Migration and networks: the story of an Afghan on the move
The following article has been written by Katie Kuschminder, European University Institute.
Afghanistan has been engulfed in conflict for over 30 years. During this time, Afghans have continued to flee the country to seek safety in nearby countries of Iran and Pakistan, as well as further afield in Turkey and the European Union. Migrating from Afghanistan to Turkey on the first part of this journey is quite dangerous through steep mountain cliffs in Iran, a high prevalence of kidnappers, and risking capture, detention and deportation by police in Iran. It is essential to have good contacts for this journey, which is why networks are important to ensure the safe facilitation of migration.
Amir left Afghanistan when he was 19 and went to Turkey. Initially he had planned to migrate onwards from Turkey, but he did not have the resources to do so. In Turkey, he was able to build friendships with other Afghans. One friend, Nasim, was able to migrate onwards from Turkey to Germany. Amir found a job in a tailor’s shop in Turkey and he began to earn money that he sent back to his family in Afghanistan. After two years, Amir’s younger brother, Hassan, asked him for help. Hassan was 17 years old and there was a lot of fighting in their community and he could not find any work in Afghanistan. Amir decided that it was safer for Hassan to come to Turkey and from Turkey he would try to send his younger brother to Germany, where he heard from Nasim that the conditions were very good. Amir made all of the arrangements for Hassan and facilitated his safe passage and migration to Turkey. To navigate the complexities of Iran, Amir advised Hassan to stay with family at different points along the route in order to evade the police and not be deported back to Afghanistan. He advised Hassan that when crossing the mountain passes to be careful of the kidnappers and to run away and not trust anyone that tried to approach him. Hassan did this and was able to evade kidnappers that shot at him but did not hurt him because he was too far away. After a two-week journey from Afghanistan, Hassan arrived safely in Istanbul.
Once in Istanbul, Amir provided for his brother and at the time of interview was trying to find work for his brother so that he could earn money for his onwards migration to join Nasim in Germany. Amir wanted Hassan to be able to go to Germany as he trusted that Nasim would look out for him in Germany and assist him in getting set-up upon arrival.
Amir and Hassan’s story show the many ways that network connections facilitate and support migration. First, Amir was an essential decision maker in deciding that Hassan would migrate and where he would go. Hassan clearly came to Istanbul to be with Amir, where Amir knew he could provide him food and shelter and keep him safe. In this first step, Hassan relied on his brother as a trusted network tie in making the decision to migrate.
Second, Amir’s information and experience enabled the safe facilitation of Hassan’s migration through Iran. The advice from Amir prevented Hassan from being captured by the police of kidnappers in Iran. In this stage Hassan utilized extended family social networks and relied on trusted smugglers and their networks to navigate his way through Iran.
Third, networks that Amir made upon arrival in Istanbul informed the further migration plan and destination choice of Hassan to go to Germany. This can be considered as a co-ethnic ‘spontaneous’ network tie acquired in transit. Although Nasim and Hassan had never met themselves, through their connection with Amir they jointly trusted each other and Nasim was willing to assist Hassan. Nasim had committed to providing food and shelter to Hassan upon arrival and assisting him in understanding how the Germany asylum process worked. Most likely, upon arrival in Germany Amir would also engage in network connections with NGOs and migrant organizations, reflecting additional types of social networks accessed at different stages of the migration process. Through Amir, Hassan was in a favorable position of having access to information, a safe migration journey, and a planned onwards migration journey with a trusted friend waiting to welcome him in Germany.
Note: This except is based on an interview conducted for the Understanding Irregular Migrants Decision Making Factors in Transit Study. All names have been changed.
© Katie Kuschminder