65. As migration increases…

Author: Cecilia Lwiindi Nedziwe
2 December 2018
Sunday Independent
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International migration has increased by 49 per cent during the last two decades, from an estimated 173 million in 2000, and 258 million in 2017 and in less than two weeks in December, world leaders will adopt the United Nations (UN) Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

Migration issues have garnered increasing attention, particularly in relation to this phenomenon’s significant developmental and human rights dimensions.

In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from 2016, recognised the plight of migrants and their positive contributions to both their countries of origin and residence, as well as to the growth of the global economy. Migrants also enhance the efforts of cities to become vibrant economic and habitable centres.

Migrants not only contribute substantial growth and prosperity to their countries of origin, but are also doing so in their countries of destination in the form of tax contributions, housing, goods, and services. For example, the increasing remittance flows to developing countries is one of the most tangible contributions that migrants make to improving socio-economic development in their countries of origin. In 2017, remittance flows to low and middle-income countries were estimated at $466 billion: three times the size of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to these countries.

The significant benefits of migration go beyond economic development to include the social aspects that facilitate mutual global cooperation. For example, the expertise and skills of migrants and Diaspora communities constitute key drivers of development and social remittances such as informal interactions, sharing of ideas, and participation in various community services through societies and religious institutions.

The 2017 UN report on international migration noted that Africa experienced the largest relative increase of migration between 2000 and 2017. The dynamics of migration in Africa is, however, intra-regional, and only 20 per cent of migrants move to Europe. The top three migrant destination countries in Africa, as of 2013, included Côte d’Ivoire, estimated at 2.3 million; South Africa at 2 million; and Nigeria at 900,000. Recent emerging migration destination countries since 2016 have included Gabon, Algeria, and Morocco. North Africa has hosted about 50 per cent of African migrants attempting to reach Europe. Sudan has also hosted migrants from countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Chad, while Libya has hosted over 777,000 migrants.

Due to their proximity to Europe, as well as being the hub for migrants from surrounding sub-regions, North African countries have faced enormous protection challenges related to irregular migration to Europe. An estimated 630,000 migrants are recorded to have used the Central Mediterranean route – the major irregular route to Europe – between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, more than 181,000 migrants were estimated to have used the same route to Italy, with about 90 per cent departing from Libya, and the rest from Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The protection challenges and serious human rights violations along the migration corridors to Europe include deaths at sea; missing African migrants; physical and emotional abuse; human trafficking; forced labour; ransom demands and extortion; and sexual and gender-based violence. For example, close to 3,200 deaths or missing persons were recorded from attempts to cross the Mediterranean in 2017. The Lampedusa boat tragedy of October 2013, in which over 360 African migrants died (mostly from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ghana), further highlighted the challenges of migration and the gaps within European migration and asylum policies, while underscoring the need for effective dialogue and partnerships between Africa and the European Union (EU) in revising and implementing migration policies.

In principle, the European security approach to migration diverges widely with that of African governments, whose primary interests centre on crafting partnerships seeking to link migration to development goals. There is also a sense that EU migration policies are aiming for “quick fixes” such as proposals on migrant returns or on circular migration.

African and EU governments were the main players in the negotiations of the draft UN Global Compact, and managed to agree on several controversial issues despite their divergent views. Issues around the return of migrants to their home countries were the most contentious. Most African states insisted that returns be voluntary, as stipulated in the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, while EU negotiators pushed for forced returns to be included in the Compact. The compromise was to avoid use of the terms “voluntary” or “forced”, and to push instead for bilateral agreements to formalise returns between states.

African inter-governmental structures such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) adopted a Protocol on the Facilitation of the Movement of Persons in 2005. While this protocol is progressive – at least on paper – in seeking to facilitate migration, the inaction of governments and the actions of populations in some Southern African countries such as xenophobia and harsh visa requirements for potential migrants, have restricted the free movement of people in practice. The changing migration dynamics have been equally influenced by socio-economic differences within and between countries, as well as by internal protracted conflicts in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Political instability in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have also accounted for growing migration within Southern Africa, particularly to South Africa. Xenophobic attacks in South Africa against migrants and other foreigners resulted in 350 deaths between 2008 and 2015. South Africa’s lukewarm approach, including distancing itself from Africa’s Common position during the negotiation processes on the Global Compact, may signal implementation challenges on the continent.

While previous multiple global policy frameworks have yielded few benefits, the Global Compact – though not legally binding – provides a crucial opportunity to begin to shift practices and narratives towards positive developmental and human rights approaches to migration.

Cecilia Lwiindi Nedziwe is a Research Coordinator at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.