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1IntroductionThe role of family dynamics in the international migration of African migrants has attracted growing scholarly attention over the last two decades (König and de Regt 2010; Grillo and Mazzucato 2008). Yet, certain stages of the migration process and aspects of familial relations have been more intensely studied than others. Migrants’ decisions to leave their origin country, for instance, can be compelled and facilitated by the members of the migrant household, because migration is regarded as a means to realise future ambitions and long-term goals (de Haas 2021). While staying abroad in a destination country, the transnational ties and practices of African migrants have been analysed with a particular focus on how family and kin in the origin country are affected by the migrants’ remittances and caregiving (Coe 2014; Haagsman and Mazzucato 2014; Kufakurinani et al. 2014; Okoye 2012; Osili 2007). Even though there is a growing number of studies on African return mobilities (Hernández-Carretero 2017; Boyer 2016), thus far it is not clear to what extent ‘returns’ affect family dynamics – and vice versa how family dynamics affect returns.African familial and kinship practices and relations, of course, vary significantly across the continent and even within countries. In addition to nuclear, extended or multi-generational families, African family structures can also encompass child fostering, polygamous marriages, female-headed households, and so forth. There is evidence that African migrants in Europe are ‘living apart together’ with other family members in Africa for extended periods, and although family reunification in Europe is relatively common, generally most family reunifications take place in the origin country (Beauchemin et al. 2014; González-Ferrer et al. 2014). In addition, migrants also engage in shorter return trips, to fulfil expectations of visiting family and relatives, usually during holidays and for special family events and cultural celebrations. Several factors may influence the type and frequency of migrants’ returns, such as life-stage; duration of stay abroad; generation; legal immigration status; savings; caregiving responsibilities; political stability and transnational social networks.There are few quantitative data available that indicate the levels of return migration, also relatively across different African national contexts. Existing comparative research indicates that there is considerable variation regarding the propensity of different African nationals to return to their origin country. While around 25 per cent of migrants from Burkina Faso and 9 per cent from Senegal (as a share of all internal and international migrants) re-join their household members in the origin country, at three per cent return migration is much less common amongst Nigerians (Plaza et al. 2011). The low return rate raises questions about the particular return mobility practices amongst Nigerians. Do Nigerian international migrants simply opt to stay put in their destination country? Or do they onward migrate or return elsewhere, thus suggesting complex mobilities including multiple migrations?Research about multiple migrations amongst African migrants has tended to focus on the transit migration of irregular migrants on their dangerous journeys over land and sea (Schapendonk 2017; Kastner 2014); on the politicised ‘secondary movement’ of asylum-seekers who pass through several countries in their search for protection (Belloni 2019); and the onward mobilities of (former) refugees (Moret 2016; van Liempt 2011). Several studies suggest that onward migration is also prevalent amongst highly-skilled African-born migrants in Europe, especially in direction of North America (Artuç and Özden 2018; Konadu-Agyemang 1999).This paper focuses on how Nigerian onward migrants in Europe experience the possibilities and realities of return mobility and transnational family life. It explores the various ways in which return intentions and practices can affect individual migrants and (re)shape transnational family practices. In particular, the paper unpacks how various types of return moves are connected with families’ evolving transnational identities, ties and practices. The findings are presented using a relational approach that highlights how onward migration is embedded in wider societal and economic structures, as well as the migrants’ life cycle. By including research participants from both the first and 1.5 generation, this paper also offers an inter-generational perspective on the patterns of multiple migration. Thereby this paper contributes new insights into how the repertoires of family life are sustained and transformed by more complex mobilities that involve both onward and return migration.After providing a literature review, a contextualisation of the research, as well as a brief discussion on methodology, the first part of the paper deals with the various forms of transnational engagement and how these relate to planned and actual return mobilities of Nigerian onward migrants. In the following sections, I then discuss how different types of return mobility affect transnational families.2Conceptualising Belonging, Transnationalism and ‘Return’ Mobilities amongst Onward MigrantsThe recent literature on the complexity of migration patterns challenges the conceptualisation of international migration as a linear and one-off move from an origin country to one particular destination country. The reversibility of international migration flows, for instance, has been underlined by the growing body of research on return migration (King and Kuschminder 2021; Cassarino 2004). In addition, research on onward migration has drawn attention to migration patterns that involve both a variety of mobilities and multi-sited transnational practices spanning several destinations (Jolivet 2020; Ahrens et al. 2016).Nevertheless, the growth of scholarly interest in these complex movements has less to do with a ‘real’ growth of return and onward trajectories, and more with the re-conceptualisation of the study of migratory phenomena. In this regard, three conceptual frameworks have been particularly influential: diaspora studies, transnationalism and the mobilities paradigm. In this section, I outline the respective insights concerning onward and return mobility patterns, which then guides the analysis of my empirical data, especially concerning the orientation of transnational practices, feelings of (un)belonging and shifting geographical constellations of multi-local families and ‘home’.2.1Changing Meanings of ‘Home’ and BelongingOne of the defining features of the classical ‘victim’ diasporas was said to be their desire to ‘return to the homeland’ (Cohen 2008). There is a growing acknowledgement, however, that a return to the ancestral homeland is not always possible and therefore diasporans also relocate to other places with a vibrant diaspora culture and they engage in a variety of ‘homemaking’ practices (Boccagni and Hondagneu-Sotelo 2021; Schrooten and Claeys 2018). The location of ‘home’, or even the ‘diasporic hearth’, is therefore not necessarily geographically fixed and can also evolve over time and generations (Voigt-Graf 2004; Bhachu 1985).In the case of onward migrants, who have lived in several destinations, the notion of ‘return’ can refer