Nine statements to better understand African Migration to Europe

blog Ton April 2017 MIxed migration routes through Africa

Source: Global Migration Data Analysis Centre: Data Briefing Series Issue no 8, March 2017

This blog post is based on my notes for the High-level Taskforce on Migration in the Netherlands (meeting 29/3/2017).

  1. The world currently has 7.4 billion inhabitants. Three per cent of those are international migrants. Of those 244 million people, 10 per cent, or 25 million, are recognized international refugees (although there are an additional 40 million displaced people). Most refugees live in the Global South. A minority have come to Europe. 2014-Eurostat data (published before the 2015-2016 Syrian refugees crisis) show that of a total of 2.7 million migrants to the EU, an estimated seven per cent was regarded as irregular.
  2. In Africa, the majority of the population is young and increasingly well informed thanks to access to mobile phones and internet, feeding rising aspirations to migrate. The economic growth between 2000 and 2015 as well as cheaper travel creates greater capabilities to migrate. Many African youth see convincing examples around them (in their cities, on television, online) of successful migrants, and growing and successful remittances.
  3. Africa’s population has been growing rapidly, and will continue to increase (2017: 1.25 billion; 2100: probably between 3.3 and 4.5 billion Africans; this, despite demographic transition towards fewer children per woman). There is an even greater and rapid urbanization going on, particularly in African coastal cities. In Africa, place mobility, not place stability, has become the norm. The poor go to the most vulnerable sites in the rapidly expanding cities (e.g. near the ocean, where they become victim of occasional floods and storms, as well as the effects of rising sea levels, and have to move on again).
  4. Migration within Africa is partially a calamity-driven migration (although it is set to grow as a result of a combination of climate change and increased vulnerability). However: most migration in Africa is due to economic and social aspirations and capabilities: quests for higher income, better jobs, improved education levels, better health as well as: adventure, love, religious pilgrimages (both Islamic and Christian), and ‘travelling the world’. A growing form of migration is lifestyle migration: getting away from oppressive norms, e.g. towards sexual orientation, and getting away from dominant and repressive elders (at home and in local and national governments).
  5. Of all migration movements in and from Africa, more than 95 per cent is within Africa. This is and remains true for all three types of migration. The 16 million current Africans who live outside Africa are just 1.3% of all current Africans.
  6. It is a fact of life (and one of the cornerstones of current thinking in social demography) that more development creates more migration, and will continue to do so until average levels of economic success reach roughly €7000 per capita (depending on levels of inequality). Higher and rising levels of development (also successful development assistance) produce more migration and more international migration. The direction of that migration depends on its relative attractiveness (determined by perceived costs and risks, perceived benefits, and the effectiveness of political barriers or welcoming strategies). From Africa, there has recently been a shift towards Asia, but there still is considerable aspiration to go to Europe. It will take decades before Africa reaches an immigration-outmigration equilibrium. For many decades, successful development (in particular, creating jobs for the youth and major industrialization) will also mean more (international) migrants. And for many families in Africa, (international) migration has become part of a diversification strategy, to spread risks and create/use opportunities. Existing geo-patterns of migration strengthen new waves of enhanced migration. A significant amount of migration is and will be facilitated by religious-social networks.
  7. The political message for Dutch/European public opinion and politicians is: “get used to it”. There will be many more migrants within Africa, and a number of them aspire to careers in Europe (circulatory migration). Migration will grow slowly, but can suddenly be enhanced by calamities, and particularly those that occur in areas that are home to large numbers of youth with high aspirations and with some capability to finance migration (e.g. if Egypt experiences a food crisis and/or another youth revolt, or if things go very wrong in South Africa). In general, the prediction is that international migrants (also to Europe) will mostly come from middle-class backgrounds and middle-income countries.
  8. Strengthening border controls means higher costs and higher risks for migrants, but also (much) higher rewards for migration-facilitating entrepreneurs, i.e. smugglers, and increasing business opportunities along migration routes. The higher the profits are, the more likely migration-facilitating entrepreneurs will successfully bribe border police and other anti-migration personnel of state and private agencies, creating more, instead of less migration loopholes, and increased corruption. This will result in a race between ever-more sophisticated anti-, and pro-migration agencies.
  9. Creating more legal migration opportunities in Europe (also by making visa regulations less cumbersome), for selected groups of African youth, and stimulating circularity and remittance-strengthening behaviour, will ease some of the tensions and will undermine the profitability of the international migration industry. But of course a lot will depend on Europe’s labour market development and the need to ‘import’ labour, and the possibilities to absorb labour migrants.

One of the sources that underpin this article is the work of Hein de Haas, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam and founding member of the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. Read Hein de Haas’ blog