Luis Salvador Neto: The challenges of the african migration

  1. Introduction

The migration process started with civilization, therefore the history of mankind is strongly linked to that of the migration of the peoples. The waves of migration resulted in population mixing or, sometimes, in a completely changed general public. The study aims first of all to present and analyze the challenges of the African migration, focusing on the migration situation in the Sub-Saharan region. The main reasons of the African migration are: development gap in social, economic and political structures, deep poverty, civil war and economic inequalities.

African society was formed by several waves of migration processes. In the last decades migration has become one of the most important political-legal issues in Africa. Although the African Union’s Refugee Convention of 1969 is still valid in the refugee context, this document does not apply efficiently. Due to the lack of legislation the migration issue has come to the front in Africa as well.


The continent, particularly the Sub-Saharan region, has come to a crossroads, and is therefore facing challenges and opportunities regarding the migration question. Consequently, we need effective practical handling. One possible solution is continuous border control, the other the effectiveness of migrational diplomacy. In some African countries we have to pay intensive attention to conflicts regarding human rights violation, the balking of  corruption, the illegal migration and to the refugee waves. Population growth also represents considerable challenges for the continent, since there is a considerable gap between the number of working-age population and the number of new jobs. Overcrowded regions force people to look for new destinations offering acceptable quality of life. In the last few months the pandemic caused by coronavirus (Covid-19) resulted, among other things, in distracting the international community’s attention from the fact that they must urgently solve their African migration problems.


2.     The situation of the African migration


In Antiquity the African slave trade was a forced form of migration, not based on a free will, through which the Mediterranean regions were overwhelmed with African slaves. From the 16th century onwards this particular form of migration could be seen not only in the Eastern, but also in the Western regions, so that by the 18th century the yearly slave trade reached the order of magnitude of one hundred thousand. Slaves were transported by force to the American continent above all, not to Europe, still, we cannot disregard the number of those few tens of thousands of slaves, who were brought to Europe. In aristocratic circles it became current to employ slaves as manservant or carter, some of them even succeeded in gaining excellent reputation.[1] Migration can be pigeonholed in several ways, but the easyest and most basic way is to differentiate between legal and illegal migration. Other typologies also exist, like regulated and unregulated migration. Recent times are characterized by forced migration, due to poverty, natural catastrophes, violation of human rights and increased armed conflicts.

Considering that migration we now face is unprecedented in its scope, the 21st century could be called the era of mass migration. In different historical times the number of African immigrants has not changed at the same space. Around 2010 the number of immigrants was appr. 214 million, which is outstanding, considering that around the millennium at least 40 million fewer persons were registered by the ONU. [2] By 2050, the ONU is expecting – as compared to the data of 2010 – twice as many immigrants, who, on the one part, will migrate from one developed country to another developed country, on the other hand, from one of the developing countries to another developing country. Europe only precedes Asia by a few percents, but Latin-America and Oceania show a considerable backlog. [3]

Immigrants prefer countries with a higher income. Those with higher education degrees choose the developed countries, so both Ghana or Kenya belong to those countries, whose inhabitants moved to developed countries. The „syphoning-off” capacity of education also plays a vital role, therefore many students who obtained a degree abroad, remain in that specific country, where they had studied. The money they send home keeps being considerable, it amounted to more than 300 bio USD by 2010.[4] Migration has become an issue of public interest[5], since the immigrants can send money to their countries of origin, trying to help their families. Regarding money transfers home we can observe continuous changes between the different regions, the Sub-Saharan countries have in the meantime replaced the North-African regions, but the Sub-Saharan countries still receive fewer contributions. For the mother country the departed labour means a considerable loss and a painfully redressable social and economic problem, insofar as we speak of a small number of skilled labour, and migration syphons-off intellectual and human capacities.

