Out of Africa: Why People Migrate
Author (s): Italian Institute for International Political Studies – Giovanni Carbone
Migration from Africa commonly evokes the picture of a continent fleeing from its evils towards the European Eldorado. Such alarmist representations of an African mass exodus, fuelled by the media and policymakers alike, are actually quite far from the real dynamics of African migration.
The EU and its member states have failed to look below the surface of migration flows as they have repeatedly preferred to turn a blind eye to their root causes. Against this backdrop, this ISPI Report investigates why some Africans decide to leave their countries and how they do it, also with a view to challenging stereotyped perceptions.
Contrary to popular belief, a higher level of development – rather than poverty – is a strong driver of African migration, especially over greater distances.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Why Africans Migrate Giovanni Carbone
The common understanding that international migrants essentially respond to global inequalities and geographical differences in wealth, freedom and wellbeing is a helpful but limited starting point, as it cannot explain, for example, “why do so few people migrate” – 244 million in 2015, or just about 3.3% of the world population – nor the reasons why this percentage stayed relatively unchanged for at least the past half-century (the figure was 2.4% in 1960 and 2.1% in 1980).
Ultimately, an individual chooses to migrate, and this may have to do more – or at least also – with his or her perceptions, aspirations and resources, with risk-sharing and diversification strategies within the family, or with the established mobility patterns of the cultural or regional community he or she belongs to.
Contrary to popular perceptions, it is not the poorest and the destitute that depart their home places to try and reach more advanced nations, since some basic financial resources and skills are necessary to afford long-distance mobility.
Does “Africa on the move” mean “Africans on the move”?
Ever since sub-Saharan countries gained independence back in the 1960s, the region has consistently remained the poorest in the world bar Southern Asia.
With extraordinarily high population growth rates, the number of Africans south of the Sahara doubled from 493 million in 1990 to almost 1 billion in 2015, or a 96% increase (by way of comparison, Asians grew by “only” 37% over the same period).
The region is expected to double yet again by 2050 (reaching 2.2 billion people) and then by 2100 (4 billion), driving the world’s population dynamics and approaching the size of Asia.
In Africa, the pace of economic growth was good, but was its distribution? While social indicators did show improvements virtually across the board, including a slow decline of poverty levels (see below), there appeared to be little progress by way of expanding employment opportunities.
Africa was the only developing region to fail the target of halving extreme poverty set by the Millennium Development Goals. Contrary to the “lost decade”, the past twenty years were not wasted. Poverty south of the Sahara did decline from a peak of 57% in 1999 to 41% in 2013, and possibly even more than that. But, as mentioned, the fall was not as fast as it was hoped. Moreover, due to population increases, the actual number of poor went up by about 100 million: from 288 million in 1990 to 389 million in 2012, with rural and chronic poverty remaining particularly pervasive.
The demystification of outsiders’ perspectives on Africa is key to lessening the fear that grips part of the public in EU countries, and to expanding the room for manoeuvre for policy-makers in addressing issues such as migration. Because Africa is a diverse and fast-evolving region, and migration – including African migration – is a fact of life that is here to stay.
Demystifying African Migration: Trends, Destinations and Returns Marie-Laurence Flahaux
The phenomenon of African migrants travelling by sea despite the risks is not new but fuels the idea of an “exodus” from Africa and an “African invasion” in Europe.
Empirical evidence from research on African migration
Contradicting common ideas, empirical analyses using data on migration stocks reveal that there has not been an increase in African migration in recent decades.
It indicates that emigration from the African continent has not increased, but instead slightly decreased between 1990 and 2015, albeit the downward trend was marginally reversed after 2005 (after 2010 for sub-Saharan Africa). Less than 3% of the African population live in a country other than its country of origin. This is even less than the average worldwide, as about 3.3% of the world population is a migrant.
But it can still be acknowledged that the majority of African migrants do not live outside Africa.
Is poverty the main driver of African migration?
Migration from poorer countries or regions is primarily directed towards other African countries, while more “developed” regions like North Africa have a higher level of extra-continental migration. This result suggests that populations of the least developed countries are less able to move, and tend to migrate over shorter distances when they do. Conversely, people living in richer countries have access to better infrastructures and transportation, which facilitates migration and enables movements of populations over greater distances.
