The notion of migration as being at least partly about ‘choice’ is deeply rooted in both academic thought and public policy. Recent contributions have considered migration choice as step-wise in nature, involving a separation between ‘aspiration’ and ‘ability’ to migrate, whilst stressing a range of non-economic factors that influence migration choices. But such nuances have not prevented the emergence of a significant area of public policy that seeks to influence choices to migrate from Africa through ‘irregular’ channels, or at all, through a range of development interventions. This paper explores evidence from West Africa on how young people formulate the boundaries of such choice. Drawing on approaches in anthropology and elsewhere that stress the value of a ‘future-orientated’ lens, we show how present uncertainty is a central framing that fundamentally limits the value of thinking about migration as a choice. This has important implications for policy on ‘migration and development’.
The research underpinning this paper was supported financially by the International Organization for Migration, as part of the ‘Safety, Support and Solutions: Phase 2’ (SSSII) programme, which was in turn funded by DFID (now FCDO).
© 2022, The Author(s).
- West Africa