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Irregular Migration as Survival Strategy: Narratives from Youth in Urban Nigeria

This is a lay summary of the article published under the DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-21092-2_3

Published onApr 19, 2023
Irregular Migration as Survival Strategy: Narratives from Youth in Urban Nigeria

Young Nigerians looking for a better life in other countries risk becoming victims of crime

In Nigeria, many young people trying to leave the country don’t follow the normal rules or laws for international travel. Though this is a common practice, and often encouraged by family and friends, it can make these youths vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.

Across West Africa, many young people are tempted to leave their home country because of a lack of opportunities. In Nigeria in particular, youth unemployment rates are high, and a large percentage of the population live in extreme poverty.

Many Nigerian youths therefore try to migrate to new countries, especially in Europe. They are often motivated by the prospect of better education, a better standard of living, and more opportunities to earn money.

Researchers wanted to investigate the beliefs and attitudes of Nigerian youths who might be considering migrating. They were especially interested in what they thought about entering or staying in a foreign country without going through the normal legal process.

This practice, called irregular migration, is common, but not much research has been done on the experiences and motivations of individual people who are trying to migrate in this way. Researchers also wanted to hear from people who had irregularly migrated from Nigeria, but then returned to their country.

To learn about these experiences, they interviewed 70 young people in 4 Nigerian cities, including 7 who had already gone through irregular migration and then returned. The other 63 were youths who were considered “susceptible to migration” because they were unemployed, about to finish studying, or about to complete a year of compulsory national service.

These young people were asked to complete a questionnaire and then placed into focus groups, where they were asked about their understanding of irregular migration and whether they themselves were interested in migrating.

In most cases, the young Nigerians knew about irregular migration. Researchers report that most of them knew someone who had travelled out of the country illegally, but many did not know the process for leaving the country legally. They also thought that irregular migration wasn’t really a crime, but rather a practical or smart option for improving their lives, because most migrants had a better standard of living in their new country.

Similarly, among the young people who had left Nigeria and then returned, the main motivation for leaving was to earn more money or to get a better education. In most cases, these young people were encouraged by social media or family to try to migrate.

Many of them reported having to go through dangerous journeys, including trips through the desert where other migrants were lost. In some of these cases, they also ended up being victims of human trafficking, a process where people are moved to other countries against their will and forced to work for free.

Researchers say the findings highlight the urgent need for better education, both in schools and among families, about the dangers of irregular migration. He adds that the difficulty of getting to other countries legally, and a lack of knowledge about how to do so, are additional challenges.

The study forms part of a book about challenges and opportunities for West African youth.


Nigerian youths constitute the largest population in an increasing flow of migration from countries in the Global South to Europe and other countries in the Global North. Using in-depth interviews and focus groups with Nigerian youths, this study explored: (1) the extent to which youths who were susceptible toward migration were aware of irregular migration and conditions that characterize it, and (2) the attitudes and survival strategies adopted by returnee irregular migrants. The study revealed that most of the youths who migrated under irregular circumstances were motivated by economic reasons and influenced by family dynamics and social media. The paper concluded that the perception of youths on irregular migration as survival strategy to escape from the harsh economy in Nigeria had dire consequences.


This summary is a free resource intended to make African research and research that affects Africa, more accessible to non-expert global audiences. It was compiled by ScienceLink's team of professional African science communicators as part of the Masakhane MT: Decolonise Science project. ScienceLink has taken every precaution possible during the writing, editing, and fact-checking process to ensure that this summary is easy to read and understand, while accurately reporting on the facts presented in the original research paper. Note, however, that this summary has not been fact-checked or approved by the authors of the original research paper, so this summary should be used as a secondary resource. Therefore, before using, citing or republishing this summary, please verify the information presented with the original authors of the research paper, or email [email protected] for more information.

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