20 September 2016

Migration Dynamics, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa

On 19 September the United Nations General Assembly hosted its first ever High-Level Summit to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach to addressing the worst refugee crisis since the end of WWII.  The summit provided an historic opportunity to develop a blueprint for a better international response. On the occasion of this meeting, UNAI asked researches at UNAI member institutions to submit articles highlighting their research and its implications in helping to solve this issue. Through this series, UNAI hopes to provide an understanding of refugee/migrant flows to its readers, highlight the importance of addressing refugee and migration flows in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and showcase the work of professors and researchers at UNAI institutions. Please note that the articles are for discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

Aderanti Adepoju, Human Resources Development Centre, Lagos, Nigeria 

Africa has been aptly described as a continent on the move.  Africa today experiences all migratory configurations within and outside the continent but the most visible are labor migration, refugee flows and internal displacement.

Over 31 million Africans live outside the country of their birth, the majority within the African continent. In fact, the majority of migration is intra-regional or intra-African, especially in west and southern Africa, and only about 25 percent of African migrants go to Europe.

Although migration data is fragmentary, fluid and often imprecise, it is estimated that African migrants are overwhelmingly located within the eight sub-regional economic communities in Africa: 80 percent  in the west , 65 percent in the south, 50 percent in central Africa and 47 percent in eastern Africa. The exception in northern Africa, where about 90 percent of its emigrants move to other localities outside Africa.

Of the number of migrants on the move in Africa, the majority of them are young people. Africa's population is young with 20 percent between age 15 and 24 and they constitute 54 percent of the total labor force. By 2050, 25 percent, 1 in every 4, of people of working age in the world, will be African.

However, the rapid growth of the labor force coupled with sluggish growth of employment creates the trigger for the youth migration, both for the skilled and the less skilled. While over 100 million jobs are needed for the youths that joined the labor force in the last 10 years, the continent was able to barely create remunerative jobs for 37 million. Poor quality education and a lack of skills limit employment opportunities for young people. There is additionally a mismatch between skills and jobs because technical and vocational education and training has been neglected for a long time. At the moment, youth unemployment is a whopping 50 percent in some countries, and currently the majority of Africa's labor force work in agriculture, the least productive sector.

Consequently poverty, poor governance, recurrent internal instability, mismanaged economies and conflicts have generated so-called economic migrants and refugees and severely eroded the developmental progress of recent years. Africa's impressive economic growth over the last decade has failed to significantly stimulate employment.  Africa's jobless growth implies that more jobless Africans are forced into unsafe, irregular channels of migration to rich countries with all the harmful effects that this entails. Indeed access to gainful employment is a major developmental challenge for governments and societies in Africa today.

Although Africa is a region of diverse migration circuits as origin, destination and transit for labor migrants, undocumented migrants, refugees and circulation of professionals, these migrations take place predominantly within the region and are essentially south-south movement. While increasingly a global phenomenon, migration in Africa &ndash refugee flows, displaced population, labor migration ‒ is essentially intra-regional, and should be addressed within a regional framework.

The refugee map in Africa is fluid and unpredictable. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, sub-Sahara Africa hosts more than 26 percent (over 18 million) of the world's refugees. The number of refugees has soared over the years, partly due to the ongoing crises in the Central Africa Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi. Initially localized in the Horn of Africa, refugee camps are now springing up in all other sub-regions, especially in West and Southern Africa. The triggers include conflicts, civil unrest, environmental disasters, oppressive regimes and concomitant abuse of human rights. While old causes of refugee flows abate, new ones have emerged to aggravate the complexities and the search for durable situations.

The countries with the highest refugee burdens are: Ethiopia (659,000) Kenya (551,000), Chad (453,000), Uganda (386,000), Cameroon (264,000) and South Sudan (248,000). The situation in Kenya caught world attention when the government gave notice of its desire to close the Dabaab camp, the largest refugee camp in the world, which it accused of harboring Islamic fundamental fighters who murdered about 147 students in neighboring Garissa University in April 2015. In South Sudan, the international donor community seems to be weary of assisting refugees as a result of the post-independence confrontations between local leaders.