Nowadays we can say that Angola, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Libya, Kenya and the South African Republic are becoming migration destinations in their own right[6], in fact, behind the migration in the Sub-Saharan region lies an aggregation of intracontinental processes. [7] Africa is characterized by a quick demographic growth, and the jobs cannot follow suite of this growth, therefore migration is so to say predestined for the African population. Decreasing armed conflicts could result in a reduced number of migrants within the continent. While in 1990 there were 5 million refugees living in Africa, by 2010 this decreased to appr. 2,2 million, who were mostly refugees fleeing from the catasthophes of war or civil war in the Congo Democratic Republic, Sudan or Tschad. However, we cannot disregard all those who live as refugees in their own country.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is active for the international legal protection of refugees and for a sustainable solution to the refugee problems, taking into account the 1951 Refugee Convention, including the 1967 Additional Protocol and the OAU Convention of 1969 Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Refugees mean a real burden for the receiving State. At the same time, violence against immigrants as well as civil wars have changed the country’s approach to date, regarding the reception of immigrants. With regard to the future, the inclusion of immigrants is an issue not to be neglected and presents serious challenges to the African countries.[8] Eastern and South Africa have long been outstanding destinations for Asian immigrants, arriving there as temporary workers or long-term residents.[9] Africa’s relations with China are reflected in the number of African migrants to China as well, considering that the Chinese Government announced several scholarships throughout Africa. Moreover, at own cost, students have access to Chinese diplomatic studies. It is worth mentioning India’s centuries old contacts to Africa, since Indo-African relations are greatly linked to Indian migration towards Africa.

At the beginning of 2011 an estimated 2,5 million migrant workers worked in Libya, appr. 1,5 million illegally.[10]According to International Organization for Migration, in Libya, with 6 million inhabitants, there was a considerable number of foreigners originating from Sub-Saharan Africa (main issueing countries: Erithrea, Somalia, Niger, Tschad, Mali, Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana).[11]

Due to its demographic reasons, Libya has been dependent on foreign workers ever since the seventies. Nevertheless, it is only after the 1990s that the number of Black-African immigrants started to increase in Libya: the war between Libya and Tschad ended in 1987, in 1994 they signed an agreement on the free movement of their citizens between the two countries, the Tuaregs’ rebellions in Mali and Niger (1995 and 1996) ended, all these factors have contributed to a safer transfer through the Sahara.[12] The most important incentive for immigration: Kaddafi announced panafricanism, and he often openly encouraged the Sub-Saharan countries’ inhabitants that he would welcome them „as brothers” to work in in Libya.[13] We could conclude that migration within Africa facilitates reduced unemployment and it is also evident that circular migration – that is continuous return to the issueing country – promotes regional cooperation and multidirectional movement of highly qualified workforce.[14]

Analyzing the root causes of migration we need to mention the escape caused by natural catastrophes – draught, epidemics[15], floods, which have been striking Africa for decades. According to forecasts the global warming will affect the countries of Africa more intensively, and this, coupled with the exceptional demographic growth, will result in the exhaustion of the water reserves, therefore it is evident that the changes would generate population flows. The rivers’ reduced water flow, the contamination of the water and the water abstraction will cause natural catastrophes at unexpected places, where this had never happened before. Escape caused by natural catastrophes will therefore result in an increased number of ecological refugees.[16]

It is evident that demographic growth in Africa does not show parellels with the increased number of jobs, which, according to forecasts, will also lead to emigration. The serious difficulty of migration also affects qualified professionals, who, in the hope of better living conditions and higher salaries, will move to developing countries. The receiving countries need these workers. The migration of professionals, of doctors and engineers in the first place, means a serious problem for the continent, and this economic development has to be rectified with economic counter measures.