to a variety of locations, seeing that onward migrants may opt to either ‘return’ to their origin country or a previous country of residence. This paper, therefore, takes on a broader understanding of ‘returns’ that is not restricted to the ‘ancestral homeland’ or the ‘country of origin’, but instead can also encompass aspirations and decisions to return to a ‘previous place of residence’. Importantly, there are generational perspectives to be considered when we interrogate the meanings and patterns of return, belonging and ‘homemaking’ (Boccagni and Hondagneu-Sotelo 2021). For onward migrants and their descendants the ways in which they perceive and articulate their feelings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ is often closely related to their unfolding migration trajectory and multi-sited transnational practices.2.2The Role of Evolving Transnational Ties and Family DynamicsTransnationalism is another framework that has had an important impact on migration studies, but thus far it has not been explicitly adapted to address the experiences of onward migrants. The pioneering studies on transnational communities in the 1990s drew attention to the interactions of ‘transmigrants’ with other individuals, kin and institutions across geographic borders (Basch et al. 1994; Glick Schiller et al. 1992). Theoretical conceptualisations of transnationalism have repeatedly emphasised the multi-locality of migrants’ practices, identifications and connections. In their seminal work Nations, Unbound Basch and her colleagues define ‘transmigrants’ as individuals who ‘take actions, make decisions and develop subjectivities and identities embedded in networks of relationships that connect them to two or more nation-states’ (1994: 8 emphasis added).Nonetheless, empirical research on transnationalism generally focuses on diaspora-homeland connections, i.e. ‘immigrants’ whose transnational practices are solely directed at family members and communities located in their country of origin. By transcending the origin-destination binary, Ahrens and King (2022) argue that is possible to better capture multi-sited and multi-directional transnational practices, including those of onward migrants. A broader geographic conceptualisation of transnationalism allows us to consider the variegated patterns and intensities of inter-diasporic connections that migrants and their descendants forge, i.e. with their origin country, previous places of residence, and other destinations (see also Carling 2017; Sperling 2014; Voigt-Graf 2004).In the context of this paper, I would like to add the following comments regarding multi-sited transnationalism. First, transnational practices do not only concern individuals, but are often embedded and negotiated within transnational family dynamics and wider communities (Boyer 2016; Poeze and Mazzucato 2016; Kufakurinani et al. 2014). Over time and across generations transnational practices often are (re)shaped by families’ geographical re-constellations, evolving transnational communities and changing contextual factors (Carling and Erdal 2014). Especially when the return migration and onward migration become entwined, it is likely that even more complex transnational practices and connections can emerge.2.3Diverse Onward and ‘Return’ MobilitiesThe ‘mobilities turn’ has had an important impact on migration studies, as well as the social sciences more widely (Urry 2000, 2007; Hannam et al. 2006). The mobilities approach challenges the sedentarist bias in much of the social science theorisation, which portrays society as inherently stable and place-bound; instead, it emphasises change and movement (Hannam et al., 2006). At the same time, mobility is not equally accessible to all groups and individuals, which is also evident in the variation of ‘post-migration mobility’ patterns (Moret 2016) and complex trajectories of migrants with an irregular status (Schapendonk 2017).For definitional clarity about ‘return’ or ‘onward’ mobilities, in this paper I distinguish between short-term ‘visits’ that can stretch from a few days to a couple of months and ‘migration’ with the intention to stay for a considerable amount of time, possibly even permanently. ‘Return visits’ are usually structured around family ties, seeing that the return visitors often stay with relatives on these trips. Especially for parents who have opted to leave (some of) their children in their origin country in the care of others, these visits represent important opportunities for spending time together (Coe 2014; Haagsman and Mazzucato 2014). Yet, Miah (2022) argues that return visits can also serve multiple and overlapping purposes, and he distinguishes between eight types of return visits: routine, ritual, care, roots, rights, pre-return, economic and leisure.Finally, the mobilities approach also highlights the relevance of ‘immobility’ and ‘moorings’ (Hannam et al. 2006). Brickell (2011), for instance, has focused on the ‘emplaced mobility’ of non-migrants and the effects that the international migration of their family members can have on these supposedly ‘immobile’ individuals. Drawing on these insights, I pay attention to various forms of onward or return mobilities – corporeal, material, imaginative, virtual and communicative.3Nigerian Migrants in EuropeThe mobilities between Africa and Europe date back many centuries and take diverse forms slavery, trade, colonialisation and post-colonial migration, education, displacement, asylum, etc. This paper is based on empirical research that was carried out with Nigerian migrants in three European countries, namely the UK, Germany and Spain. These destination countries were selected, because they host amongst the largest Nigerian migrant communities in Europe, and they also reflect a diversity in terms of the profile of Nigerian migrant communities and their respective migration periods.The UK has been the principal European destination of Nigerian migrants since the 1960s and has attracted many professionals and students. The 2011 EU Census indicates that there were 201,185 Nigerian-born migrants living in the UK (Eurostat 2016).1 Germany has also drawn a proportion of the professional Nigerians from the 1980s onwards, although many of them were unable to find work at their skill-level. The Nigerian-born migrant community in Germany comprised 17,340 in 2011 and therefore was considerably smaller. Meanwhile Spain represents a newer destination of Nigerian migrations towards Europe and is a country where many Nigerian migrants were employed in low-paid jobs since the 2000s. Despite their more recent arrival in Spain the 2011 EU Census shows that the Nigerian-born population comprised 23,470 individuals (Eurostat 2016).At the national level, these three European countries represent very different immigration policy regimes: the UK used to be characterised by relative openness toward immigration but is becoming increasingly restrictive; Germany’s immigration policies appear to be travelling in the opposite direction, from restrictiveness to a greater focus on migrant integration; meanwhile Spain has traditionally been very open to immigration. Importantly, the comparison of the UK with Germany and Spain also meant that it was possible to compare how the onward and return mobilities within the Schengen zone differed from those trajectories in the direction of the UK. Generally