Internal displacements are rooted in the same causes as refugee flows except that affected persons remain within national borders. The major causes include inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts and communal land disputes, which are aggravated by environmental disasters including flooding, soil erosion, and droughts.  Globally, Africa has the largest number of IDPs who outnumber refugees 5:1. For instance, at the end of 2013 there were 12.5 million IDPs in the 21 sub-Saharan countries that the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre monitors, a figure more than a third of the global total. Significantly, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan had the largest population of IDPs in Africa.  In 2014 Nigeria topped African countries with 3.3 million IDPs, about a third of IDPs in Africa and 10 percent of global IDPs, aggravated largely by the Boko Haram. The challenge of insurgency still persists in Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and neighboring countries in Western Africa and Eastern Africa. The promise to root out Boko Haram by December 2015 was not achieved. Though weakened, the sect continues to kill, maim and displace populations not only in Nigeria but also in neighboring Cameroon and Chad. One consequence is the likely increase in the number of internally displaced persons and a strain on infrastructure to provide for the needs of vulnerable groups, especially women and children.


The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which came into force in 2012, is the world&rsquos first continental instrument that legally binds governments to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee their homes by conflicts, violence, disasters and human rights abuses. However, implementation has been lackluster.

The common denominator for these three configurations is that they are largely confined within the continent, refugees and migrants relocating to neighboring countries and IDPs confined to their respective countries. While the over-whelming refugee and migration crisis caused by the war in Iraq and recently Syria may have diverted attention to these two countries, the situation in Africa is equally dire because most refugees and IDPs originate from and relocate to poor localities. In the case of refugees, relocation is usually between equally poor neighborhoods and communities thereby taxing the meagre resources in healthcare, education, housing and transport services at the relocation destination.

In the case of migrants, movements are mostly to neighboring countries within sub-regions, except highly skilled migrants (a few are able to send remittances back to their family to help augment family incomes and alleviate poverty) and at the other extreme, unskilled workers and trafficked persons who find their way surreptitiously to Europe. The fatal boat mishap that caused the death of 800 irregular, mostly African, migrants near the Italian coast in mid-2015 in part galvanized public and political opinion to find durable solutions to the root causes of such catastrophic events.

Policy measures have to comprehensively address the root causes of poverty, conflicts, environmental degradation, unemployment, and governance issues which are fundamentally at the root causes of the three migratory configurations. Economic growth has to be inclusive and provide remunerative employment for young persons including women better still, it has to be participatory and pro-poor, pro-women and pro-youth.

The Network of Migration Research on Africa (NOMRA) has been at the fore-front of policy research, advocacy and training of officials in order to provide planners and policy makers with evidence-based information on the various issues outlined above. This is in response to a wide capacity deficit in understanding of this phenomenon in both policy, public and political domains. The training of media practitioners undertaken by NOMRA was also designed to update them with contemporary and topical issues in migration discourse, including on the Valletta Plan of Action relating to regular migration, irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling, governance of migration, human rights issues, international protection and asylum, return and admission. The overall goal is to contribute to greater understanding, to guide policy formulation, to comprehensively address the over-arching issues around migration, refugee flows and IDPs in the region.

For over a decade, NOMRA has been actively involved in evidence-based  migration research in Africa, in capacity building of young researchers, national officials and media practitioners/journalists at national and regional levels in order to help bridge the huge capacity deficit, and enhance understanding of migration and development inter-linkages. NOMRA also provides high-level advice, advocacy and research services for policy makers at national, sub-regional (ECOWAS), regional (Africa) and collaboratively, at international levels.

The institutional framework and capacity for migration governance in Africa is weak and needs to be strengthened and supported by development partners. In part, the Valletta Plan of Action addresses some of these concerns, but the need to support Africa-led initiatives cannot be overemphasized.

Aderanti Adepoju is the Chief Executive of the Human Resources Development Centre in Lagos, Nigeria.  He is a member of several scientific associations and has published numerous scientific articles and books on aspects of Africa&rsquos international migration and regional integration, including: International Migration Within, to and from Africa in a Globalized World Seeking Greener Pastures Abroad: A Migration Profile of Nigeria International Migration and National Development in sub-Saharan Africa and Migration in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Adepoju received his PhD in Demography in 1973 from the London School of Economics. He spent several years lecturing and researching issues on migration at the Universities of Ife and Lagos, Nigeria and while working for the ILO (Addis Ababa), UN (Swaziland) and UNFPA (Dakar). A former President of the Union for African Population Studies, he is currently a member of  the World Economic Forum&rsquos Global Agenda Council on Migration, the Hague Process on Refugee and Migration Policy, and Coordinator for the Network of Migration Research on Africa. He also serves on the editorial advisory boards of key international migration journals.