Affiliated Organization : Migration and Development Civil Society network (MADE)
Type of publication : Report
Date of publication : 2020
It is too early to assess the long-term effects of COVID-19, but it has already disproportionately affected migrants and impacted each of our three key areas. Specifically, the immobility of migrants and trade, loss of jobs, and changing availability of legal migration channels have caused remittances to decrease. COVID-19 has repercussions on movements of diasporas/migrants, prevented or suppressed migration, increased human trafficking, and has caused migrants to be stranded in different parts of the world.
Importantly, COVID-19 has also reinforced that countries and economies depend on migration. The positive contributions of migrants as essential and indispensable workers in health, agriculture and other sectors of the economy have become apparent. It has also shown the value in the ability to return or move to safe locations and family reunification. Indeed human mobility must be at the forefront of COVID-19 recovery efforts, guided by well-governed migration.
Migration and free movement within the region have directly contributed to the development of West African countries, for example, through remittance contributions that range between 5-26% of national GDPs in West Africa. Remittances and diaspora engagement (e.g. skills sharing, expertise) also support families, businesses, and more to facilitate access to services including agriculture, education, health, housing and business development.
Importantly, COVID-19 has also reinforced that countries and economies depend on migration. The positive contributions of migrants as essential and indispensable workers in health, agriculture and other sectors of the economy have become apparent. It has also shown the value in the ability to return or move to safe locations and family reunification
Although all populations in West Africa have been affected by the pandemic, migrants are disproportionately affected by the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. For instance, the IOM reports that migration flows in West and Central Africa were nearly halved between January and April, 2020, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded and requiring assistance with shelter, health care, and food.
Some of the containment measures such as lockdowns, transport and trade restrictions, and market closures are difficult to implement in West Africa, where the majority of households will not be able to survive without some form of daily trade, thus putting their very survival at risk.
The impact that migrant workers face from COVID-19 depends significantly on their country of origin or transit and their type of work. Now, as always, migrants around the world are essential workers in agriculture, health care, sanitation and janitorial services, and more, but others are now unemployed. As social protections for migrant workers have been inadequate or non-existent, COVID-19 highlights the gaps and importance of protecting migrant workers now more than ever.
Remittances are essential for countries in West Africa, and the ongoing global economic crisis limits the ability of diaspora to send money home. The World Bank projects that remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa will fall by 23.1% from $48 billion in 2019 to $37 billion in 2020.
COVID-19 Policy Recommendations
Ensure that governments and international agencies fully include migrants and migration issues in COVID-19 response and recovery plans.
Support and equip nation states and local areas in building their capacity and financial resources to provide health, social, and financial services to their citizens and migrants.
Grant protections to migrants regardless of status as a prioritization of public health and recognition of human rights. Create inclusive social and health policies also targeting migrants, especially in the informal economy.
Increased legal migration pathways, including bilateral and multilateral cooperation and funding for repatriation and reintegration of migrants stuck outside their country of origin.
Ensure short term benefits be made accessible to all migrant workers (e.g. health care) amid and after COVID-19.
Create an initiative to analyse the impact of COVID-19 and explore strategies to adapt the recommendations from the MADE West Africa programme in that context.
Funding and support for more effective use of multi-stakeholder approaches in national and local level policy formulation and implementation, moving beyond the usual stakeholder consultations.
The need to include a variety of actors, each with their own activities and agendas has long been recognized, especially in contexts where States and public authorities have limited administrative capacity either in specific sectors (e.g. economic and monetary policy, security) or in remote areas. Specifically, structured and strategic approaches to migration and development platforms with multi-level and multi-stakeholder dialogue, combining both horizontal (among Ministries) and vertical (from local to regional levels) scopes are essential.
Recommendations : Provide technical assistance and capacity-building support to successfully build multi-stakeholder approaches in development initiatives. Build collaboration between actors with different agendas and backgrounds for a holistic understanding of social issues and solutions to complex problems. Decentralise interventions by supporting local and grassroots approaches. Empower and further relationships with local and grassroots organisations that stepped in during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employ bottom-up approaches to decision making, prioritising input from those closest to the issue.
Maximizing the Potential of the WA Region for Development
The importance of migration for West African development is shown by remittance flows into the region. Migrant remittances have become an important and highly stable source of external funds for the economy and many rural and urban households in West Africa. Moreover, protecting migrant workers has positive impacts for development as justly treated and paid migrants are more consistently able to contribute to their families, communities in their country of origin, and communities abroad. However, merely viewing migrant workers as a solution to development is one of the contributing factors to their abuse and exploitation.
The African Union has developed a number of policies and programmes which seek to support effective implementation of intra-regional migration policies on the African continent as has ECOWAS at the regional level.
Moreover, protecting migrant workers has positive impacts for development as justly treated and paid migrants are more consistently able to contribute to their families, communities in their country of origin, and communities abroad
Recommendations : Promote good governance and the protection of West African migrant workers’ rights as a human rights issue in addition to its development potential. Create programmes and projects to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area to boost economic development of the West African sub-region. Stimulate intra-regional trade by leveraging the production and movement of essential products for COVID-19 responses. Publish and share information campaigns in the main languages spoken by communities and migrants.
Data, Research, and Data Sharing
Reliable data on development, diaspora, migrants, migration, and remittances are crucial for assessing current and future trends, identifying policy priorities, and making informed decisions.
Still, data and knowledge on the scale and characteristics of migration remains limited in West Africa. Population censuses and surveys conducted by the Statistical Offices of several West African countries and other academic and research institutions often do not contain adequate data on international and migration flows, migrant profiles, formal and informal labour migration, recruitment strategies, remittances, irregular migration, and displacement.
To address this problem, the ECOWAS Commission has adopted a trans-national holistic approach and is in the process of setting up a regional data sharing mechanism for migration and irregular migration and border management. ECOWAS is also promoting the coordination of data harmonization and quality in collection, comparability, data sharing and dissemination across the region through the development of a regional migration information system to provide an evidence base to inform policy.
Recommendations : Develop a regional migration information system to provide an evidence base to inform policy. Improving data on remittances from intra-regional migrants in West Africa for planning purposes, and as evidence of the positive contribution that intra-regional migration has on improving household welfare and the regional economy. Promote research and data collection on underrepresented migrant groups and networks, such as smuggling and trafficking networks that often operate fluidly underground.
Women and Youth
COVID-19 increases risks to migrant women and children. Nevertheless, migration in the region has become increasingly feminised, with female migrants constituting 46.7% of migrants in West Africa in 2017. Trade and the food sector/value chain are dominated by women, so the market restrictions from COVID-19 and border closures are likely to impact women disproportionately.
Develop gender and age sensitive perspectives of migration to ensure opportunities or interventions do not increase vulnerabilities, and/or perpetuate gender inequalities
The next generation needs to be understood and provided with relatable structured pathways to engage, as they tend to be better educated than their parents and have greater surplus income, but have less of a connection with their country of origin even if they have an understanding of heritage, motivation, and intentions to remit.
Recommendations : Develop gender and age sensitive perspectives of migration to ensure opportunities or interventions do not increase vulnerabilities, and/or perpetuate gender inequalities. Engage women and youth, including second generation migrants, as valuable sources of expertise in planned interventions. Ensure specific funding is made accessible to diaspora organisations for further research of other second-generation African diasporas to reveal data on trends, challenges, and opportunities to contribute to socio-economic development.
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