Labour Mobility as a Key To Good Migration Governance in Africa

West African economies are largely dominated by informal commerce and agriculture. Migrant workers on the continent are often found in settings characterized by low incomes and wages; a lack of social protection; precarious jobs and workplaces; abysmal working conditions; and low-skill portfolios.

32 countries in Africa with coastlines are facing erosion, flooding and droughts. 56 per cent of the continent’s population is estimated to move to cities in 30 years. Photo: Celeste Hibbert

While youth employment policies, rural development and the improvement of economies in countries of origin­­­­ are needed, in the short term they are not sufficient to reduce young West Africans’ desire to migrate in search of opportunities beyond the region.

Although an estimated 52.6 per cent of African migrants relocate within the continent itself, more must be done to harness the potential benefits of labour mobility and to regulate it, ensuring better protection for migrant workers. Large numbers of migrants from West Africa, including Niger, move to North Africa seasonally for work purposes and this trend has been quite consistent over the years. Nigeriens move there because they know there are jobs to be filled and they have no intention of going to Europe. However, in the absence of organized labour migration schemes, many of these migrants can face challenges including exploitation and suffering, linked to the absence of legal status at destination.

Seyiba from Burkina Faso lived in Libya for years before he decided to go back home. He is now enrolled in a construction training.

The response is often to assist them when they decide to return to their countries of origin, but just returning migrants to their homeplaces does not represent a viable option for countries of destination — which need these workers to grow their economies — or for the economies in countries of origin.

Each migration-prone area has its own specificities and deserves a unique and tailored response rather than broad solutions. Countries could gain a lot today by designing schemes, bilaterally or regionally, for youth to legally take on jobs in foreign countries to fill labour market needs while enjoying protection and access to basic services, is a much more viable option. In doing so, these countries would also give young people the chance to expand their opportunities, economically, socially and culturally, as living and working abroad will expose them to new challenges, and new ways of “doing” and “learning”.

“I like it because I am able, I am capable of doing this job. My family is very supportive of my choice.” Providence was trained to be a mechanic in Rwanda. Photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

Bilateral labour agreements (BLAs) can also be great tools for ensuring that migratory flows remain orderly, within specific sectors where labour needs have been identified. BLAs can include specific provisions for the protection of migrant workers at destination. However, recent research (Joint Labour Migration Programme, 2017) shows that BLAs on the African continent and international standards are not aligned, especially with respect to the adequacy of social protection available to migrant workers. Strengthening the governments ability to effectively negotiate BLAs would go a long way to address this gaps.

The establishment of more legal channels for migration, including labour migration programmes, would probably reduce irregular migration flows in the long-term. Equally, legal and orderly migration channels would also ensure a safe and legal return process for those who are choose to come back home.

In December 2016 the European Union, several African Member States and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, launched the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. It helps returning migrants restart their lives in their countries of origin through an integrated approach that supports both migrants and their communities, contributes to local development and mitigates some of the drivers of irregular migration.

IOM, in collaboration with the African Union and the International Labour Organization, is also implementing a Joint Labour Migration Programme to promote safe and orderly labour migration within and from Africa. Specifically, the programme focuses on building the capacity of East and West African governments to develop and implement bilateral, multilateral labour mobility and social security arrangements — in order to provide promote legal migration channels while allowing adequate protection to migrant workers. It is important to remind us all that migration is not a problem to be eradicated but an opportunity to be well managed. Opening up legal migration channels, along with other protection and security measures, contribute to seize that opportunity.


The article was written by Claudia Natali, Labour mobility and Human development, Regional thematic Specialist, RO Dakar.