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


The US-Africa Leaders Summit

Screenshot of the summit website.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit website.

From 4-6 August, Washington and President Obama himself host the first US-Africa Leaders summit. The US is late in doing so. Although the Corporate Council on Africa started US-Africa business summits already in 1993 (the ninth one was in Chicago in 2013), the USA never used its cultural capital of having the first-ever Afro-American President by inviting most African heads of State and the AU Chairlady (‘most’ because they wanted to avoid that the Presidents of Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the CAR would join as well). Now it was seen as ‘high time’ to do so. The USA is very late in doing what others have done before: Japan organized a Tokyo International Conference on African Development already in 1993 (five so far), in 2000 China joined with the Forum on China-African Cooperation (five as well) and the European Union did the same in 2000 (the fourth one was in Brussels in April 2014). In 2006 both Korea and South America organized Africa Fora (South America had three so far), Turkey followed in 2008 (two until now) and Brazil started its own Brazil-Africa Leaders Forum in 2012 (two so far). African leaders seem to be welcome everywhere now, and everyone wants to talk business! That the USA decided to follow suit can partly be explained by all those ‘emerging powers’ highlighting South-South solidarity, but partly also by what is happening in Europe. After many years of difficult negotiations suddenly the European Union seems to succeed to get a new round of ‘economic partnership agreements’ (EPAs) signed: in May Southern Africa agreed to do so; in July all West- African states did and Cameroon followed as the first one of Central African States. The USA is losing ground.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice

National Security Advisor Susan Rice previews the summit (still from a Youtube film).

A new partnership
On the website for the US-Africa Leaders Summit ( National Security Advisor Susan Rice informs the world that the USA wants a new partnership with Africa based on “mutual responsibility and mutual respect”, using the word ‘mutual’ that is also a keyword in the Chinese way to talk to Africa. She goes on to say that the USA wants to build on President Obama’s trip to Africa (Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania) in the summer of 2013, but no word about the fact that Obama never ever came to Africa after his trip to Egypt and to Ghana in 2009; not in 2010, not in 2011 and not in 2012. Many Africans and many Afro-Americans will have felt frustrated after the high expectations of 2008/2009.

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014 (still from a Youtube film)

Social issues, business, investments
The programme for the three days is interesting if we look at the agenda and the order in which things are being planned: the first day is about big social issues (civil society, investing in women, peace and prosperity, health, resilience and food security in a changing climate, and combating wildlife trafficking) and about the renewal of the US ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act’, followed by a reception at Capitol Hill, meeting Congress! The second day is the business forum (I find it ironic that it will be held at Mandarin Oriental Hotel; more than 100 African business leaders will participate), followed by a Dinner at the White House. The third day comes to the heart of the intentions: African leaders meet Obama in discussion rounds about ‘investments in Africa’, ‘peace and stability’ and ‘governing the next generation’. The USA has started a ‘Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders’ (500 each year from 2014 onwards) and 500 of these young African leaders are in Washington now as well! On that third days there is also a ‘spousal programme’, hosted by both Michele Obama and Laura Bush , while the Congressional Black Caucus Africa Task Force continues the dialogue with the African business CEOs. It looks very well organized and very wide-ranging.

It would be interesting to see how Europe does it the next time (with the Fifth EU-Africa Summit probably in 2017), and I think we will discuss comparable issues at our own Africa Works! Conference, October 16 and 17 (see, where we hope to see many African, Dutch (and other European) people from business, science, NGO, media and diplomacy circles. And hopefully a few Americans too!