Economic growth can be observed in the Sub-Saharan regions, clearly affecting Angola, Ethiopia, Botswana, Nigeria and the South African Republic. In recent years, due to a developed economy and relative stability, South Africa was characterized by a great deal of immigration. As opposed to the migration departing from Africa, we have to pay attention to the migration within the continent and to the migration into Africa.[17] International migration within the African regions has been increasing considerably since 2000 onwards, but the most important growth was registered in the number of those departing outside of the continent. In 2015 9 million immigrants of African origin were living in Europa, 4 million in Asia and 2 million in North-America.  On the contrary, Africa only became home to 2,3 million immigrants of Asian and European origin.[18]

Africa has essential, so called migration channels, resulting mostly from its geographic position, as well as from its historical traditions.  The biggest migration channels can be found between the North-African countries, e.g. from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in the direction of France, Spain and Italy. Additionally, a considerable migration channel is linked to the Gulf States, e.g. from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.[19] It is of major importance, that the second biggest migration channel in Africa is between Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. These channels offer a snapshot of the migration process, essential populations of foreign origin were born through them in the countries of destination.[20] In 2016 South Sudan had the greatest number of refugees in the Northern Region, originating from Uganda and Ethiopia. As a result of the long lasting conflicts, the second biggest refugee group was that from Somalia, as well as from Sudan, the Congo Democratic Republic, Erithrea and the Central African Republic. The North Africans’ migration towards Europe and the Gulf-States is a relevant factor of the region’s migration dynamics, taking into account that North-African migration keeps focusing on countries outside the continent. While migration from Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia has historical causes (Europe’s geographic proximity, as well as earlier job-recruiting agreements),[21] then in the North-Eastern countries (Egyypt and Sudan) workers exclusively look for temporary jobs. The main lever to boost North-African migration is the enormous difference regarding income and unemployment between the country of origin and the country of destination. As a result, in 2016 appr. 10,6 million North-Africans lived in Europe and appr. 3 million in the Gulf-States. For the immigrants the North-African micro region mostly serves as transit route, but it is noteworthy that in 2015 Libya had the highest number of international immigrants, amounting to more than 770.000, and in Sudan lived a considerable number of people of foreign origin also, born in South Sudan, Erithrea, Ethiopia and Tchad and arrived from there. While we had considered Morocco to be traditionally a country of emigration, nowadays it has become more and more a country of destination, including its immigrants from other African countries, who spend an indefinite duration in Morocco until they find their way to Europe. The main triggering cause of North-African migration are the often violent conflicts in the micro regions. At the end of 2016 the majority of the refugees from Sudan found a home in the neighboring Tschad and South Sudan, while Sudan remains an important country of immigration, having received at the same time more than 400.000 refugees from South Sudan.[22] A further triggering cause for North-African migration is the fluctuating security and political situation in Libya, which, in turn, also greatly contributes to the increased number of refugees and asylum seekers.

The great majority of the Western- and Central African immigrants move within the micro regions, thanks to the visa exemption between certain States, which is extremely important from the labour mobility’s point of view. In spite of the agreements on free movement illegal migration still exists between the Western- and Central African states, considering that in the case of immigrants with destination to Europe through the Mediterranean Nigeria is an important transit country, and even on the territories which guarantee free movement, human trafficking accross the borders is not rare either. Moreover, several Western-African countries have a very porous structure, lacking security measures, which favors illegal movements accross borders. The climatic changes of the region influence living conditions, and, despite all agricultural growth, the region keeps being characterized by food insecurity. Complex and interrelated ambiental changes, like draught and floods, as well as climatic changes, all contribute to mobility across borders and within the country – between villages and the city.


In the South-African micro region – similarly to the Eastern-African countries – illegal migration is vastly spread. Myriad immigrants originate from Ethiopia and Somalia, who mostly arrive to the Southernmost territories of Africa through trafficking. During the transport many of them travel under inhuman conditions and often experience blackmail and physical violence before they arrive to the country of destination, but many of them, lose their life in the rough travel circumstances. However repulsive the cause for forced migration  may be, according to Endre Sík (1992) in the sociological sense there is no substantive difference between  escape and forced migration. In both cases the decisive factor is the external duress, there is nearly no time to prepare the migration, not to mention that the immigrant has to spend money to lessen the impact of the crisis.[23] Moreover, individual and collective decisions behind the migration and physical and intellectual constraints form a complicated system, and we very rarely encounter „purely” voluntary or forced migration.[24]


