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

Africa in Moscow

blog-ton-moscow-abstractsThe Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the ‘Scientific Council for the Problems of Economic, Social, Political and Cultural Development of African Countries’ organized their 13th International conference of Africanists in Moscow, at the end of May. I was curious to know what would happen during a conference of Africanists in Russia, who would be there and what would be their research subjects. I knew that they had once been an associate member of AEGIS (African Studies Centres in Europe), but that was before I joined the AEGIS Board in 2010. And I knew that Russia, as the R country in BRICs, tries to redefine its place in the newly emerging global dispensation. So what did I see and hear?

A whole new world of Africanists
I heard a lot of Russian, to start with. I went to panels where the only contributors were Russian scholars, who were in shock when they discovered that there were non-Russian speakers in the audience. I was lucky that in those panels there was always some translation and sometimes it was good that I speak enough French and German to be part of a chaotic multi-lingual communication process. But I heard some angry American participants who complained that they could not follow much of what happened in many of the panel sessions which they attended.
Another interesting observation was that I hardly knew anyone. I have been to AEGIS, EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) conferences and there are always quite a lot of people whom I know from earlier meetings. This time there was only one familiar person (Ian Taylor), and a few names I knew (from of group of about 600 people). It seems there is a whole world of Africanists that is isolated from the conference circuits I normally visit. And the other way around: from the AEGIS Centres in Europe quite a few people from Central Europe participated (I met Polish and Hungarian colleagues) but very few if any from the ‘old and established’ Centres of African Studies in Western Europe. More than 170 participants from Africa attended the conference, and the organizers had attracted papers from scholars representing 26 African countries. Interestingly, North Africa is definitely part of what Russians define as Africa.

The Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

The Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

Nothing on climate change – what a relief!
I have looked at the titles of all 253 Russian papers in the programme to find out what Russian Africanists are interested in and how they phrase their research interests. The majority of the contributions had an emphasis on political affairs and international relations. There were quite a number of papers with a linguistic focus or dealing with cultural issues like ethnic identity, gender roles and education. Relatively few papers dealt with economics or business issues (and as far as I could see there were no participants with a business background, despite the fact that Gazprombank (GPB Global Resources) and Lukoil were the main sponsors of the conference). And hardly any papers dealt with health, water, the environment (nothing on climate change, what a relief!) or agricultural issues, or with civil society or the role of Africa’s private sector.

The BRICs and Africa
The International Relations papers partly concentrated on historical issues: Russian travelers and explorers in the 18th and 19th Century, the Imperial Russian fleet’s activities along the African shores in 1904/05, the impact of the Russian revolution on Ethiopia, the impact of the Bandung Conference in 1955 on Africa. More contemporary issues were e.g. Russia’s participation in UN Peacekeeping activities. Many papers dealt with the BRICS and Africa, sometimes as a group, often as ‘Brazil in Africa’, ‘China in Africa’, ’or Indians in the Horn’, but there was also attention for other countries: Turkey, Japan, the USA (and Africom) and a lot on the EU-AU or EU-African states relationships, or on British or French foreign policies and Africa. Other interesting papers were e.g. about Indonesia and Africa (by a Hungarian scholar!), or South Korea and Africa (by a Kazakh scholar). Quite a lot is happening in the sphere of ‘Africa and the World’, one of the current focus areas of the African Studies Centre in Leiden.

Migration issues
But there was also a lot of Russian interest in migration issues, with attention for certain African diaspora groups elsewhere in the world (e.g., Somalis in the USA, or ‘African babysitters’ in France) or specific African-Russian migration issues: the jobs Moroccan students got (or not) after they have studied in Russia; Russian wives in Ethiopia and Tanzania; Afro-Russians and their esthetic and social preferences; Russian-speakers in Africa; and how Russians could practice their Orthodox Christianity in Islamic countries in Africa. The keynote speech by Irina Abramova (“the New Role of Africa in the 21st Century World Economy”) also highlighted demographic issues in Africa, and the ‘demographic dividend’ Africa is supposed to harvest in the next few decades.

The Library of the Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

The Library of the Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

Studying former coups
Many papers on political affairs dealt with the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Terrorism and its threats for peace and security also received considerable attention, as well as radical Islam, and there was a remarkable interest in Libya and Sudan. Many political papers had a historical orientation: studying former coups (and Russian involvement in some), or political change and revolutions in an African country. But there were also many papers on legal and political issues dealing with democracy and human rights, often on a scale of Africa as a whole, but sometimes focusing on particular countries and experiences.

‘Russian investors: please come to South Sudan!’
The funniest session I attended was on African Cinema, with a very interesting paper about the history of the Tashkent Film Festival and its impact on Africa, and a vehemently Russian-nationalistic plea against American domination in the (African) film industry. In Russian of course (with whispered translation next to me). And when question time came, the speaker had disappeared. Then suddenly someone appeared who was supposed to give a talk on Russian documentary filming in Africa during the Soviet era, but who was two hours late.
The most remarkable thing I experienced was the speech by a high-ranking official of the Republic of South Sudan during the opening ceremony. Yes, we made a mess of it, he said, but unlike many other African countries we solved it in 40 days! So, he went on, Russian investors: please come to South Sudan; we have proof now that we can solve all your problems within 40 days!