An individual from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a superior educational level (i.e. someone who studied after secondary school) is ten times more likely to leave the country compared to a Congolese who has not studied beyond primary school. In the case of Senegal, we observe the same trend: a more educated individual is six times more likely to leave Senegal compared to someone who has never been to school or has a primary educational level.
These findings confirm that people only migrate when they have the financial and human resources to do so, in particular for long-distance migration. Migrating requires resources. It explains why poor people are less likely to migrate, and not more likely to do so.
However, implementing new measures in order to fight irregular migration is very likely to fail because it is the border controls that actually force migrants to take more risks and more dangerous routes to reach Europe, and to depend on smugglers to cross borders. In sum, smuggling is actually a reaction to border controls rather than a cause of migration.
Policy-makers often believe that African migrants travel one way to destination countries in Europe and never return home. However, the analyses reveal that at the time of their arrival in Europe half of Senegalese and Congolese migrants intend to return to their country of origin, and that actual returns to Africa are not insignificant.
Do African migrants return to their origin country?
Secondly, it has been highlighted that documented migrants – and those who live in good conditions – in destination countries are much more likely to return. This suggests that a better integration of migrants in Europe would lead to more returns, since being better integrated allows for a better preparation for the return.
It has shown that African migration is not increasing and mainly directed to the North, as most of African migrants migrate within Africa. Emigration from the poorest regions, in particular, is predominantly directed towards destinations within the African continent, even though emigration out of Africa is higher from the North African region, where countries have relatively higher levels of human and economic development.
Following an analysis of the extent and destinations of African migration, and of the role of “development” and poverty in migration processes, the chapter demonstrated that smuggling is not the cause of migration from Africa to Europe, but that it is the consequence of more restrictive migration policies.
Climate Change and Migration: Insights from the Sahel: Sara Vigil
The climate change-migration nexus
African populations are some of the most mobile in the world and also some of the most affected by both climate change and other environmental stressors. However, while there is agreement that climate change can influence population movements, the linkages between migration and climate change are polymorph with causal attribution being difficult to establish.
Due to high climate variability, chronic levels of poverty, conflict, and a very fast-growing population rate, the Sahel region has been dubbed “ground zero” for climate change.
Cumulated vulnerabilities in the Sahel
The Sahel extends through the southern edge of the Sahara desert including countries, or parts of countries, as diverse as: Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, central Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the northern edge of Ethiopia. The Sahel presents the multiplicity and complexity of links between climate change and migration due to a high geographical exposure to calamitous events, and wide-ranging vulnerabilities that stem from high levels of poverty, weak governance, limited infrastructure, political instability, conflict, and a high level of natural-resource-dependent populations.
At the same time, the region represents one of the fastest-growing populations in the world with an increase of up to 120% in the last 30 years. Out of the 150 million people living in the region, approximately 30 million are suffering from severe food insecurity.
The supplementary stress that climate change brings thus amplifies an already difficult reality, upon which the distribution of and access to resources as diverse as water, land, infrastructure, capital, rule of law, kinship networks, education, aid, and mobility play decisive roles.
Migration, environment, and climate change in the Sahel
Human migration, whatever its motivations, has always been a hallmark of Sahelian populations. Amongst the many interlinked and complex drivers of migration, environmental changes in the region have historically led to a variety of migration strategies to adapt to rainfalls seasonality and the effects of periodic droughts.
At the sub-regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment signed in 1979 and revised in 1986, recognises the long tradition of cross-border migration for pastoralists and their cattle. The ECOWAS free movement agreements have diminished the threats for migrants within the region who may otherwise be forced to rely on smugglers and dangerous routes (as compared to the Horn of Africa, for example).
Whilst environmental degradation and the effects of climate change have become increasingly important, artificially isolating the environmental variable from all the other intervening factors that can lead to displacement, is to risk separating “natural” hazards from the social frameworks that influence how such threats affect people.
Moreover, rather than as a problem to be avoided, migration should be promoted as an essential strategy of adaptation to climate change if safe and regular channels are in place.
The Hidden Side of the Story: Intra-African Migration Blessing U. Mberu and Estelle M. Sidze
The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 20001 . In 2015, of the 244 million international migrants worldwide, 32.6 million or 13.4%, were born in Africa.
So, why do most African emigrants – notably, those from the sub-Saharan region – remain in Africa? In answering this question, within the broader objective of a comprehensive understanding of the major drivers of Africa’s migration processes, as well as of key and prevailing trends, this chapter looks at the forms, rationales and drivers of intra-African migrations and emigration towards Middle East and North African (MENA) countries.