speaking, the EU’s immigration policies have become increasingly ‘selective’ over recent decades (Flahaux and de Haas 2016). But especially since the so-called migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 member states have decided to reinforce the EU’s external borders and step-up deportations to unprecedented levels.4MethodsIn order to study the multi-directional mobilities amongst Nigerians in Europe, I opted for a mixed-method and multi-sited research design. The main part of my empirical research consisted of ethnographic methods and in-depth interviews conducted between June 2011 and December 2012, which provided insights into the lived experiences of Nigerian migrants in Germany, England and Spain. Research participants were first or 1.5 generation Nigerian migrants and had either lived in one European or several European countries, who were mostly recruited via my regular visits to Nigerian-led churches, mosques, businesses, community organisations and related events.In total, I carried out 120 in-depth interviews with Nigerian migrants (n=40 per country). The aim of the interviews was to include varying and intersecting experiences related to gender, age, generation, legal status, and so forth. The sample included 69 male and 51 female participants with an age range between 23–67 years. In terms of educational background, the majority had obtained secondary and tertiary qualifications in Nigeria, only two informants in Spain and three in Germany had not attended school beyond primary level.Interviewees were asked for informed consent and for permission to record the interview. Before the interview the informants chose their own pseudonyms. The interviews were mostly conducted in English, but my fluency in German and Spanish allowed interviewees to switch between languages if they wished to do so. In three cases research participants preferred not to be recorded and I therefore took detailed notes during the interview. The narrative interviews I conducted typically lasted between one and two hours and involved only few prompts regarding my informants’ lives before migration, their decision to emigrate, their lives abroad, as well as their future plans.The interviews were transcribed and coded for recurring themes and particular issues were explored across all interview transcripts. After the interviews, I asked participants whether they wanted to remain in touch to continue sharing their migration experiences. This resulted in occasional informal follow-up conversations with 45 informants via Whatsapp and Skype, but over time participants also changed their contact details and then contact broke off.These qualitative methods were combined with an analysis of the 2011 EU Census data and other statistical data sources, such as immigration registry data and labour force surveys. The existing statistical sources do not fully capture the variety of onward (and return) mobilities amongst Nigerian migrants I interviewed, especially the shorter trips go unrecorded. To identify Nigerian onward migrants in the 2011 EU Census, I analysed the characteristics of Nigerian-born migrants who held an EU citizenship different to the one of their current EU country of residence. According to this proxy, there were 5,790 Nigerian onward migrants residing in the UK in 2011, and 390 in Germany and 140 in Spain. The gender profile of the Nigerian onward migrants was male-dominated in the UK (61.4 %) and in Spain (96.4 %), but not in Germany (48.7 %) (Eurostat 2016).5Mapping the Diverse ‘Return’ Mobilities of Onward Migrants: Intentions and ExperiencesOnward migration is the result of a series of choices that migrants make within the constraints placed upon them, which produces complex and evolving mobilities. My informants’ main patterns of return mobility were also varied and dependent on their particular circumstances. Out of the individuals who onward migrated within the EU, a substantial number decided to relocate to the UK for their next step. Except for three, all informants who onward migrated to the UK had been resident in Europe for an extended period of time and therefore held EU passports, which facilitated this movement. Many onward migrants in the UK had been residing in Germany before and other previous countries of residence included Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and Ireland. Interviewees mentioned various reasons for relocating. The UK was seen as a better place to look for employment, especially for those who had been unemployed before; several individuals wanted to further their education, and those who had young children felt that it was better to raise them in the UK. Thus, particular stages in the life course were important in shaping onward migration aspirations and decisions.Furthermore, the wider structural context also influenced onward migration patterns. Migrants who previously lived in Italy, Spain or Ireland mentioned that they had been very content and had even purchased houses in their previous country of residence. Their onward mobilities mainly occurred, because they felt that after the 2008 financial crisis they could not earn a livelihood. By contrast, moves from Northwest Europe to Spain or Italy were often related to lacking legal status or the issuance of a deportation decision. Thus, my findings also highlight how the economic conditions and bordering practices made Nigerians feel ‘pushed’ or ‘forced’ to onward migrate elsewhere or return to a previous country of residence within Europe. On the whole, these less agentic moves were fraught with more uncertainty and the individuals I spoke to often experienced more precarity, than individuals who were able to prepare their relocations and move voluntarily (Kleist 2017).Aside from the aforementioned factors at the micro- and macro-level, migrant communities as a whole also contribute to the active construction of transnational space. Concepts such as the ‘transnational social field’ (Basch et al. 1994) help us understand the simultaneities of diasporic life, through which intimacies and everyday practices are often extended across space and time. When considering where to move, my participants often weighed up the wider communities’ favoured destinations against their personal aspirations and circumstances. Within Europe, Nigerian migrants tended to think of the UK, and especially London, as the most desirable location. Overall, however, Nigerian diasporans rated the United States and Canada more highly. Although I am not aware that any of my participants moved to North America, several individuals had close contacts who chose to follow this trajectory.The decision to onward migrate can also be a compromise between several options. In many instances, my informants mentioned that they had contemplated a return to Nigeria, but quickly discarded that option. They felt that the situation in their origin country had not improved, and should they return, they would have to face many of the same issues that had compelled them to emigrate. Thus, when conditions for a return to the origin country are unfavourable or problematic, relocating to a ‘diasporic node’ can appear like a good alternative or make a return unnecessary. In Europe, one of the main Nigerian diasporic nodes certainly is London; the 2011 Census indicates that around 30 per cent of all Nigerians in Europe live in the British