Africans, with most to gain, face tough barriers to movement

Oct 5, 2009

Johannesburg/Dakar, 5 October 2009—Migration is a way for Africans to improve their lives, but most seeking to move, face significant barriers, particularly across borders, according to the 2009 Human Development Report launched today.

The Report, Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development, finds that many restrictions and inequalities prevent Africans from moving. Restrictions imposed by the limited opportunities of the low-skilled to move across borders mean that money transfers, or remittances do not tend to flow directly to the poorest families, nor to the poorest countries. However, when given the chance, Africans potentially have the most to gain from seeking opportunities elsewhere.

This is the latest publication in a series of global Human Development Reports, which aim to frame debate on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, from climate change to human rights. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme.

“Migration has a long tradition in Africa,” says the Report‟s lead author, Jeni Klugman. “But paradoxically, only 3 percent of Africans live outside their country of birth, much lower than other regions. Despite perceptions on migration, only 1 per cent of Africans live in Europe.”

Internal migration in Africa remains the most common form of movement. Many countries have experienced rapid urban growth due to migration from rural areas to major cities. Such movement can provide opportunities and economic benefits, but also pose major challenges. While people may be attracted by better opportunities in cities, local services and amenities may become strained. This can be seen in cities, such as Lagos and Nairobi, where local authorities may be ill prepared for population growth and face severe institutional and financial constraints. The Report finds the result is likely to lead to rapidly increasing disparities and segmentation of the city.

Those forced to move because of conflict or natural disasters have also suffered severe hardship. Africa has experienced more than its fair share of conflict, with about 13 percent of cross border movement on the continent the result of violence. One person forced to move is too many, and the Report urges fair treatment and the assurance of rights to those displaced by insecurity.

Costs and treatment

Overcoming barriers finds that migrants are significantly constrained by a lack of resources to move and prohibitive entry policies.

often limit the ability of Africans to migrate. For instance, checkpoints on local roads, where bribes are levied, are commonplace in parts of Africa.

As one of the principal regional destinations for migrants, South Africa faces many challenges connected to migration. For example, many migrant children do not have access to education. Also migrants, who do not have legal permits and in need of treatment are unable to access antiretroviral (ARV) drugs against AIDS and other vital medicines. However, in South Africa efforts are underway to regularize Zimbabwean migrants, who are the largest group of migrants to the country, beginning with a temporary residence permit that grants them access to health care and education and the right to stay and work for at least 90 days.

Future trends

One in six countries—all but three in Africa—will more than double their populations within the next 40 years, significantly increasing their work force without enough job opportunities. At the same time, many rich countries face a rapidly ageing population with a diminished labour force.

Overcoming barriers argues that Africa can become a major source of labour for ageing rich countries. Therefore, opening more legal channels and reducing costs related to migration is likely to bring mutual human development benefits for source and destination countries.

Links to development

Countries of origin already benefit from emigration in many ways, especially through remittances. In total, remittance flows are more than four times higher than official development aid. Besides remittances, migrant families may benefit in other ways, such as reductions in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and the empowerment of women.

The Report observes that the exodus of highly skilled workers, such as doctors, nurses and teachers or „brain drain‟ is a major concern. The emigration rate of doctors is more than 40 percent in Cape Verde, Congo, Eritrea and Togo. The Report concludes that countries‟ attempts to stem this exodus have not worked, and impinge on people‟s freedom. The long term solution to such exodus is to strengthen the delivery of services through institutional reforms and better remuneration at home.

According to the Report, migration, through remittances, the transfer of knowledge and ideas and other benefits, can boost development at home. But it is no substitute for accelerated domestically driven development. Instead, it urges governments to better integrate mobility into their overall development and poverty reduction strategies.

Overcoming barriers concludes failure to address mobility issues slows human development‟s progress at individual, community, national and global levels. The core package of policy reform described in the Report stresses rights for migrants, ensuring benefits for migrants and destination communities alike, making it easier for people to move within their own countries and mainstreaming migration into national development strategies.
Contact Information

Ms. Maureen Mundea
Regional Communications Adviser

Cell: +27.71.671.8734

Ms. Maimouna Mills
Regional Communications Adviser
Cell: +221.77.529.1298

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