Author: Africa-Europe Foundation Debate
Site of publication: Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: January 27th, 2022
African Migrations: back to facts
There is no “recent critical hike” in migration numbers: the number of migrants has risen constantly in the last decades: in 2020, there are 127.6 million more people living outside their home country than in 1990. But migrants as a share of the global population increased only marginally: from 2.9% of the global population in 1990 to 3.6% in 2020. Only 3.0% of the African population are living outside their home country in 2020 compared to 8.5% of the European population.
African migrants are not “overwhelming” Europe. In 2020, the total number of African migrants is 40.6 million. This is only 14.5% of the global migrant population, much less than Asia’s (41.0%) and Europe’s (22.5%) shares. Less than one-third (27.2%) of all African migrants live in Europe.
Africa is not “a continent of massive exodus”: in 2020, more than half of African migrants (51.6%) live within the continent.
Migrants have a positive impact on the economy of the hosting country: Migrants spend approximately 85% of their incomes in the hosting country
African migrations towards Europe are mainly economic migrations. They are mostly young people, educated, looking for jobs. Almost half of them are women. Only 7.2% of African migrants in EU countries are refugees.
Although regular channels to migrate to Europe remain limited, which causes many migrants to engage in unsafe travel across the Mediterranean, most migrants are still coming on regular routes.
Migrants are not “a burden on local services”. In many countries, migrants constitute a key solution to labour shortages. By 2055, Europe will have the world’s largest and Africa the world’s smallest dependency ratio. While in Europe there will be 78.2 dependent people per 100 working-age people, the ratio will be 58.9 in Africa.
In many European countries, African migrants constitute a large part of the health care workforce. Africa’s brain-drain in the health sector has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis with for example France or Germany issuing specific calls for foreign medical professionals.
Migrants have a positive impact on the economy of the hosting country: Migrants spend approximately 85% of their incomes in the hosting country.
Public opinion and approaches towards migration diverge between Europe and Africa: Eight of the ten least accepting countries in Gallup’s 2019 Migration Acceptance Index are in Europe.
The key challenge: the lack of relevant job prospects for Africa’s fast-growing youth
A massive youth bulge mostly devoid of prospects: Africa’s economic growth runs behind its demographic growth and the match between education and the skills needed by businesses is worse in Africa than in other world regions.
African youth consider unemployment by far the most important problem that their governments need to address. For example, in South Africa, the second largest GDP on the continent, 59.6% of young people are jobless.
The relevant strategy: organise mobility to dry out irregular migrations
Debates about “migration” should rather be about “mobility”. Given the current demographic and economic imbalances, just aiming at preventing migrations can only foster more irregular and dangerous parallel routes.
There is still a lot to be done to facilitate and better organise mobility within the continent. The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021 is a key step forward, but it must be accompanied by progress in other African initiatives such as the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.
ECOWAS is currently the only REC whose citizens can travel visa-free to all countries in the region, and Africa’s intercontinental transport network is still very insufficient.
Given the current demographic and economic imbalances, just aiming at preventing migrations can only foster more irregular and dangerous parallel routes
Concerning educational and professional mobility, in 2019, only around 18% of sub-Saharan African students leaving to study abroad chose an African destination.
The COVID-19 impact has enlarged and bolstered the use of digital connectivity. However, in Africa, although huge progress has been made, the digital divide remains a challenge. Both in terms of physical access to ICTs and in the resources and skills needed to use the technology effectively.
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