capital. The ‘Little Lagos’ area around Peckham Rye station in South London, for example, is one of the places where material representations of Nigerian (and Yoruba) culture are highly visible.Overall, transnational migrant networks are constantly being transformed, with some locations gaining and others losing importance. In my informants’ narratives I found continuous re-evaluations of particular places and countries. Interviewees often used their transnational ties to gain information and compare the circumstances in their previous and current place of residence, while also contemplating new destinations and the option of returning to their country of origin (Hernández-Carretero 2017).5.1Changing Understandings of Belonging during the Migration ProjectSeeing that my research was concerned with first generation and 1.5 generation Nigerians, most of them still regarded Nigeria as their homeland and ‘cultural hearth’. Nonetheless, there was evidence within the narratives of some of my interviewees that their understanding of ‘home’ had changed during their migration project. My informant Ayọ was ‘left behind’ in Nigeria by her parents and followed them as an adolescent to complete her secondary schooling in the UK, which is a fairly common migration path amongst the Nigerian 1.5 generation. These and other study mobilities between Nigeria and Britain are an illustration of the continued relevance of Britain’s colonial educational legacy (Kea and Maier 2017). After her onward move to Germany for a new job, Ayọ paid frequent ‘return’ visits to her parents, who remained living in London, and she also returned to Nigeria annually in December.I go back home to … well I call London home now [laughs]. I go back home to London quite regularly, because my parents still live in London and my brother lives in Switzerland … We all go to Nigeria for Christmas, of course … My mother has probably lived in the UK for most of her life. She goes back to Nigeria for vacations and weddings and stuff like that. But I think she is more attached to the UK, than Nigeria […] She is Nigerian, she loves Nigeria, and she would do anything for Nigeria, but she has more friends and family in the UK now. She has a job, she is working [in London]. But they go back home to visit.Ayọ, 27, female, British-Nigerian in DüsseldorfAyọ’s current and planned future mobilities were truly multi-directional, given that she had ambitions to work in Asia and mentioned that she had applied for PhD programmes in Australia, where she hoped to move with her husband and children. But Ayọ’s story is more representative of the 1.5 generation who gained European educational qualifications, seeing that the first-generation migrants often suffered ‘downgrading’ or even rejection of their Nigerian qualifications.Onward migrants, in general, are difficult to place along simple social identity binaries. Bhabha (1994) developed the concept of ‘third space’, in order to challenge existing categorical binary structures, such as us/them and colonial/postcolonial. He further defines ‘third space’ as characterised by ‘hybridity’ and multiple subject-positions, a contingent space that always is in-between and continuously becoming (Bhabha 1994). Yet, these concepts have been also rightfully criticised for describing space solely as immaterial, liquid, and metaphorical and there have been calls to ‘ground’ research on transnationalism (Mitchell 2007). One of my interviewees, Uchenna, married a German woman and they had a daughter together, after their separation Uchenna felt that “the home I thought I had in Germany, was no longer there. I felt that I should endeavour to create another home for myself”. The experiences of onward migrants and their descendants show how transnational space and identifications are experienced, but also how these are contested and re-conceived.Damilola was born in Germany and then ‘returned’ to Lagos with her German mother, Nigerian father and siblings for several years. When she moved back to Germany again, she was the only person of colour in her school and wider circle of friends:I wanted to live my reality as a bi-cultural and bi-national person, and I always felt that that was easier outside of Germany and Nigeria. I studied in the Netherlands, but after I finished the country was too small and boring […] I am interested in multiculture and art […] I wanted a visual normality, more people that looked like me … it was not really for economic reasons, more cultural reasons […] London is a virtual space where I can re-invent myself … it’s not restricted to that binary … or the figure of the tragic hybrid person stuck between one and the other.Damilola, 36, f, German-Nigerian in LondonMuch like other 1.5 and second-generation migrants, Damilola believed that her experiences of return and onward migration allowed her to find a place where she could express herself the way she wanted. London is a space where she feels less bound by essentialised understandings of what it means to be ‘German’ or ‘Nigerian’, and in addition she can live her queer identity.For my informants, multiple migrations oftentimes led to the formation of transnational ties and social identifications that were situated not just in-between, but beyond the traditional binary of origin-destination country. There was also an increasing diversity of destinations chosen by migrants who undertook several onward migrations, which may partly be related to the new transnational connections they formed and their enhanced mobility rights as European citizens. The next section illustrates how migration control impinges on the formation of multi-local transnational families and their opportunities for family unification, as well as return visits.5.2Continuous Reconfigurations of Transnational Families across Multiple DestinationsDuring the interviews with my informants, I was struck by their accounts of the geographical re-constellations of their transnational families throughout space and time. Instead of only considering conjugal relationships and households, it is now more common to regard families as constituted of complex webs of relationships that can span across generations and locations (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994). Research into transnationalism is replete with examples that analyse the cross-border activities of migrants and their supposedly immobile ‘left-behind’ family members. Fewer studies consider the power structures that contribute to the evolving opportunities for mobility and immobility amongst transnational families (Coe 2014; Dreby 2010). The configurations of my informants’ transnational families in most cases responded to the processes of bordering that were continuously evolving – creating both ‘closures’ and ‘openings’.Migration and labour market policies often mirror a context of institutionalised discrimination, which marginalises migrants based on embodied characteristics, such as age, gender, ‘race’, nationality or ability. Increasingly restrictive US immigration legislation, for instance, has caused parents and children to be separated for longer and more indefinite periods of time (Coe 2014; Dreby 2010). Nigerian parents generally opted to leave their children behind in Nigeria (or delay having children) seeing that as pioneer migrants they could not rely on relatives and kin to share the caregiving responsibilities