The high cost of irregular migration between Ethiopia and South Africa is prohibitive for many low-income but aspiring migrants. The complex infrastructures of brokers, social networks, border controls and state processes that aspiring Ethiopian migrants must navigate to reach South Africa is resourced by an equally complex set of financial transactions. This paper describes a number of key tactics involved in the financing of irregular migration from Ethiopia to South Africa, as revealed in interviews conducted with 40 migrants.
The benevolence available in a sharing economy is the source of survival for many migrants. At the same time, financial dependency can hamper migrant agency en route and in the host country. A particular focus of this paper is the tactic of sponsorship that derives from the host country. A culture of reciprocity frames the repayment of debt, which may be extracted through sweat equity. The nature of relations exists along a spectrum of benevolence and exploitation. Structural, social and personal factors conspire to raise the risk of exploitation of newcomers who are bound by migration debt. One tactic within the realm of sponsorship from the host country is marriage migration. This offers a case of complex connections between migration financing and personal and community relations. It offers an extreme example of how migration facilitation through social networks, even in the most intimate of connections, cannot be assumed to be non- economic.
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