Panel lays out agenda for African migration policies

Geneva, 29 May 2018 (ECA) – As part of their two-day consultations towards the contribution of the High-Level Panel on Migration (HLPM) to the African migration discourse, the Panel Members shared perspectives on how to advance the policy dialogue on African migration.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe, stressed the need to recognize that free movement of Africans within the region could exacerbate existing tensions in receiving countries and sub-regions. She noted that this calls for good management of migration policy, and further highlights the fact that migration is as much about governance as it is an economic and human rights issue.

Laura Thompson, Deputy Director-General, IOM, emphasized that migration is a complex issue that is further complicated by the diverse range of bilateral, regional and international discussions currently taking place. She called on the Panel to focus on “achievable outcomes,” and suggested the HLPM could consider “putting its political weight” towards gaining ratification instruments required for the entry into force of the African Union’s Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.

Ms. Almaz Negash, Founder and Executive Director, African Diaspora Network, said there is need “not just data but also marketing”. She noted, for example, that the African diaspora contributes US$55 billion to the US economy alone.

Ms. Negash stressed that the refugee crisis “can be a force for good” if migrants are supported to contribute to the economic vitality of their host countries and within Africa. She highlighted a number of initiatives in the higher education sector, including a blended education model developed by MIT that supports refugees to solve problems “wherever they may be”; and a project initiated by a Syrian refugee that aims to tap expertise at Stanford University and deploy it to areas where it is needed.

Michael Farrugia, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Malta, observed that the rise of irregular migration has created a “social and cultural shock” that is driving changes in the political structure of Europe. Pointing to the “high degree of interdependence” between Africa and Europe, he said the 2015 Valletta Summit on migration provides an example of the constructive dialogue that is needed to move forward.

Ambassador Morten Aasland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway, commented that “these discussions confirm that the Panel is finding its direction.” He mentioned the relevance of the Panel’s work to the ongoing negotiations towards the Global Compact on Migration, as well as the growing momentum towards integration on the African region. 

Dania Baloyi, President, Black Industrialists’ Council, South Africa, asserted that people have been moving for centuries “and will continue to do so.” Discussing South Africa’s experience, she lamented that despite having a good database, migration statistics “do not talk to how migrants are contributing to different sectors of the economy, so as to change the direction of the conversation.” She challenged African leaders to “get our house in order,” noting that with sufficient investment, governments can ensure that their citizens do not have to risk their lives to escape.

Samir Abi, President, West African Observatory on Migration, contrasted the welcome given by African countries to people from all parts of the world, with Africans’ own experience of globalization. Lamenting that “men are not equal in front of the passport,” he enumerated the difficulties faced by young Africans, “…even for a short-term trip to attend a conference, see their family or attend a training seminar.” 

For Mr. Amir, this suggests that “any African who travels is a potential irregular migrant.” He urged the HLPM to give special attention to this inequality and discrimination as it cuts Africans off from the benefits of globalization.

Donald Cochrane, Minister Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, Geneva, spoke on behalf of Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Canada. He noted that with global attention focused on the alarming rise in dangerous irregular migration schemes, smuggling, and human trafficking, “it is important to keep in mind that most international migration from Africa is conducted through legal channels.” 

He also said that Africa is recognized as one of the regions where the negotiation of continental and regional agreements to reduce barriers has continued, “in the face of rising protectionism elsewhere.”

Serigne Ndiaye who represented Senegal’s former prime minister - Aminata Touré - at the meeting stated the importance of “telling the true story of numbers to fight stubborn stereotypes about Africa invading Europe.” He described media portrayals of migration as a “politically fueled myth” that needs to be fought “because it triggers discrimination and racism against sub-Saharan African migrants.”

Out of an estimated 235 million international migrants in 2013, added Mr. Ndiaye, “about 21 million were from sub-Saharan Africa, which means that there is only one sub-Saharan migrant out of 10.” He challenged African governments to “better communicate their own success,” to foster Afro-optimism and to channel revenues from high GDP growth into specific support mechanisms “so African youth can believe in country-based opportunities.”

Speaking via video link, African Development Bank (AfDB) President, Akinwumi Adesina, said misconceptions about swathes of African refugees invading Europe continue to dominate the headlines, despite the fact that available data show the contrary. Highlighting some “hard truths” in the migration discourse, he called for acknowledgment that current growth rates in Africa “are not high enough” to discourage migration.

Mr. Adesina urged the Panel to avoid “the paralysis of analysis” by identifying some hotspots of irregular migration and proposing some practical actions. He also proposed that the HLPM report should focus on positive messages, including making the case that “Africa is open to migrants,” and highlighting the positive contribution that Africa’s diaspora is making, which currently exceeds official development assistance.

The High-Level Panel on Migration was established in response to a resolution at the African Conference of Ministers of Finance and Economic Planning in 2016, convened by the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission.

The Panel comprises 15 eminent persons including representatives of government, the private sector, academia and civil society and from all continents with an interest in advocating for safe, orderly and regular migration in Africa for Africa’s development

The third meeting of the HLPM took place on 28-29 May 2018 at the headquarters of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826