in the destination country. Faith lived in Italy before she came to Berlin and is having her first child at 34. She explained that many of her female friends in Nigeria “have kids around 19 or 20” but “it is not easy in Europe to have kids. Here you are alone. Not like in Africa, you can leave your children for your granddad, your grandmom or your sister, and they take care of the kids”. My findings suggest that, after a few years of residence, if possible, Nigerian family members are brought to Europe, because my informants mentioned that they did not envision the situation in Nigeria to improve in the foreseeable future.Although member states are heavily restricting most other modes of migration, family migration still makes up a considerable proportion of total immigration. Between 2009 and 2018 in Germany, on average 57 per cent of first residence permits were issued to Nigerians due to family reasons; and in Spain family reasons accounted for an average 69 per cent over the same period.2 By contrast in the UK, family reasons only constituted 29 per cent of the first residence permit issued to Nigerians during the period in question, while the most common reason was education with 51 per cent. It is possible that migrants’ awareness of the variegated immigration policy landscapes also influences their migration strategies, as well as their transnational family practices.The reunion with children in Europe after several years of separation represented a time of transformation for the transnational family. All of the interviewed 13 young people who had come to join their parents, the so-called 1.5 generation, arrived in Europe as teenagers to complete their secondary school education and apply for higher education; only three of the parents mentioned that they brought children at a younger age. Fosterage is common in West Africa, where young children stay with other relatives and patrons who will enhance their development; therefore, similar arrangements are also made for ‘left-behind’ children of migrants (Kufakurinani et al. 2014; Bledsoe and Sow 2011). Generally, the interviewed 1.5 generation narrated their experiences of family reunifications as smooth transitions. Ayọ arrived in London when she was 15 and explained “my parents moved first and then they sent for us to come over. I did what you call GCSE s in Nigeria and then I did my A-Levels in the UK”. Yet, other interviewees like Kelvin found it more challenging to adjust to life with their family in Europe. “When I moved to Germany my dad had already died […] and it took years to adjust to my mom, I didn’t know who she was and she did not know who I was.” When Kelvin grew up with his grandparents in Nigeria they did not have a landline telephone and his mother stayed in touch by asking travelling friends to take cassette tapes to Nigeria that she had recorded with messages for her children.On the one hand, the delayed arrival of children in Europe in their late teens is the result of the complicated bureaucratic process associated with family reunification and legal requirements according to which children usually need to be under eighteen years old to still be considered as dependent minors (Mazzucato and Poeze 2016; Veale and Andres 2014). On the other hand, many migrant parents also believe that leaving their children in the country of origin (or indeed deciding to send children back) throughout their early childhood allows access to more affordable childcare and better education, plus it keeps teenagers away from the temptations in Europe that can lead young minds astray (Kea and Maier 2017; Coe 2014). Peter in South East England, for instance, explained that he had “fixed [his eldest son] in a boarding school in Nigeria” in order “to get a better school, better world for him” after his son had been expelled from school in Germany and then later his son’s school attendance in England was also starting to become patchy.When Nigerian parents decide to leave their eldest children behind in Nigeria, at times more children are born in Europe. Although there is an established literature on transnational parenthood (for a review see Carling et al. 2012), less is known about the perspectives and experiences of siblings, who grew up in two different countries and may be longing for their family to reunite (Coe 2014; Veale and Andres 2014). These transnational siblings thus grow up in two different countries and keep in touch through social media, phone calls and occasional visits (Veale and Andres 2014).Adediji is a young Nigerian whom I interviewed in Düsseldorf and his transnational family underwent several geographical re-constellations during the time we remained in touch. Adediji’s experience illustrates particularly well how family reunification and onward migration oftentimes take place by different family members in a temporally lagged fashion and also involve circular (return) visits to different places, because certain family members are unable or unwilling to relocate together (Ahrens et al. 2016).I was schooling in Lagos, and I was living there with my grandparents. My parents came to Nigeria every December, most especially my father came for one month from the end of December until January and then moved back. My mum came once in three years or four years. After almost 15 years they brought us down to Germany in 2001. My father, he moved to London in 2005 … He believes that the life in London is better than in Germany. After two, three years he came to take my mother and my younger sisters. They are all living there now. My sisters they were born here [in Germany]. I have three sisters and I am the oldest. My junior sister, we both came together from Nigeria, but next month she is planning to move to London. She went there to visit my parents and she seems to like it. Now she applied to some universities … now she has to find a place to live […] I stayed here because I was still in university. I can still do my master’s there [in London]. But I still miss them, that’s why I visit them when I can.Adediji, 25, m, German-Nigerian in DüsseldorfI later met up with Adediji on two more occasions when he was visiting his family in East London. In his suitcase Adediji had brought canned goulash soup that his youngest sisters had grown fond of in Germany. Meanwhile Adediji and I were savouring the hot Nigerian pepper soup his mother prepared for us. The family had satellite television and his youngest sisters continued watching the German channels they grew up with. After his first few visits Adediji was still sceptical: “I didn’t like it that much [in London]. The life in Germany is easy, not that crowded.” However, the next time we met up in London Adediji was setting up a British bank account with another German-Nigerian friend. Eight years after his father’s departure to England, Adediji decided to also join his family and complete his undergraduate studies in London. The experience of Adediji and his family shows that renewed distancing and separation can occur within migrant families when members decide to onward migrate. Onward migration is at times realised by the whole migrant family at once, but more commonly it leads to the (re-)emergence of multi-local households.Importantly, children and partners were not only ‘left behind’ in Nigeria, but also in Europe. Following the 2008 financial crisis and the 2012 eurozone debt