rap group, states in an IOM press release on the tour.
Skepticism of the video's potential for “profound impact”
Of course, the following question arises: Will this have an impact? Will this video clip make fewer young people leave Guinea? Two Danish migration researchers say the answer is probably not.
“I find it hard to see how this video should have a profound impact,” says Line Richter, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, who is doing research on the Europe-bound migration of young Malians.
Her statement is supported by Nauja Kleist, a senior researcher on migration at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS): “The video will easily get attention, but I don’t think it will keep anybody from migrating”.
According to the two researchers, there are several reasons as to why the video will not have any profound impact on the choices of the young Guineans.
Music about migration is not anything new
If those behind the video thought that creating a rap song about migration and the deadly journey to Europe was new, they are wrong. “These are topics that already play a big role in West African popular culture,” says Richter.
Young people use music to discuss matters that affect them, and since migration is a part of everyday life, the topic is already reflected in popular culture.
An example of this is the song by Malian group Van Baxy, “Tounka,” dating back as far as 2011:
“Tounka” is Bambara for strange or unknown place. Bambara is the most widely spoken language in Mali. The video shows three young men leaving their family, including their crying mother, in order to seek unknown places.
The clip has more than 250,000 views on YouTube, and young people still leave comments about their experiences on the video. A year ago, a young woman wrote: “It reminds me of the hell I lived through in Libya.” To this a young man replied: “Thank God that you are finally a European.”
In just three weeks, the version of “Falé” that was uploaded to YouTube by the Degg J group reached more than 190,000 views. The version that was uploaded by IOM and the EU had only 234 views after the same three weeks. It is thus questionable whether the young viewers even recognize that the IOM and the EU are involved in the creation of the video.
The comments below the video also show how young people use music to share and come to terms with their experiences. A young man wrote: “You guys are the best. I cried when I saw the clip and I remembered the suffering I experienced in Libya. 22 people died. May your souls rest in peace. Now I am in Italy.”
“Everyone is aware of the risks associated with the journey”
A second reason that the video will most likely have limited effect is that the images shown in the clip, of corpses in the desert and a jacket washed ashore, are not new to young West Africans.
Because of the use of the internet and social media, young people have already seen real footage of what has met other migrants who undertook the journey. As Richter says, “The real world is filmed with cell phones and it is not pretty. You can find documentary clips from the desert with dying people lying around.”
Contrary to this, “Falé” is very well produced and polished, almost Hollywood-like. It contains dramatic acting and aesthetic pictures. “It is almost aesthetics of suffering,” says Richter.
The young people choosing to migrate are to a large extent well informed about the conditions of their future journey. “Everyone is aware of the risks associated with the journey,” says Richter, continuing:
People are not naïve. They keep themselves updated through different kinds of media and social platforms and they navigate according to their information. This is reflected in the declining number of people migrating through Libya because of the circumstances (migrants sold as slaves). Young people will not think, “Oh, I learned something new,” when they see the video. They already know.
Campaigns do not change the risk assessment of young people
A third reason that the video might be redundant is that campaigns such as these are not seen as credible enough to change young people’s risk tolerance.
The EU’s campaigns against undocumented immigration in Europe often focus on informing the audience of the dangers associated with this type of migration. But studies show that these campaigns do not change the risk assessment and risk tolerance of the migrants, according to the DIIS statement “Migration Risk Warning Campaigns Are Based On Wrong Assumptions” from 2015.
This is, among other things, due to the lack of credibility attributed to the campaigns.
“The question is not whether migrants have access to information but rather whether they trust the information given,” says the statement. “To the extent that information campaigns are perceived as part of a larger plan to prevent migrants from reaching Europe, their credibility may be limited.”
This notion should be considered in relation to the high risk experienced when staying at home.
“If local living conditions are hopeless and insecure, risk information may be perceived as irrelevant. […] With few open channels for regular migration, information campaigns focusing only on risks tend to be little credible to an audience considering themselves already disadvantaged and at risk in their countries of origin,” the statement concludes.
Richter's research in Mali shows the same tendencies, so she doesn't think that “Falé” will have an impact, noting:
You have to take into account why people leave in the first place. It’s about poverty, the lack of opportunities for the youth and the lack of trust for change where they are within the measurable future. Most of the young people have informal jobs. This means that even though they might have a job today, they can never be sure that this is also the case tomorrow. That is why young people find it more risky to stay at home. They say: “I would rather die on the sea than stay here. If there are 100 people on a boat that sinks in the Mediterranean Sea, and one person survives, why would that not be me?’
Job opportunities lie away from home
The final reason that the video might not have a great effect is that migration – despite the dangers involved – is an established strategy for survival. In other words, an emotional rap video is not enough to change an already established practice that ensures the survival of a families.
The general opinion on migration in Europe is often that young West Africans are determined to come specifically to Europe. But that is not how it looks from the view of young West Africans themselves. In various places, especially in West Africa, migration is established as what Kleist calls “a livelihood strategy.”
For many, migration is considered a normal strategy for finding a job, “whether it is internal migration to other places in the country, migration to neighboring countries – which is the most frequent migration form, especially in West Africa – or if one travels even further away,” Kleist explains.
Thus, Europe is not always the destination for migrants. Kleist says:
Often these travels don’t have a specific place as the end goal. You might get partway and then stay there for some time to work and save some money. Then you continue and maybe stay at another place for some time. Or maybe you get deported from the country you arrive in. It is more of a movement back and forth than the clear lines towards Europe that we often see depicted.
With no jobs or income opportunities in their local communities, it is considered the most responsible choice to leave home in search of better prospects. And especially as a young person, the choice of leaving is also a choice of dignity. “There is a hope of being able to do what an adult, responsible person does: to take care of themselves and their family. It is often expected of young people that they provide for their parents and other family members,” Kleist says.
Richter agrees: “This is about bettering the situation at home. Among the youth in Mali there exists a narrative about doing something for your country. There is a fundamental mistrust that the political system will help the youth.”
For the young people to do what is expected from them and live up to the responsibilities of an adult, they seek hope outside their country. As long as the situations of their home countries don’t change, the young will head towards other places, towards “tounka.”
“It’ll be okay” – says who?
In “Falé,” young Guineans are encouraged to stay at home via the message: “It’ll be okay”. But in the light of the above mentioned, who can guarantee that the present situation will turn out okay?
The video – like many other campaigns from the EU – only focuses on the dangers associated with migration and is not specific about the opportunities offered to the young people at home. As Kleist states: “If they wanted to emphasize the message of staying at home, they should have shown some of the opportunities to find there.”