Volumes and trends of intra-African migration
Africa’s migration system has been characterised as dynamic and extremely complex, with multifaceted interactions and interconnections. However, in terms of volumes and destinations, it shows no significant exceptionalism relative to the rest of the world. Rather, it is consistent with migration and urbanisation as major global demographic features of the XXI century4 . Table 1 shows the relatively small size of Africa’s international migration stock vis- à-vis the major areas of the world, as well as the relatively unexceptional levels of change on the continent over the last 15 years.
What is evident is that Africa is not among the areas where most migrants live outside their region of birth. In fact, Asia is the area with the largest number of persons living outside their birthplace region.
Migration trends to MENA countries
About 34.5 million international migrants, including registered refugees, were living in Middle East and North Africa countries – the so-called MENA region – in 2015, the top destination countries being Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon.
Asia was considered far more beneficial for business since Asian workers were perceived to be more productive, better disciplined, tendered lower bids for construction projects, and, more critically, less prone to citizenship and political claims.
For sub-Saharan African countries, their specific migration to Middle East countries is relatively recent and, as indicated above, information on migrants is scarce.
Available online information indicates that international migration from Nigeria to Kuwait is through a sponsorship system, and Nigerians in the kingdom are mostly fully-employed and highly-qualified professionals held in high repute, working as doctors in their hospitals and professors in their universities, together with students offered scholarships by the Kuwaiti government. However, beyond Nigerian experts in Kuwait, anecdotal evidence also suggests the presence of mobility related to human trafficking.
Forced migration: refugees, IDPs, asylum seekers and trafficked persons
In relation to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), asylum-seekers and trafficked persons moving within and out of the region, the UNHCR reported that out of the 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 22.5 million were refugees in 2016. About 10.3 million people were newly displaced by conflict or persecution, which comprises 6.9 million individuals displaced within the borders of their own countries and 3.4 million who were new refugees and new asylum-seekers.
Human trafficking has been acknowledged as the emerging dark side of migration in Africa. Adepoju identified trafficking in children, mainly for farm labour and domestic work mostly within and across African countries and trafficking in women and young persons for sexual exploitation, mainly outside the region and particularly in the EU, Lebanon and the Gulf States, as two of the three main types of trafficking in the region.
Children are recruited through networks of agents and parents are forced by poverty and ignorance to enlist their children to work as domestic servants in the informal sector or on plantations, hoping to benefit from their wages.
Drivers of intra-African, SSA migration to MENA and forced migration in the region
By the mid-1970s, Nigeria had become a country of immigration as the oil-led expansion of road and building construction, infrastructure, education and allied sectors attracted workers, both skilled and unskilled, from Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad and numbered about 2.5 million by 1982. The relatively small geographic size of the countries, the similarities of ethnic groups across borders and visa-free movements between the Economic Community of West African States are also some of the reasons why intra-regional movements in western Africa tend to be of higher intensity compared to other African regions.
Despite the fact that thousands of Africans voluntarily migrate to work or re-settle in other African countries, choosing therefore to remain on the continent, movements from country to country are also often steps in a series of journeys towards countries outside the continent.
The stepwise migration of refugees and asylum seekers is a phenomenon confirmed by the latest UNHCR report to be on the rise, for example, of refugee and migrant flows through Libya
What is also important to highlight is evidence that countries of origin and profiles of refugees and migrants have also evolved, with many of those on the move being young men, particularly from West Africa. The consequence of these evolving dynamics is the increasing vulnerability of these refugees and migrants, exacerbated by a decrease in support services and deteriorating security situations
Our analysis of contemporary data on migration volumes within and from Africa, confirm that contrary to the common characterisation in the media of a mass exodus of African migrants to Europe, most African migrants remain on the continent. Two thirds of sub-Saharan migrants, in particular, move from one nation to another within the region Intra-regional migration is thus significantly higher than extra-continental migration and is particularly intense within the western and southern African regions. In addition, extra-continental migration from Africa remains low compared to the volumes of international migra- tions from other regions.
Finally, recent analyses tend to suggest that intra-African migration will be affected by visa restrictions adopted by many African countries and therefore lessen in intensity in the coming years. It was estimated in 2013 that about 78% of Africans needed a visa to enter another African country.
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