crisis, many Nigerians who previously resided in Spain, Italy or Greece started seeking a (temporary) livelihood in Northwest Europe, often leaving their children behind in the care of other relatives and friends (Ahrens 2013). Gloria in Madrid had been taking care of two young children for several months, she explained: “Their mother is in Holland now, because she have document […] the children don’t even have document”. In most cases, these onward migrants had national short-term or permanent residence permits, which only allowed them to relocate within the Schengen area for a maximum of three months as tourists. But these residence permits generally did not allow them to seek work in the ‘formal economy’ in another EU member state. These ‘semi-legal’ onward mobilities often involved stays of under a year and frequent shuttling back-and-forth. The reason that children had to stay put was mainly due to administrative delays, which meant that many children lacked residence permits and therefore were not allowed to move to another member state. A study revealed that approximately a total of 500,000 children under the age of fifteen were residing in Spain undocumented in 2013 (González Ferrer 2014). Given the often-temporary nature of these onward mobilities, the parents preferred not to disrupt the schooling of their children in Spain.3 In addition, parents usually had more close contacts in Spain, whom they trusted to take on these caregiving responsibilities.Nevertheless, I was told by several informants in Spain that in some isolated cases Nigerian children had become possibly permanently separated from their parents and had to stay in the care of others indefinitely, when deportations were conducted at great speed and parents were not able (or allowed) to establish contact with their children from within the detention centre before their deportation flight to Nigeria.5.3New Transnational Ties and ‘Emplaced’ Return MobilitiesTransnational ties are typically perceived to be those social connections that migrants and their ‘left behind’ family and kin maintain between the origin and destination country. Families become extended across borders, because generally it is easier for Nigerians to embark on a migration project by themselves and without any dependents. First, immigration channels towards Europe have become more selective since the 1990s, meaning that individuals who arrive as students, migrant workers, asylum seekers or irregular migrants, find it both difficult and costly to bring spouses and children. Second, international migration from Africa in many cases is a collective decision in which family members contribute to the cost of those emigrating and come to an agreement regarding the care provisions for those staying put (Øien 2006), though several of my informants migrated against the wishes of their family in Nigeria.Yet, migrants also form new social ties throughout their migration project, which can diversify their transnational connections and mobilities. Research with African migrants has highlighted the importance of social connections that are formed during the journey (Schapendonk 2017; Kastner 2014). Female migrants migrating or being trafficked towards Europe via the desert and sea can be exposed to violence and rape. Kastner (2014) observed that Nigerian single women who migrate overland to reach Spain also form new pragmatic (intimate) relationships in the in-between spaces that connect the origin and destination countries. Kastner argues that the resulting pregnancies can protect the women from sexual and other harassment while on the road through Morocco and to some degree also from deportation on arrival in Spain. Nigerians who travelled to Europe ‘on foot’ therefore may have social ties in several places – in their country of origin, Nigeria, on the road in Africa and at their country of residence in Europe.At the beginning of my interview with Sonia, she started by identifying as “a single mother”. Sonia also stated that she had been “trying to bring [her] husband” to Spain, whom she left behind in Morocco seven years prior. She remained in touch with her husband via mobile phone, but her lack of a job made it impossible to apply for family reunification. Due to the economic crisis Sonia was also struggling to provide for her son who was born in Spain and her older children who stayed in Nigeria. The transnational connections of Sonia’s nuclear family thus spanned three countries. Not being able to send remittances to cover the basic needs of her family in Nigeria and the fact that she was unable to visit them caused Sonia great distress. Coe has pointed out how remittance sending is part of West African expectations regarding the roles of a ‘mother and international migrant’ (Coe 2014: 27).Things are not easy for me and my son. Even as I am sitting here now, to pay my house rent is very difficult for me. Imagine someone who don’t have work, how will he pay his rent or feed the children or buy the clothes? I used to work in a factory, but I lost my job and ayuda [social welfare] has finished. […] Now I can’t even send my mother money to chop [eat]. I didn’t even send money for Christmas. If you are in Europe and you cannot send money to your family and children, it is very bad […] As we are sitting here we just came out from the Caritas [Catholic charity] for help or food. They say there is nothing, nothing.Sonia, 43, f, Nigerian with Spanish permanent residence permit in MálagaDespite the considerable attention that irregular migration to Europe received in the 1990s, in general only a small proportion of Africans travelled to Europe over land and sea. In fact, the majority of African migrants entered Europe on a valid visa and then overstayed (Black et al. 2006). The same is true for the informants in my sample, given that only 12 individuals arrived in Europe via land and sea. Nevertheless, there is evidence that transit migration may have become more important for Nigerians during the so-called refugee ‘crisis’ in 2015 and 2016. Many Nigerians were residing in Northern Africa for several years as migrant workers and had to flee the violence in Libya and Tunisia after the Arab Spring (Crawley et al. 2016).Nigerians also started new intimate relationships after arriving in Europe. Many of these relationships were motivated by romantic feelings, but in other relationships more pragmatic considerations concerning legal status also played a role. Overall, in my sample 29 Nigerians were married to native-born EU citizens, many of whom were keen to emphasise that they married ‘for love’ and ‘not for papers’. Research about migrant integration in Europe has typically also analysed the inter-marriages of third-country nationals with local native-born residents, because these relationships are considered to be both a driver and indicator of successful integration.Furthermore, I would like to highlight other conjugal relationships – aside from those formed with native-born EU citizens. Nigerians who married EU citizens from other member state or third-country nationals oftentimes experienced ‘emplaced mobility’ (Brickell 2011: 26) through their spouses. In other words, the interviewees formed new translocal and transnational ties via their spouses – without necessarily leaving their place of residence. Especially, these new relationships with non-native partners