Migration: An issue for Africa and the world

17/12/2015
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Economic migrants at Abidjan airport, repatriated from Libya after failing to migrate to Europe.

December 18 marks  International Migrants Day. Rarely has the issue of migration been so present in the media and within the international community as it is now. It is an issue for Africa, and for the world. Established by the UN in 2000, International Migrants Day is intended to break down stereotypes about migrants and to highlight their contribution to the economic, cultural and social fabric of both their countries of origin and their countries of destination.

Take one example known to the African Development Bank. Exactly one year ago, Milka Zeinab* left her home town in Kenya, following years of unemployment. The mother of two could not find a job four years after she was laid off by her last employer.

"Life became so difficult without a job; I tried to look for any kind of work, but nothing was coming up. For a long time, I could not even afford meals and school fees for my children," said Zeinab, a single parent in her late 30s.

"I could not continue staring at my children without offering them anything. I then decided to risk my life; and to leave home in search of a better future for my family." Zeinab looked for some money and travelled by plane to Europe, a place she had only heard about. The journey would take her to the Czech Republic, then Austria, where she is now in a refugee camp waiting for her case to be processed.

Zeinab's story represents the struggles of thousands of migrants who risk their lives fleeing Africa to seek opportunities abroad. During the November 11-12, 2015 migration summit in Malta, the African Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said that at present less than 25 percent of the migrants and refugees to European shores are Africans. "It's a small part of the young African population seeking greener pastures, some of whom are running from pockets of wars, difficult situations and poverty. They believe they may seek asylum and get a better life in Europe."

The United Nations says that close to 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far in 2015, while some 3,440 have died or gone missing on the journey. Some 150,000 people from African countries such as Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean this year, arriving mainly in Italy and Malta.

While the Malta summit saw the European Commission set up a US $1.9 billion fund to address African migration by tackling economic and security challenges that cause people to flee, there are concerns that this may not be the solution. Industrialisation is the solution.

African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina remarked at a September 2015 meeting in New York that industrialisation will enable Africa to build the necessary skills and entrepreneurship capacity to be able to support industries. "We must ensure that our young people are prepared for the jobs that Africa's industrialisation will create. Africa's young people should not be migrating, at great risk, to Europe. We need them in our industries, not on the high seas," he observed.

Similarly, Zuma emphasised that Africa and Europe should be discussing industrialization beyond raw materials and trade, "because that's what will create jobs. We should be discussing the development of skills, because that will be investing in our people so they themselves can develop and create jobs on the continent."

Facilitating regional migration on the continent has been cited as a critical measure in reducing migration flows to Europe. But this has to be backed by policy regulation, according to the African Development Report 2014, an AfDB publication. "The widely recognized link between migration and development is ignored in regional policies across Africa. The free movement of persons remains a poorly elaborated policy area in the context of regional integration," the report states.

In fact, according to the report, regional migration within Africa has more positive effects on development and poverty reduction than migration outside of Africa. "A majority of migrants to another African country are relatively poor, so even small increases in income can have significant impacts on their human development," says the report.

*Not her real name