  • Sub-Saharan migration


The demographic growth of the global South represents a daily challenge for the continent’s municipalities and inhabitants. Despite marked modernization and urbanisation the continent keeps having rural character, the demographic growth of the region’s big cities is not due to the number of immigrants, but to the numerical growth of the original urban population.[25] The quicker information exchange and traffic, which goes hand in hand with globalization, drives an increasing number of people away from rural areas. According to forecasts myriads of people will leave their homes in the next ten years, in view of a restart in the cities, but this will not necessarily mean a higher standard of living, considering that in certain African municipal areas the population lives in illegal accommodations. The informal settlements lack basic services which would lead to mass health issues.[26] Difficulties linked with demographic growth and climate change, like desertification, have caused serious problems regarding the soil productivity of the continent. Taking into account that the food reduction per capita to date has been outstanding, the food crisis will lead to mass emigration. Besides the variable weather, the soil erosion and other environmental problems the State’s vulnerability is very high also, which would lead to the fall of the States and further migration.

One or two, seemingly insoluble ethnical issues; inflexible governmental employment policy, unable to handle unemployment in the case of skilled workforce; the loss of real income or the depreciaton of the value of the currency, all these can be triggering causes. Other factors also play a role in the willingness to migrate, like the possibility to reach higher income and standard of living, which motivate the skilled workforce. It is important to identify the correlations between migration and development, which have become more propounced between the Northern and Southern States, due to brain drain.[27] Should it be commonly agreed that immigrants bring along to the receiving country their energies, experiences and determination to succeed, a so called win win situation, beneficial for both parties, could be reached.[28]

Considering the challenges generated by migration, cooperation between Africa and Europe was decided in July 2006, during the ministerial conference of the European Union’s Member States in Rabat. At the conference it was agreed that the aging Europe needed a certain amount of migration. The agreement was rafitied in November 2006 at the meeting in Syrte, Libya, where the African and European foreign ministers and government players adopted a declaration[29] on the application of comprehensive joint effort and shared responsibility regarding the migration issue. The discussion was continued in June 2007 in Madrid, with the emphasis put on setting up a network covering all countries. This was followed in December 2007 by the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, which, upon recommendation of the European Commission, focused on migration-supporting enlargements as well as the stoppage of the emigration of skilled workforce. The conference’s most important message on the part of Europe was the support of the African demands.

A particular feature of the area is that there is mainly internal migration, caused mostly by refugees or immigrants seeking employment. The successive crises as well as the West-African political and economic recessions have given a new direction to these migration movements, but for the Africans the migration keeps being directed towards Europe and North America. Due to the migration, the attractivity of certain new States, e.g. the South African Republic, has increased, but the continent’s ever-increasing ethnic conflicts, the demographic growth and the incalculable political situation are all further shaping the directions of migration. Apart from all these internal factors let us not forget that globalization and regional integration efforts are also at work at the African migration processes.[30]


2.1.2.     Factors of the African migration


Globally, African population is characterized by a low degree of migration despite the fact that there is a considerable demographic growth on the continent every year, and appropriate quality of life is not even assured for the workers with low level qualification. Because of its underdevelopment, the continent is less attractive to foreign manpower, and its skilled citizens are seduced by Europe and North America. The African continent is one of the richest areas on Earth, but it still is one of the poorest regions. In Africa the qualification and employment level is low, people are undernourished and receive a lower salary for their work. Another cause for the underdevelopment of the continent is the high public debt, which eats up the bigger part of the already low national income. Moreover, the increasing number of people is further producing the population susceptible to migration. The South-African region is only slightly affected by migration, a low number of the immigrants here have refugee status. Different conflict situations, wars, civil wars are decisive factors of the migrations within Africa. Poverty also leads to ethnical conflicts, as well as bad economic situation, at whose heart often lies the varying ethnic mix. Nearly half of the conflicts of the last fifty years, which triggered off refugee waves, broke out in Africa, further deteriorating the continent’s prospects.


