Photo: Ashraf El Nour, Director of IOM Office to UN New York addressing the UN Security Council Meeting on the "Maintenance of international peace and security: Trafficking of persons in conflict situations" on 21 November 2017. - Photo: 2018

Migration Is a Great Opportunity to Africa and Host Countries

By Caroline Mwanga

NEW YORK (IDN) – Contrary to the widespread view coloured by the too-common images of young African migrants crossing the Mediterranean, migration in Africa is dominated by Africans moving within Africa, says Ashraf El Nour, the director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the UN in New York.

They migrate mostly to neighbouring countries, or within the same region. Africa’s share of global migration, which on the whole stood at 258 million in 2017, are 36 million people of which 19 million moved within the continent and 17 million outside Africa, El Nour told Africa Renewal‘s Zipporah Musau.

It means African migration is predominantly pan-African, with about 53 percent of total movements originating from Africa and staying within the continent. African countries can simultaneously be the source, transit route and destination countries.

Africa has one of the busiest movement corridors, the fifth largest in the world, El Nour noted. In fact, 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 after World War II, when people were invited as guest workers to help with the post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction. Over time Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and others established a presence in Europe, mainly in France and Belgium.

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

Migratory routes

The IOM official said, 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, and 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.”

These routes are populated by young people, said El Nour. From about 60 percent of people in irregular migration many are under 20 years and some unaccompanied. The rest 25 to 35.

Of the 258 million migrants worldwide, about 48 percent are female. “Within Africa the percentage tends to drop a little bit, but we could safely say 45 percent 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,” El Nour told Africa Renewal’s Musau.

Non-organised movements

Asked about images of migrants seen in the Sahara desert, El Nour said 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.”

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,” the IOM official said.


A major challenge migrants face is that of “commodification”: 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,” said El Nour.

Besides, with many women and girls on the move now, gender-based violence (GBV) is becoming rampant. This certainly worries the IOM.

“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 trust in their governments’ 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,” said El Nour.

Economic gains to host countries

The IOM official said, 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,” El Nour said.

The other benefit is the remittances. In 2017 the World Bank estimated that remittances by migrants globally stood at $596 billion, of which $450 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.”

Non-Africans moving into Africa

Asked about non-Africans moving into Africa, El Nour said, IOM estimates are 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 being 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.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 December 2018]

Photo: Ashraf El Nour, Director of IOM Office to UN New York addressing the UN Security Council Meeting on the “Maintenance of international peace and security: Trafficking of persons in conflict situations” on 21 November 2017.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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