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Migration can be a catalyst for economic growth

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Migration can be a catalyst for economic growth

— Ashraf El Nour
Zipporah Musau
From Africa Renewal: 
Ashraf El Nour
Ashraf El Nour, Director, IOM New York
Migration is at the heart of every discussion on sustainable development in Africa today. Experts paint a more complex picture than the too-common images of young African migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Who in Africa is migrating, how and where to? Africa Renewal’s Zipporah Musau sat down with Ashraf El Nour, the Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the UN in New York to find out more. Here are some excerpts:

Africa Renewal: Give us a brief overview of migration in Africa currently. Who is migrating and where to?

Mr. El Nour: Overall, migration in Africa is dominated by Africans moving within Africa. They move mostly to neighbouring countries, or within the same region. Africa’s share of global migration, which overall stands at 258 million, are 36 million people of which 19 million move within the continent and 17 million move outside Africa.

What does that mean?

It means African migration is predominantly pan-African, with about 53% of total movements originating from Africa and staying within the continent. That shows that African countries can simultaneously be source, transit and destination countries. Africa has one of the busiest movement corridors, the fifth largest in the world. There are migratory movements that have been well-established for many years and connect migrants with destination countries because of historical, linguistic, religious or cultural ties. An example is francophone Africa and France. Migration out of the North of Africa started post–World War II, when people were invited as guest workers to help with the postwar rehabilitation and reconstruction. Over time Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and others established a presence in Europe, mainly in France and Belgium.

Some migrants from countries in East Africa such as Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia move to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. And South Africa is a magnet for migrants from surrounding countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe who go there to work in mines.

What are the major migratory routes?

Most of the contemporary movement in Africa is structured around three or four migratory routes. First, we have the Horn of Africa migratory route, which is the most dominant in the East African region. It starts from the Horn—Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea—then goes through Sudan into Libya and then across the Mediterranean to Italy or Malta. Source countries in the Horn of Africa are either in protracted conflict situations, like Somalia, or demographically have a larger number of young people, like Ethiopia.

The second is the West Africa route, starting from countries such as Nigeria, the Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, then going through Niger to Algeria, then predominantly to Libya. Agadir is the main connection point from where they move to Libya.

The third route is from East Africa to South Africa through Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, with South Africa being the magnet.

The fourth is the Gulf of Aden route. Here we have people coming from mainly Somalia and Ethiopia, going to Djibouti (which is at the tip of the Horn of Africa) as a transit point to Yemen.

Who in Africa is migrating most?

These routes are populated by young people. About 60% of people in irregular migration are young people, many of them under 20 years and some unaccompanied. The rest fall into the 25 to 35 age bracket.

Are there more men or women moving?

Of the 258 million migrants globally, about 48% are female. Within Africa the percentage tends to drop a little bit, but we could safely say 45% of all African migrants are female.  We are, however, seeing an increasing “feminization” of the process because some women are participating as breadwinners, seeking employment in new places. It is no longer like before, where men would leave home and women would stay behind.

We have seen images of migrants in the Sahara Desert…

These are mostly nonorganized movements facilitated by smugglers and human traffickers. They don’t go through internationally recognized borders. It’s a big business targeting young people who cannot easily get passports, visas or tickets, and the only other option is to look for recruiters who promise them a job and organize the smuggling from one country to another, from one group of smugglers to another. In the process the migrants are put at risk and some of them are even kidnapped for ransom.

What are the numbers of those missing?

The human cost during these movements is becoming unbearable. If we look at the figures since the beginning of this millennium, more than 60,000 people globally have lost their lives while migrating.

What main challenges do migrants face?

One is the “commodification” of migrants. Migrants becoming a commodity in the hands of smugglers and human traffickers as they pay for the journey. Human trafficking and smuggling is becoming a big business in Africa, and law enforcement cannot cope because it is lucrative and there are more people getting into this field.

Again, with many women and girls on the move now, gender-based violence (GBV) is becoming rampant, something that certainly worries us. We are also seeing situations where migrants have their body organs harvested. In short, there’s loss of dignity, lack of migrants’ rights and there is a protection deficit. Beyond that, we are worried that the public denouncement of migration drives a narrative that is very toxic—there’s xenophobia, stigmatization of migrants and a decline in the public’s trust in their government’s ability to manage migration.

Because governments in many countries are not engaged in the way they should be, organized crime is coming into the mix also. There is money to be made from the smuggling and trafficking of humans. Governments are being urged to do more.

What economic gains do they bring to host countries?

Migration has always been historically positive and plays a constructive role as a catalyst of economic growth, a driver of population dynamics around the world and a blender enriching world culture and human heritage and civilizations. Migrant workers across all skill ranges fill labour market gaps, promote trade and investment and bring innovation, skills and knowledge to both host and origin countries. If you look at the recent report by the McKenzie Institute [International], migrants contributed roughly $6.7 trillion to the global GDP output in 2015, which is $3 trillion higher than they would have produced had they stayed home. The other benefit is the remittances. In 2017 the World Bank estimated that remittances by migrants globally stood at $596 billion, of which $466 billion went to developing countries, including Africa. Remittances to sub-Saharan Africa accelerated 11.4 % to $38 billion in 2017.

Migrants also contribute to the transfer of knowledge and the enriching of civilization. If you look at a place like New York, which has been built on the backs and brains of migrants, you will see the positive contributions migrants have made to this diverse and global city – from people to food to culture, art and economic output.

Tell us about non-Africans moving into Africa.

IOM estimates that 2.3 million non-African migrants have established themselves in Africa. The majority of them are of Asian and European descent. Some of the Europeans migrated after World War II and settled in Africa—South Africa is a good example. There is also a large number of Asians, predominantly Indians, brought in during the colonial time to construct railways. Most recently we have the Chinese. The China model of investment brings not only the money but also people to do the job.

What can Africa gain from the Global Compact for Migration?

First, Africa can really pride itself on the fact that the first ever globally negotiated migration document was adopted on African soil, thanks to the Moroccan government’s generosity to host the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Marrakech on 10 and 11 December 2018.

Throughout the negotiation phase of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), African Member States engaged actively in the process and developed a common African position on the GCM, with an emphasis on respect and dignity of migrants and respect of sovereignty of countries to manage their own borders and determine who comes in. The GCM offers a comprehensive framework to address migration in all its facets.     

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