transformed the transnational orientations, as well as the (return) mobilities of my informants.Here we hear again from Ayọ, who recounts her experiences of transnational ties and mobilities that span various countries. Ayọ has close family members in several European countries, her job for a German company requires her to travel extensively, and Ayọ frequently takes holidays abroad with her family. At the time of our interview Ayọ’s partner was on a return visit to Namibia with their toddlers:I travel for work and for vacation. Germany is close to everywhere. I have been around Europe quite a lot. I don’t want to brag … but I have been to Italy … to Spain, Prague … Turkey, Bulgaria, the Netherlands … and for work as well, I am actually going to Poland on Wednesday for work. Then next week I am working in Sweden. My partner is on vacation in Namibia with our children … he’s taking his paternity leave for 3 months with them. I can’t wait for them to be back. I keep saying: ‘Send me pictures on Whatsapp. I need to see the children, send me a picture!’Ayọ, 27, f, British-Nigerian in DüsseldorfAyọ’s story shows how conjugal relationships and onward migration can introduce new transnational connections and diversify return mobilities for migrants and their descendants. Moreover, for the second generation with parents who onward migrated, we can further nuance the concept of ‘return’ mobilities beyond ‘counter-diasporic’ moves to the ancestral homeland(s) (King et al. 2011) and introduce potential returns to previous countries of residence. To varying degrees, Ayọ’s children may engage and identify with the place they were born and grew up in (Germany), the ancestral homelands of their parents (Nigeria and Namibia) or their mother’s previous country of residence (the UK).5.4‘Returning’ to Visit Friends and Relatives in Europe and NigeriaDue to their migration trajectory, onward migrants have transnational ties in several places, and this also shapes their subsequent return mobilities – which are either directed at their previous place(s) of residence or the origin country. The transnational connections include family members, as well as acquaintances that migrants make along the way. Migrants work hard to maintain their transnational relations, by keeping in touch via phone, email, sending remittances and return visits (Tan and Yeoh 2011; Vertovec 2004). But Portes et al. (2017; 1999) have argued that migrants’ stories cannot always be seen as celebrations of ‘dual lives: speaking two languages, having homes in two countries, and making a living through continuous regular contact across borders’.Furthermore, transnational family ties and onward mobilities are shaped by gendered roles performed in the country of origin and destination countries. Some Nigerians onward migrated following the break-up from a partner, but others relocated and continued in a long-distance relationship where frequent shuttling between European countries enabled them to stay in touch. Out of the informants I spoke to, the formation of multi-local families within Europe was especially common amongst Nigerian men who previously resided in Germany and relocated to England. Many of my participants decided to onward migrate to the UK in order to further their education and careers, seeking out opportunities that were unavailable to them in Germany. A recent UN report urged Germany to address the “institutional racism and racist stereotyping” against people of African descent by the government and security forces (OHCHR 2017).Uchenna left Germany after he and his wife separated and he felt that he “had reached the highest level” at work. Throughout the nine years he was studying and working in London, Uchenna chose to rent shared accommodation strategically close to one of the London airports, which allowed quick door-to-door travel for his monthly return visits to see his daughter in Germany. Every morning Uchenna sent his daughter text messages (sms) from his mobile phone in which he emphasised the “importance of education”. During the interview he made a point of reading some recent text messages out loud:Hello my golden baby, good morning. Hope you slept well, and your tummy feels better. And do not forget to read. I love you, Papa.Good morning, the school week ends today, hope that you learn something new. I wish you a happy weekend and have fun. But remember to read your books and to help your mum. I love you, PapaGood morning, my golden one. One school week has already passed. I hope you have improved your knowledge. You take your schooling very seriously. I wish you a lovely and happy weekend. We will see each other on Tuesday. I love you, Papa.Uchenna, 44, m, German-Nigerian in LondonNine of the German-Nigerian men who onward migrated to the UK then ‘returned’ to Germany after a couple of years. These individuals often felt that their quality of life was better in Germany, seeing that living expenses were lower and working hours more regular. But they also came back to Germany, because their children were now teenagers and they felt it was important to be closer to them.The separation from friends and relatives can give rise to feelings of loss, sadness, isolation and failure. Existing friendships and family ties are nurtured, but migrants also form new connections during their migration project. Bryceson and Vuorela (2002: 19) propose that transnational families can be regarded as ‘imagined communities’ because they are highly relative and do not constitute fixed entities. In addition, migrants’ ways of “imagining a family” can include a range of relatives such as distant cousins or ‘godparents’ which may conflict with the nation states’ definition of legitimate immigrant families (Bryceson and Vuorela 2002: 10).The following participant, Vanessa, mentioned that her children were about to finish primary school and had never visited Nigeria. In fact, she said that her children “believe they are German” because of their German passports and strong ties to Germany. During the school holidays, they regularly visit Germans whom they consider family. They visit an older German couple whom her children refer to with the German words for grandmother and grandfather. Vanessa explains that they are not “my real father and mother, but I took them as my own”. They also regularly visit their children’s German godmother:Every holiday we still go [to Germany]. Their godmother is a German woman, you understand, and we still also go to see Oma. My two children is born there. They take that place as their home. Their passport is the same, we all still have German passport … they say let’s go and see Oma and Opa … […] On Mother’s Day I will send a card for Oma and on Father’s Day we will send one to Opa …Vanessa, 39, f, German-Nigerian in ManchesterA few other informants were able to visit Nigeria much more frequently, around a dozen Nigerians I spoke to ran trading businesses and during their business trips to Nigeria they often visited family. Frequent business trips, however, usually were a privilege of Nigerian men who operated import-export businesses through which they shipped cargo to Nigeria. I also met women who were suitcase traders; their frequent flyer status afforded them extra baggage allowances to bring perishable Nigerian foodstuff (for example leafy vegetables, fresh herbs, or snails) to Europe. This meant that most of my informants travelled to Nigeria less frequently, seeing that they needed to save up for the trip, as well as the gifts they were expected to bring for their relatives.The interview with Faith took place in her bedroom surrounded by suitcases that were stacked high under the ceiling and contained some of the items she was intending to take along with her on her imminent trip to Nigeria. Faith was happy she was traveling to Nigeria at the end of the year, now that she was pregnant with her first child:When your father see that you are close to 30 and you are not yet married, oh god … it is war on phone and if you come home, it is war: ‘What are you still waiting for?’ […] My dad’s grandchildren is close to 20 now, but he still want more. Half of my brother and sisters live outside Nigeria and half live there. Sometimes they all will bring their children and my dad will just sit in the middle. Then they will eat together, playing and beating him around. That is what is making him happy now, he is close to 80. We travel December time, because that is when the Binis are doing their Igue festival. Also, they are happy that their eyes is going to see the next year. They say: ‘Let me kill foal and goat … call all my children and grandchildren and pray together.’ We the Africans the most important time to travel to us is that December. That is New Year and Christmas celebrations with your family … And you also see friends, long-time friends that you didn’t see since before.Faith, 34, f, Italian-Nigerian in BerlinDecember was the most popular month for return visits to Nigeria because the dry season made the trips to the villages easier and countless diasporans coincided in Nigeria for various festivities. For Faith, returning to Nigeria therefore was not just a possibility to see her close family members who stayed behind. Return trips, especially at the end of the calendar year, were an opportunity to see friends and family who lived dispersed across many different countries.Only two individuals I interviewed had reached retirement age and they were uncertain whether they would return to Nigeria permanently. For the moment they envisaged spending their time between several locations and thus circulating as long as their health permitted. Although all of Rachael’s children lived in the UK, she had remained in Germany:This is my own assessment. So they all studied in the UK and are working there, although born here […] When they were younger we all went to Nigeria and I took up an appointment there, but then I came back to further my studies. The children were at home [in Nigeria]. We left them to finish school, although now they are all in the UK […] And my company is registered here as well as in the UK. I thought my daughter would continue it [the company], but she is not so interested. So I pay taxes here and there. It has its advantages; I can have some pension here and there.Rachael, 64, f, German-Nigerian in BerlinThe familial practices for elderly care are much less flexible and Nigerian parents still expect their first or last son or daughter to take care of them (Okoye 2012). The first-born child is raised receiving special attention, and in return is expected to take on the responsibility of caring for the parents in old age. But these perceptions about caregiving-roles in relation to the elderly in Nigeria have also been transformed through changing demands of the labour market, rural-urban migration and international migration.6ConclusionsThe main goal of this paper was to analyse the return mobility patterns amongst Nigerian migrants and their family practices. This research endeavours to provide a more nuanced understanding about ‘return’ mobilities and contributes new insights to the literatures on transnationalism, diaspora, ‘home’ and belonging. First, by analysing the migration histories of my informants, I showed that return mobility patterns are diverse, in terms of the motivations, patterns and also their geography. Although my informants expressed a strong connection with Nigeria, at the time of the interview only four were planning a permanent return to their origin country. Shorter return visits to Nigeria for the purpose of family celebrations or business trips were more common. Seeing that this study was concerned with a range of mobilities – including multi-directional trajectories that combined onward migrations and return migrations – it was possible to also examine return moves directed at other previous countries of residence.Second, it was evident that these multi-directional moves geographically re-configured migrants’ transnational families and their transnational repertoires. Individual household members often relocated in a temporally lagged fashion in order to accommodate the different needs and aspirations of household members. For onward migrants and their children ‘living apart together’ thus can occur at different stages and locations of the migration project. This paper also highlighted how immigration legislation and other factors can keep migrants separated for longer than planned. Furthermore, I discussed the emotional impact these separations can have on parents and their children, as well as on the relationships of transnational siblings who grow up in different countries and the strategies that they employ to maintain family ties.Third, a more critical and geographically broader assessment of transnational family practices allows us to acknowledge multi-sited transnational practices. In particular the 1.5 or second generation can have intentions to ‘return’ to their previous country of residence – a place where they spent the formative years of their lives and that they may be more familiar with than their parents’ ancestral ‘homeland’. More generally, this study showed that transnational connections therefore do not necessarily need to be characterised by diasporic ‘homeland orientation’ and strong engagement with other destination can be common (i.e. ‘inter-diasporic connections’). Furthermore, based on my findings I argue that strong transnational ties are not solely characterised by shared ethnicity.Finally, when considering ‘home’ and belonging, transnational identities are constantly evolving and cannot be presented as fixed. Bhabha (1994) argues that identities are ‘hybrid’ due to the particular set of social affinities of every individual and negotiated in a ‘third space’. I suggest, that for onward migrants and their descendants these understandings of identity undergo further re-negotiation and re-definition, allowing yet more pluralities of realities and identifications to emerge as their migration trajectory unfolds and they engage in multi-sited transnational practices.AcknowledgmentsI would like to express my gratitude to the guest editors of this special issue for their support during pandemic times and the three anonymous reviewers for their feedback. This research was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) under grant n° A1075642, the Research Council of Norway (Norges Forskningsråd) under grant n° 227295/F11 and a Marie-Curie ITN fellowship funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme under grant n° 316796. Finally, I would also like to thank my research participants who generously shared their stories with me.
African Diaspora – Brill
Published: Sep 2, 2022
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