Assessing the triggering causes, we need to speak of the environmental criteria, as main factors in influencing migration processes. The unreliability of precipitation makes agricultural production difficult, desertification and lack of precipitation has lead to reduced food production. Stagnating development renders the chances of survival and rise of African people more difficult.[31] In the last years African students come to Hungary to study within the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship program[32] (Angolans, Namibians, Nigerians, Egyptians, Ghanaians, South-Africans, etc). In Hungary, the legally residing African immigrants mostly succeeded in integrating adequately, this is also supported by the fact that some of them are in charge of civil organizations, as well as act as a bridge between their homeland and their chosen country. Arrival with the aim to study is a determining field of migration as a whole, therefore cooperation in the field of education is of outstanding importance between Africa and Hungary.

Migration also has an economic aspect, when individuals set off in the hope of better living conditions. There still exists a deep gap between the developing countries and the West, which is the most important governing factor of migration. In the hope of a high living standard Europe and North-America keep being a highly attractive destination for our fellow African citizens, who often flee from hunger or in order to avoid armed conflicts.


3.         Management of legal and illegal migration


In times of crises (that is, when our everyday life and our routine are being turned upside down), both legal and political theory become more radical as well, that is why those also have to rethink themselves and their theories.[33] Conflicts burden everyday life and the situation becomes more difficult by day for Africans. In the last years the continuous armed conflicts have put the African issue once more to the centre of international attention. Unfortunately, the refugee crisis keeps going on currently. Always more Africans strive to leave their place of living and enter into Europe, and the most important destination are the member States of the European Union. Although many people target Europe, most of them still migrate within Africa.[34] The area of destination outside Europe is North-America, the Gulf-States and Asia.[35 ] Despite the fact that many of them set off illegally, the decisive majority of them has the necessary travel documents, visa, passport and try to make their successful life in the country of destination. A considerable difficulty is that instead of the adequately skilled workers the country of destination wishes for, in many cases it is unskilled immigrants who arrive. This is not a positive process, considering that in most cases they are unable to adapt to the required social norms of the receiving State. It is a major influencing factor in the decision of the migrants, who are forced to leave their homeland and later settle among several different ethnical groups, that after their hardships and challenges along their migration route, once they arrive to the country of destination, they would find support from fellow Africans already living there.[36 ]

To note that the great majority of the African migrants arriving to Europe have the necessary travel, residence, exit or transit permissions (visa), first of all those workers who arrive to the continent as circular immigrants, e.g. for a temporary job.[37] For the legal immigrants the Central-East-European area still helds great attraction, but, due to the imposed strict border controls here, Asian countries have become more favorable destinations for them, so an immigrant can travel at less cost to e.g. China and get a visa.

Regarding the migration-related tasks, we also have to take into account the African answers. All over Africa, regional cooperation is of outstanding importance, as well as the cooperation of the continent as a whole. The most important aim of regional cooperation is to retain the knowledge, highly skilled workers and experience indispensable for development within the own framework.[38] In the 1960s the European education system was opened before Africans. Myriads of young students arrived to Europe with study scholarships and, after the 1980s many of them emigrated to the United States and the Near East, as well as to other rich and developing countries. The majority of African countries cannot participate in the global competition, therefore they seek regional integration as a solution to adequately use their resources and to retain knowhow in that region.[39] It could be a long term solution for Africa that it is on this continent that we find the most communities which encourage regional integration, find free movement of persons feasible and support legal migration in their own regions. This idea is similar to that laid down by the European Economic and Social Committee[40], which focuses on the legalisation of migration.

