The Intra-African Migration

A report born from the collaboration between the European Parliament and the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA)

“The main findings and conclusions of this study are: firstly, that migration is best understood in relation to broader issues of circulation, settlement, livelihoods, adaptation, family ties and changing economic activities, which combine to form the big picture of intra-African migration; secondly, that African migration to Europe is best understood and approached as a continuation of intra-African migration; and thirdly, that urban centres are central nodes in intra- as well as extra-continental migration.”

This study on intra-African migration was produced as part of the collaboration between the European Parliament and the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA). The study, entitled Intra-African Migration, aims to establish a comprehensive overview of regional and international circles and interrelationships, the spaces involved in migration dynamics and the infrastructure that facilitate these movements.

The background comprises existing efforts by both African and European countries to gain a better understanding of intra-African migration and its relation to intercontinental migration.

This report provides a broad overview of current routes, infrastructure and mechanisms in the field of intra-African migration, with particular attention to the conditions that form and enable migration to Europe or elsewhere. In particular, the report highlights the regional specificities of migration flows; the informal nature of most migration intermediation on the continent; the close connections between intra-African and intercontinental migration; the centrality of urban centres as migration centres. The report also analyses the main political priorities of African and European actors, as well as the current and potential effects of climate change and the covid-19 pandemic.

In 2018, the African Union (AU) in its ‘Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community’ relating to the free movement of persons, right of residence and right of establishment outlined a set of general rules to facilitate migration between the AU member states. In particular, this Protocol noted that ‘the free movement of persons in Africa will facilitate the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) endorsed by the AU’. 

At the same time, international migration has become one of the EU’s top priorities. With a rise in the number of migrants trying to enter the European Union, the EU established an Emergency Trust Fund in 2015 to address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa. Furthermore, in the framework of the next MFF, the Commission proposes that out of the envisaged Neighbourhood and International Development Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), 10 % will be dedicated to migration-related activities. Within this context, understanding the dynamics and trends of intra-African migration, its relations to extra-African migration and the policies of both the EU and AU in this respect will contribute to the European Parliament’s policy agenda.

The study is based on: generalist migration literature and data; migration policy documents from both the EU and the AU; more specialised scientific literature and data on intra-African migration along with its relations to the European continent; and specialised literature about intra-African and international routes along with settlement and migration infrastructure. We also include a limited number of targeted interviews with academics and policy stakeholders from Europe and Africa.

In addition to the analysis of the data, the report makes a few recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Embrace and communicate ‘the big picture’ on intra-African migration
Rather than a narrow approach, focussed on smuggling, trafficking and displacement, migration policy should be linked and inspired by other topics, most notably in relation to livelihoods, youth empowerment, gender mainstreaming and urbanisation.

Recommendation 2: Reframe migration management from security-centred to a development focussed approach
Moving beyond ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to migration governance implies an acknowledgement that the global migration governance agenda remains dominated by domestic security concerns in the global North. While this policy may appease voters, it has generally failed to address the needs and expectations of active and aspiring migrants across the African continent. This line of thinking also implies a more wholehearted dialogue with the African Union around its migration governance agenda. The EU and AU should elaborate their common interests in reframing migration policies from a security-centred to a development–focussed approach, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration. Adherence to the UN Compact should come alongside the development approach as well as to the SDGs, namely SDG9 on sustainable infrastructure.

Recommendation 3: Invest in migration-conducive regulation and infrastructures
Migration policy and practice could benefit from higher investments in conducive intra-African migration structures and infrastructures that generate positive outcomes at subnational, national and regional levels, in order to decriminalise irregular migration and bolster livelihood options for aspiring migrants.

Recommendation 4: Link migration governance to urban development
Migration flows produce new settlement spaces and continually change those that already exist; the physical structures of migration support the movements and are simultaneously shaped by them. In that regard, urban centres are key nodes in intra-African migration structures. As a central field of intersecting ideas, research and policy design relating to urbanisation and rural-urban mobilities is vital to engage with the stepwise nature of intra-African migration. Both the European and the African policy and knowledge production stakeholders should engage and fund urban development and urban planning that engages with the integration of newcomers into urban housing and livelihood sectors, as well as the role of urban centres as transportation hubs for onward migration.

Recommendation 5: Address the polarisation in African and European perspectives on African migration
Addressing intra-African migration in the current context of EU and AU policy is centred in concerns about migration management. There is a common perception in Africa and the EU that irregular migration together with all the negative aspects it implies need to be ‘regularised’. As a starting point, an EU-Africa dialogue should explicitly address the current polarisation in African and European perspectives in regard to migration within Africa. As part of this dialogue, support should be given by both parties to the monitoring of current developments in freer intra-continent migration which is central to the African agenda. Assess if this is leading to positive results for African trade or to negative results, implying outwards migration and consequent brain-drain. Relevant knowledge about the outcomes of the continent’s free movement policy can help redefine EU-Africa relations regarding migration policy over the coming decades. Moreover, it leads to increased appropriation and leadership of migration issues by African decision makers at national, regional, and continental levels.

Intra-African Migration: structures and infrastructures for continued circulation

Recommendation 6: Comprehensively identify and map all the variations in structures and infrastructures of intra-African migration

by Christian Elia