International Migrants Day 2018 - Message from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf








18 December 2018: Last week, in Marrakesh, Morocco, the international community adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which marks an important step towards a comprehensive, integrated and long-term response to the challenges faced by migrants around the world.

This year’s International Migrants Day reminds us of the importance of treating all migrants with dignity, a message that has particular resonance for my home continent. As Chair of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in Africa, I am saddened by the continued portrayal of African migrants as desperate hordes escaping poverty and disasters and undermining the status quo in their host nations. This has no bearing on the bulk of African migration, which, similar to trends in other regions, remains a driving force for social, cultural and economic development.

Various estimates[1] indicate that migration is projected to boost Africa’s GDP per capita from $2,008 in 2016 to $3,249 in 2030, which is equivalent to an annual growth rate of 3.5%. On average remittance inflows to Africa, from $38.4 billion in 2005-2007, to $64.9 billion in 2014-2016, which now account for 51% of private capital flows to Africa in 2016, up from 42% in 2010.

Moreover, recent trends suggest a picture of international migration in Africa that is different and more nuanced than what is generally perceived:

  • African migrant rates are slightly below the global average of just over 3 per cent, making Africa the least migratory world region.
  • Africa’s migration is overwhelmingly intra-African. Migration within the continent accounts for over 80% of migration flows, bringing across borders skills, knowledge, training, technology and capital.
  • Similar to migration trends in other regions, African migrants are mostly young, well-educated and economically active, and move mostly for reasons of work, study and family. African emigration must therefore be viewed through the lens of the processes of development and social transformation, which have increased young Africans’ capabilities and aspirations to migrate.
  • While conflict plays a key role in largely temporary surges of refugee migration, refugees constitute a relatively small and declining share of migration within Africa over the longer term, averaging 15 – 20 % of all migrants in recent decades.
  • At least 90 per cent of African migrants entering OECD countries cross borders through legal means. Even in the record year 2016, irregular boat crossings of refugees and prospective labour migrants from Africa were estimated at around 100,000, one-seventh of estimated total legal migration to OECD countries
  • Africa has itself become a major migration destination, particularly for Chinese workers and merchants as well as European skilled workers, retirees and other ‘expats’.
  • Most Africans living abroad are not from the poorest sections of origin societies – in fact, the poorest and most vulnerable populations tend to be immobilized by impoverishment, violence and environmental adversity.

As we prepare to implement the Global Compact, Africa offers an inspiring example of progressive policies and measures to promote open borders and to regulate cross continental flow.  The 300 million residents of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) enjoy visa-free travel within the region, while a growing number of countries, such as Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya, now offer visas on arrival for visitors.  

At the regional level, the African Union is also making progress to facilitate the free movement of migrants and refugees through the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment. These efforts will be further strengthened with the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, which will boost intra-regional trade and spur accelerated economic development and integration.

On this year’s International Migrants Day, it is the hope of my Panel that these positive messages will continue to drown out the doom and gloom of xenophobic and nationalistic discourse. The bulk of African migration is regular and orderly – let’s continue to redouble our efforts to offer migrants a safe and dignified experience wherever they may find themselves. 


[1] Sources include UNCTAD, the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa