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Migration from Africa to Europe: Mobility that Needs to Be Better Managed.

1 Current Trends in Migration from Africa to Europe

The discussion about migration in the broad area of sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Europe has created a toxic narrative in the media and in the political arena, with alarming messages about a "migrants invasion" and a "loss of identity" becoming more frequent and popular in many European countries. But this narrative ignores several important facts. The total number of irregular arrivals is a very small portion--less than 1 percent--of the European population. In the broader context, the Mediterranean crossings constitute a small part of much larger intraregional population movements in the African continent.

Yet the gap between real data and perceptions on the size and type of African migration to Europe appears unbridgeable. While it is true that the share of African migrants heading overseas has more than doubled since the 1960s, in 2017 53 percent of all African migrants (or 19.4 million) still migrated within the continent. (1) Moreover, there were approximately 24.2 million displaced and stateless individuals living in Africa, including 6.8 million refugees and asylum seekers, about 14.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees, and 712,000 stateless people. (2) African countries are more than carrying their share of responsibility for refugees. Migration from Africa to Europe stands at around 9.1 million people, most originating from North Africa (5.1 million), while the number of Africans in Asia (mostly in the Gulf and Jordan) is around 4.4 million. Migrants from North Africa migrate overseas most frequently, but for other African migrants the most prevalent destination is another country in the region. (3)

Hence, the attention in Europe is disproportionate to the problem. In 2017, 186,768 migrants were registered to have arrived by sea or land in Spain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. Because most of those who survive the journey are rescued at sea and subsequently registered by national authorities, this data is both accurate and timely compared to irregular migration flows in other parts of the world. But the level of attention is due in part to how these migrants are traveling, as images of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are powerful. Importantly, though movements by sea and by land across the eastern, central, and western Mediterranean migration route registered in 2018 were lower than what had been recorded in the previous five years, the Mediterranean Sea continues to be the most dangerous body of water in the world for migrants. (4) This is very concerning, especially considering that the intrinsic nature of irregular migration entails a greater level of risk for migrants, often including violence, exploitation, and other human rights abuses.

Irregular migration routes that reach Europe intertwine across sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, and the western Balkans. The routes change frequently depending on many factors, including tighter controls by border authorities. Most North and sub-Saharan African migrants reach Europe through the central and western Mediterranean, while most migrants from the Middle East and South Asia reach Europe via Turkey, Greece, and the western Balkans. Migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa traditionally travel through Sudan or Egypt to enter Libya, while fewer have tried to reach Israel from Egypt in recent years. Western and central African migrants move within the region, enjoying the rights attached to membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), (5) and few travel through Niger or Mali to reach North Africa, where they seek work. Libya, Algeria, and Morocco remain historically important transit countries between Africa and Europe.

2 North Africa and the Case of Libya

To put these movements in perspective, recall that Libya, before 2011, and Algeria, before the recent drop in oil prices, employed many hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan countries, Asia, and Europe. Prevailing estimates indicated that, before the Arab Spring, as many as 1.4 million migrant workers were present in Libya. (6) Since 2011, political volatility has continued to characterize the country. Nevertheless, Libya has remained an important destination country for migrants seeking work opportunities and for refugees seeking to reach nuclear families, other relatives, and their conationals in Europe. As political instability and violence have increased, especially in the north of the country, migrants have been caught up in the crisis and have had to flee. In many cases, those crossing the Mediterranean Sea never planned to do so initially. For example, it is estimated that more than one third of the migrants in Libya may be Egyptian, Nigerien, and Chadian nationals that are not fully represented in the arrival data collected in Europe.

Following the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya, and increased patrols by the Libyan Coast Guard, over 19,000 migrants are estimated to have been intercepted at sea and brought back to Libyan shores in each of 2016 and 2017, with another 14,000 in 2018 (as of the end of September). Migrants' conditions in the country further deteriorated during 2018, as a new intensification of the conflict led to rising uncertainty over the management of migrant detention centers and left migrants vulnerable to the multiple militias across the country. Hence, although fewer migrant entries in Libya were registered at the borders with Niger and Algeria, the number of migrants trapped in precarious conditions in the country is estimated to be as high as 670,000. (7) According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this population comprises at least forty-two nationalities, mostly from sub-Saharan countries (66 percent). Infighting and fragmentation in Libya has also produced high numbers of IDPs, estimated at around 195,000 individuals in mid-2018. (8)

3 IOM's Presence in Africa and Europe

IOM is working to ensure that migrants' rights are protected and to improve how migration flows are managed. IOM provides assistance to migrants in their origin, transit, and destination countries. Data collection and analysis also helps the organization present timely and reliable information about what is happening along these migration routes. (9)

IOM is directly and increasingly involved in many transit and origin countries in Africa to work with local and national authorities, supporting them in establishing more effective border controls and in dismantling the smuggling networks established in areas of Niger, Libya, and Algeria.

In 2016, the Joint Initiative on Migrant Protection and Reintegration was launched by the European Union (EU), with funding from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). (10) It is the first comprehensive program to bring together and enhance activities and services that IOM was already carrying out with the aim of saving lives and protecting and assisting migrants along key migration routes in Africa that cover twenty-six African countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa. IOM assists migrants who wish to return safely and voluntarily, from mainly Niger and Libya, to their origin countries with an integrated approach that focuses on long-term reintegration of migrants in the local communities.

In Libya, IOM assists migrants at disembarkation points and in the detention centers by providing humanitarian aid, especially to women and children who are in overcrowded facilities without access to basic assistance and where reports of abuse are widespread. (11) Simultaneously, IOM works with the authorities at all levels of government to find more sustainable solutions.

For many migrants stranded in Libya, even more so for those in detention, the IOM voluntary humanitarian return program is one way to leave Libya in a safe, orderly, and dignified manner. From January 2017 to September 2018, IOM assisted more than 33,500 migrants to return from Libya (and an additional 20,000 during the same period from Niger) to their countries of origin, mainly in central and western Africa. This work, together with rescue missions for migrants abandoned by smugglers in the desert between Niger and Libya, is only one of the humanitarian activities that IOM carries out in the most perilous transit locations across the Sahel region.

When it comes to migrant arrivals on European shores and at land borders, IOM is present to provide assistance to the most vulnerable and to support authorities in dealing with changing inflows of migrants in Italy, Greece, and across the Balkans, reflecting a joint effort with EU and UN agencies. In response to changing practices of search and rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, IOM advocates with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for predictable and shared rules for disembarkation (12) and management of migrants rescued at sea.

Many of these measures are strictly humanitarian. But they are much needed to ensure migrants' protection in origin, transit, and destination countries. At the same time, IOM advocates for the opening of legal channels for migrants wishing to reach Europe. Predictable and credible regular migration to Europe will diminish the riskier irregular journeys, provide safer and more effective management tools for processing countries that receive migrants in need of protection, and be more efficient in attracting migrants that can properly contribute to the economies and societies of destination countries throughout Europe. This will also allow better protection for those in specific categories for which regular labor or student migration is not an option. This includes people in need of protection for personal or other reasons, as well as the most vulnerable categories of victims of trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation, including women and unaccompanied children.

4 Children and Victims of Trafficking: IOM's Assistance to the Most Vulnerable

IOM has long-standing expertise on identification, referral, and protection of victims of trafficking. Men, women, girls, and boys on the move have characteristics that make them vulnerable to specific types of violence and abuses that may amount to human trafficking for the purpose of labor or sexual exploitation. Early identification of migrants who are vulnerable to exploitation during their journey could contribute to better protection responses. For this reason, IOM targets high-risk locations--including border crossing points, transit centers, and disembarkation and landing points for migrants traveling to Europe--to provide protective services that are age and gender sensitive. (13) The organization now incorporates countertrafficking measures in all its humanitarian relief operations.

5 Future Prospects

Today, family formation and reunification are the main legal ways for African migrants to enter Europe. From 2008 to 2016, between 167,000 and 182,000 first residence permits were issued each year to newly married migrants or family dependents of those already in the EU. In contrast, first residence permits for work reasons fell by almost 70 percent from 83,000 in 2008 to 26,000 in 2016. (14)

African population trends tell us that during the past fifty years demographic transition has been slow, with a strong decrease in infant mortality but with sustained high fertility rates. Medium projections indicate that Africa's total population will double from 1.2 billion inhabitants in 2017 to 2.5 billion by 2050, while Europe's population will shrink from 742 million to 716 million people. (15) The geographic proximity of the two continents makes it inevitable that there will continue to be migration between them. This should not be seen as a problem. It never has been a problem, and it is not now.

Investing in development in migrant-sending African countries can improve education and job opportunities for young people, including women, and possibly can reduce population growth in the long run (through a consequent drop in fertility rates). (16) But this will not necessarily translate into less mobility. (17) In addition, the objective of reducing mobility should not be the basis for measures to improve governance, health, education, and employment in Africa. A comprehensive, strategic, and evidence-based response is required. The objective should be a true partnership between the two continents that promotes stability and prosperity. Such a partnership should improve livelihoods for people in their countries of origin and ensure opportunities for migration--safely, legally, and in an orderly manner--for those who choose to do so.

Looking at Europe, one of the main issues at stake is the loss of public confidence in the ability of European and national institutions to manage migration. This concern has wider and long-lasting repercussions with the rise of nationalist parties and the weakening of solidarity and comity on which the European Union is grounded. Since most international migrants move through safe and legal channels, IOM's role is to articulate the extent to which migration is inevitable but also desirable and positive in most cases, (18) and then focus its action on where that is not entirely the case.

Aging populations and labor shortages will be experienced by almost all economies in Europe in the next decades. (19) As the Global Compact for Migration (20) recognizes, migration contributes significantly to the diversification of the structure of the labor force and to the flexibility of the labor markets, without prejudice to native workers'jobs or salaries when properly regulated. (21) To harness those benefits in Europe and elsewhere, migration should be recognized as an inherent factor of social change that needs to be embraced through forward-looking policies that establish credible and accessible legal migration channels. Although there are cases where things do not go as planned, European and African countries should develop coherent policies that are clearer and more coordinated to foster the benefits that migrants bring with their transnational ties to their origin, transit, and destination countries.


African Development Bank. Annual Development Effectiveness Review 2018: "Made in Africa"--Industrialising the Continent (Abidjan: African Development Bank, 2018).

Amnesty International. Libya's Dark Web of Collusion: Abuses against Europe-Bound Refugees and Migrants (London: Amnesty International, 2017).

Clemens, Michael, and Hannah Postel. "Can Development Assistance Deter Emigration?" (Center for Global Development, February 2018).

European Commission, Joint Research Centre. Many More to Come? Migration from and within Africa (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2018).

Galos, Eliza, Laura Bartolini, Harry Cook, and Naomi Grant. Migrant Vulnerability to Human Trafficking and Exploitation: Evidence from the Central and Eastern Mediterranean Migration Routes (Geneva: IOM, 2017).

Guterres, Antonio. "Migration Can Benefit, Secretary-General of the World. This Is How We at the UN Plan to Help." The Guardian, 11 January 2018.

IOM (International Organization for Migration). World Migration Report 2018 (Geneva: IOM, 2017).

IOM. DTM (Displacement Tracking Matrix) Libya Round 21 Migrant Report (IOM, July--August 2018a). (Geneva: IOM, Accessed 10 October 2018).

IOM. DTM Libya Round 21 IDP & Returnee Report (IOM, July-August 2018b). (Geneva: IOM, Accessed 10 October 2018).

Migration Policy Centre. Migration Profile--Libya (Florence: Migration Policy Center, June 2013).

OHCHR (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). "Detained and Dehumanised" "Report on Human Rights Abuses Against Migrants in Libya (Geneva: OHCHR, 2016).

OHCHR. "Returned Migrants Are Being Robbed, Raped and Murdered in Libya" (Geneva: OHCHR, 2017).

UN. UN World Population Prospects 2017, Medium Scenario (New York: UN, 2017).

UNDESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs). World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision (New York: UNDESA, 2017).

UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees). Global Report 2017 (Geneva: UNHCR, 2017).

UNICEF-IOM (UN Children's Fund-International Organization for Migration). Harrowing Journeys: Children and Youth on the Move across the Mediterranean Sea, at Risk of Trafficking and Exploitation (New York: UNICEF-IOM, 2017).


(1) IOM 2017; UNDESA 2017.

(2) UNHCR2017.

(3) This is due not only to geographical proximity with some European countries, previous labor recruitment agreements, and postcolonial ties, but also to the fact that migration within North Africa is almost nonexistent: borders are closed between Algeria and Morocco while after 2011 Libya no longer has been a main destination country for large numbers of Egyptians and Tunisians.

(4) For updated figures, see the IOM Missing Migrants' portal at

(5) Citizens of ECOWAS Member States enjoy the right to enter, reside in, and establish economic activities in the region; see and subsequent amendments.

(6) Migration Policy Centre 2013.

(7) IOM 2018a. For Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) programmatic purposes in Libya, a migrant is considered any person present in Libya who does not possess Libyan nationality, with no distinction by migrant statuses, length of residence in the country, or migratory intentions.

(8) IOM 2018b.

(9) See the IOM migration data portal and IOM internal displacement data portal for live updates, interactive visualization, data-sets, and reports to download.

(10) See EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

(11) OHCHR 2016; Amnesty International 2017; UNHCR 2017.

(12) See IOM-UNHCR Proposal to the European Union for a Regional Cooperative Arrangement Ensuring Predictable Disembarkation and Subsequent Processing of Persons Rescued at Sea

(13) See Galos et al. 2017; UNICEF-IOM 2017.

(14) European Commission, Joint Research Centre 2018.

(15) UN 2017.

(16) African Development Bank 2018.

(17) With more development, more people can gain the abilities and tools to undertake an expensive journey to seek a better life elsewhere. See, among others, Clemens and Postel 2018.

(18) Guterres 2018.

(19) Projections for Europe state that the labor shortage will reach about 8.3 million workers by 2030 in the region; see the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants to the UN Secretary-General at: http://undocs.0rg/A/71/285.

(20) The Global Compact for Migration was adopted in December 2018 in Marrakesh by the UN Member States. The final draft was released in July 2018; see the UN Refugees and Migrants portal

(21) See World Economic Forum http://www3.weforum.0rg/docs/Migration_Impact_Cities_report_2017_HR.pdf.
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Title Annotation:The Global Forum
Author:Soda, Frederico
Publication:Global Governance
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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