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 Qatar – Qatar in Africa

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Doha skyline with the Museum of Islamic Art.

A delegation of the ‘Africa in the World’ research group of the African Studies Centre in Leiden visited Qatar recently, and had discussions with people in various universities, Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, The Netherlands Embassy and a number of Qatar charities. Qatar is one of the ‘South-South hubs’ of today and an interesting one if one wants to understand the possibilities for Africans to ‘negotiate’ the new global, polycentric world.

With Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi of Qatar University, College of Arts & Sciences.

At Qatar University, with Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi (on the right) of the College of Arts & Sciences.

More Africans than Qataris in Qatar
Qatar is full of surprises. The population living there consists of 2.3 million people, but only 12% of them are having a Qatari passport. There are more Indians and more Nepali in Qatar than there are Qataris. What’s more: there are more Africans in Qatar than there are Qataris (the majority of the Africans being Egyptians and Sudanese, but there are also many people from Ethiopia, Tunisia, Eritrea, Morocco and Kenya). We were told that it is virtually impossible for foreigners to get a Qatari passport, unless you are a sportsman, as Qatar would like to impress the world with ‘its’ sports accomplishments. The atmosphere in capital city Doha is very cosmopolitan, with an explosion of colourful architectural highlights forming the skyline. In the ‘old’ market one can see niqabs alongside Western dresses for women, and suits and hoodies next to the white robes and white-and-red head dresses for men. One gets the impression of ‘everything goes’ and an open, tolerant and very safe public space. At the same time, Qatar wants to be a major player in the Islamic world (and partly in competition with other Gulf states) and is known to support various Islamic groups, including some Islamist groups. The Taliban has an office in Doha. There is major support for Hamas. And there are connections with groups that pledge allegiance to the ideas of Islamic State.

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Emblem of the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al-Thani Charitable Association.

Development assistance
The State of Qatar started its own Department of International Aid in 2007 and spent more than 1.7 billion (US) dollars on ‘development assistance’ in 2013 alone, of which one third was given to Africa. Total aid money would be 740 dollar per person living in Qatar, or, if we only count people with a Qatari passport: more than 6,000 dollar per person. In addition, most non-Qataris send a lot of remittances back home, and Qatari charities are known all over Africa (and elsewhere) for their generosity. One can see the donation boxes of the various charities in central places in Doha.

Al Jazeera
Why would a small country on a peninsula in the Gulf do this? We were told that the former Qatari Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the ruling family realised how vulnerable their family business had become after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia could do the same with them; a reason to do so could always be found. So Qatar needed friends elsewhere, and it needed trumpets to tell the world: here we are! Some people told us that that was the main reason why (in 1996) the Emir decided to fund the Al Jazeera news network, which put Qatar on the world map of journalism. Others told us that it is much more complicated than that. Later, the Qatari elite decided to attract lots of foreign researchers (the Qatar Foundation is rich!); to fund numerous sports and cultural highlights; and to build a city full of special features. They can pay for it. In 2013, Qatar exported for 137 billion dollars’ worth of products (mainly gas and chemical products) and it only imported for 27 billion dollars. That truly means a huge balance of payment surplus. Japan, Korea and India are its major customers; the USA and China the major providers of goods and services. Although Qatar used to be a British colony, Europe’s role in imports and exports has become quite limited. At the same time, trade with Africa is very small (although growing): only about 1%. In 2013, Qatar’s major African trade partners were South Africa and Kenya for its exports, and Egypt and (again) South Africa as providers of some of its imports.

Visiting the Netherlands' Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef - van Eechoud (second from left).

Visiting the Netherlands’ Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef-van Eechoud (second from left).

Peace broker
Trade and aid are clearly not much connected (yet?) and one can see Qatar’s aid policy as one of its methods of ‘impression geopolitics’, and ways to export its cultural-political ideas. And that is full of controversies and surprises. In 2011, Qatar supported almost all Arab Spring uprisings. And currently, Qatar’s foreign policy is full of attempts to be a major peace broker in Africa and the Middle East: the ‘Norway’ of the Middle East. With Qatari aid money surpassing Qatari trade money (imports and exports) in most of Africa’s countries, Qatar’s embassies in Africa and Africa’s many embassies in Qatar, we see a form of aid diplomacy that must be familiar to Dutch diplomats who dealt with Africa in the 1980s and 1990s and who did not have to promote Dutch businesses too much in those years, with the exception of diplomats in African oil countries like Nigeria. It was trade or aid; not trade and aid. And it was about exporting an ideology. Like Qatar nowadays; although the ideology is different of course. Africans nowadays can make choices. And they do so ever more…