A factor linked to the handling of migration and supporting integration is its regulation, so that it should be required for long term residents to have adequate language knowledge. Furthermore, it is essential that immigrant workers get equal treatment at the job market to those of the receiving State. The clarity of the conditions of employment and work, social care or tax allowances can guarantee protection to the immigrants. For a highly qualified professional a job ambiance with more favorable working conditions can held more attaction.[41] Regarding legal migration we can state in general that several essential agreements of partnership and stability have to be made between the given State and areas, which have to include the development of trade and political relations. As first, thanks to the Barcelona Declaration in 1995, an economic, political and social cooperation was established in a spirit of partnership with the Mediterranean States. After the Barcelona process the Mediterranean Union was established, which was further developed by a partnership agreement with Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.[42]

Concerning legal migration, on the one hand it is very important to support the constant migration channels between Europe and the North-African countries, as well as to create networks between the different institutions, in order to facilitate job creation and provide for employment opportunities. On the other hand, in the African countries it is substantial to streghthen cooperation between regional offices and the Interpol National Central Bureaus, and the further development of the communication networks between the European Union and the African countries.[43] The African migration trend of the last years has changed.

Partnership relations have been existing between Europe and Africa for a long time, which were further consolidated by the Valletta Summit between November 11-12, 2015, by establishing the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, in order to find the triggering causes of instability and handle migration more effectively. At the Valletta Summit the European and African heads of State and Government have met in an effort to strengthen cooperation and address the current challenges, but also the opportunities of migration.[44] The main aims of the adopted action plan were improvements to enhance cooperation on legal migration and mobility, an improved cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration, to reinforce the protection of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as more effective fight against the human trade and trafficking related to illegal migration.[45] Tacking into account the national characteristics, the main fields of the action plan are in harmony with the countries’ sovereignty and national laws, at the same time considerable EU funds are available for the cooperation with Africa. It is urgent to strenghthen diplomatic support, which would enable a quick solution to the most burning African crises. In the interest of security and the fight against terror threats it is indispensable to stabilize State resources and to continue the efforts of the local population. [46] The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa[47], established at the Valletta Summit, has mapped out several action plans to reduce migration, improve the immigrants’ living conditions and manage the causes of irregular migration.

The regional migration program is designed to promote adequate migration husbandry and support the fight against human trafficking, with the aim to ensure the immigrants’ rights and protect them against exploitation, violence and abuse. The program’s general objective is to ease migration. This could be realized by improved border management, fight against criminal networks, but first of all by supporting a comprehensive administration, further by preventing human rights’ abuse and respecting the rule of law. Moreover, security, increased national resources in jurisdiction, fight against illegal migration, human trade and immigrant trafficking can be realized through regional cooperation.


  1. Conclusions


African migration is not new, everyday life of African people includes migration within the continent and between Africa and Europe. Africa alone can manage the migration-related challenges with more difficulty, it is only possible to solve migration problems through cooperation with another continent. At the background of this direction towards Europe we can find historical reasons, first of all the colonial system’s heritage, the consequence of which is the emergence of diasporas. As a consequence of the migration crisis in 2015 it was often said that the Africans would invade Europe. This assumption, however, was wrong. Concerning migration processes it is worth to follow the migration within the continent, and also the intensification of the migration between Africa and China.


Migration pressure, so as we are experiencing it nowadays, will become always more permanent towards Europe, considering that, due to the rapid demographic growth, the number of the working-age population is increasing beyond measure in Africa, while in Europe it decreases prominently. At the same time forced migration can be further interpreted with regard to the triggering factor’s impact on the individual and the dominance of force. Nevertheless, the final lesson is that migration cannot be turned back nor can the process of migration be stopped. In the light of the above we can conclude that Europe can be a model for Africa regarding development programs with the aim that young African people should not emigrate.


The most important thing for Africa is to retain its skilled workers in future and to promote the return to the African continent. All this, of course, is only possible, if Africa also becomes an attractive continent for qualified physicians, scientists, engineers and for all those who emigrated. Therefore, all developments and investments which enlarge the capacities of educational institutions are needed for Africa to become more competitive in the decades to come. For historical and economic reasons, the cooperation between Africa and Europe on migration field is indispensable.





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