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Migrants' Myths and Imaginaries: Understanding Their Role in Migration Movements and Policies



As the myth of the Eldorado evokes, international migration is partly shaped by the perceptions and imaginaries of migrants themselves. Beyond such cliché, however, there is little knowledge regarding the nature and influence of myths and imaginaries on migration dynamics. As symbolic collective representations of individuals’ aspirations, hopes and dreams, myths and imaginaries constitute an important part of migrants’ experiences and have concrete implications for the study of migration. This policy brief examines how migrants’ myths and imaginaries influence the relationship between migration policies and migration movements. This policy brief focuses on four myths and imaginaries that, after close analysis, shed new light on the dynamic interactions between migration policies and migration patterns. We have identified four myths based on discussions held among researchers and practitioners during a one-day symposium that we organized at the University of Ottawa in May 2014: (1) the myth of the “migrant-as-hero”; (2) the myth of freedom of geographical mobility; (3) the myths and imaginaries related to (im)migration categories; and (4) the myths and imaginaries related to the country of destination as a country of human rights and better life. Based on a detailed analysis of these four myths, this policy brief reveals how myths and imaginaries intervene as an additional element in the relationships between migration policies and migrants’ projects and strategies, and thus serves to move beyond simplified “dual” interactions between policies and migratory movements. We advance three policy-relevant recommendations: (1) more research is required to document the existence of a diversity of myths and to improve understanding of multiple influences migrants’ myths and imaginaries have on the dynamics between migration policies and migrants’ projects; (2) because they have concrete implications at multiple levels, policy-makers should pay closer attention to migrants’ myths and imaginaries; and (3) policy-making should adopt a more sensible approach to the particular context in which myths and imaginaries are (re)produced.
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