African migration: no crisis, but regional integration needed

Marrakech, 9 December 2018 (ECA) – Is the world witnessing an African migration crisis? Recent facts contradict many widespread perceptions shaped by recent media coverage. Both countries of origin and countries of destination of migrants could benefit from an improved, fact-based management of migration, according to a group of African and international leaders who took part in a meeting on “Synergies between the High-Level Panel on Migration (HLPM) and the Global Compact on Migration” under the leadership of HLPM Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in Marrakech on 8 December.

In the last few years, international attention has been focused on illegal African migrants attempting to reach Europe. However, actual figures show that the majority of Africans who leave their countries stay within the continent. As for widespread fears of the negative impact of migration on local populations, they are being contradicted by countries’ experiences on the ground and recent studies.

 Our experience shows that the benefits of opening borders outweigh negative security implications and that countries that have actually implemented the free movement of people are neither in crisis nor have face great security threats as a result”, said Gatarayiha François Régis, Director General for Immigration and Emigration of Rwanda, whose country started providing visas on arrival to all Africans as early as 2013, entered an agreement with Kenya and Uganda allowing citizens of all three States to travel freely without visas in 2014, and extended visas upon arrival to all citizens of the world July 2018.  

Most benefits of migration accrue to destination countries, primarily through the increase of the labour force, higher economic output and higher productivity in the host countries”, said Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, Regional Director for Africa at the International Labour Organisation.

According to recent studies by ILO and OECD, migration is estimated to generate a net productivity increase of 3 trillion US dollars worldwide, with migrants having a positive impact on economic growth. “Overall migration is unlikely to depress GDP per capita”, said Samuel-Olonjuwon, “On the contrary, in some countries like Côte d’Ivoire, the estimated contribution of immigrants to GDP represents up to 19%. Immigrants may also generate additional employment opportunities for native born workers and improved wages”, she added, explaining that in South Africa for example, immigration has been correlated with positive impacts on native born employment rates and monthly wages as well as a decrease in unemployment rates. The same research shows that immigrants have had positive net impacts on governments’ fiscal balances in countries like Ghana and South Africa.

HLPM figures contradict another dimension of current perceptions of African migration. Although African population doubled between 1990 and 2017 the global number of migrants increased by 80%, the region’s migration rate went down from 3.2% to 2.9%.

The reality of global demographics is however expected to increase African migration in the near future: The world population is ageing, however Africa’s working-age population (15 - 64 years) has grown more than four times between 1960 and 2010, and is expected to increase further in the next 40 years. “In the coming years, almost two thirds of the world’s youths will be in Africa. Whether we want it or not, the future of world labour supply lies in Africa, and hence workers will be required to move to where opportunities exist, especially since job creation in Africa is not growing at the pace of demand” said ECA Chief of Population and Youth, William Muhwava. Human movement is inevitable, and excessive border restrictions can drive migration underground instead of making it disappear, hence the need for countries to provide options for systematic and sustainable, regular migration, he explained.

“The more regular and legal pathways that are available for migrants, the less they will be enticed to pursue illegal immigration. We must also ensure that prospective immigrants are aware of the legal pathways that are available to them”, explained Canadian Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen.

In order to optimize the benefits of migration, efforts must be made to ensure new comers are fully integrated into destination countries. Upstream however, participants also agreed on the need to ensure that migration remains a choice rather than necessity for Africans. “People should not be forced to migrate because of adverse economic, social or political conditions”, said Norway’s former Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek in a statement read on his behalf by Stein Erik Horjen, senior advisor at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

Significant efforts will therefore be needed to promote youth employment across the region. “Development oriented solutions are key to addressing the structural drivers of migration”, said HLPM Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “Africa’s momentum in transformational change for a peaceful, integrated and prosperous continent impacts the path of democratic governance, protection of rights and fundamental freedoms and respect for the rule of law. This has been enhancing popular participation in a political process which helps to reduce instability, a major driver of irregular migration”.

As for migration, in a regional context still marked by the high number of barriers to migration - Africans still need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries - participants agreed on the need to tackle barriers to migration within the region before approaching the rest of the world with similar demands: “I need to flag upfront that nothing is being invented in the Global Compact for Migration (GCM). It is grounded in existing international norms and resonates with existing frameworks on international migration such as those adopted and being implemented by the African Union”, said Sekai Irene Nzenza, Zimbabwe Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. “82% of African migration takes place within the region. There are therefore compelling reasons for us to implement the GCM in Africa with respect to our labour markets, our communities as well as our borders. It makes sense for such facilitations to start within Africa before calling upon others outside our continent to do the same to our people. Charity begins at home”, she added, while acknowledging the need to strike a balance between security considerations and the need for balanced movement of persons.

It’s only then that Africa can credibly ask other regions to open their borders to Africans. As long as borders remain closed with Africa, integrating Africa in the global context will remain difficult, said Yaya Sangare, Minister for Malians Abroad and African Integration.

The meeting on “Synergies between the High-Level Panel on Migration and the Global Compact on Migration” was jointly held by the High-Level Panel on Migration in Africa (HLPM), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union Commission (AUC), in the run up to the Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for Migration for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) in Marrakech, Morocco (10-11 December 2018).


Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826