Accra Forum on Migration: Prioritising Freedom of Movement and Safe Migration Across Borders
Travelling across border, especially within African regions or the continent shouldn’t be difficult. It should be as easy as going to the next town or community within a local area. Unfortunately, this is not so.
Yearly, millions of people face several hurdle of travelling across border, either through legal or illegal means. Prominent among these set are young people who desperately move across border for “greener pasture” – mostly in search of jobs and better opportunity.
Last week at the first Joint Annual Forum for Intra-regional Consultations of African Regional Frameworks on Migration, I met a young man, Emmanuel Kojo, who shared his experience of trying to illegally cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Emmanuel’s parent had died when he was quite young. Growing up, he had limited means to support himself and he was finding it hard to make ends meet in his home country, Ghana. That was what pushed him to looking for better opportunities across the border.
According to Emmanuel, he and several others spent weeks on sea trying to go to Europe through Libya. Many died at sea before Emmanuel and some others were ‘rescued’ by the authorities who brought them back to their respective homeland.
Speaking on his experience at the conference, he said: “It (the journey) is dangerous. It is either you die or live. Young people shouldn’t try it.”
Asked if he will try it if he has the chance again, he affirmed NO.
However, not many people are as fortunate as Emmanuel. Every year, thousands of migrant lost their live at sea and the desert trying to cross over to Europe, illegally. The last hurdle which is often by sea is often conducted in the cover of darkness in freezing water or rough sea from Morocco to Spain. Migrants damn the consequence of freezing or drowning while smugglers involved in this activity care less as they sometimes dump their passengers in the middle of the rough sea, regardless of the fact that many of them can’t swim –for fear of being caught by the immigration authorities. Sometimes, the boat which is taking the large number of illegal migrants is so small that the migrants capsize half-way on the sea and many lose their lives as a result of this.
In fact the desperation to move across border is so great that some smugglers have now derived techniques of stowing people inside car engines and dashboards, in hidden compartments in boats, in suitcases and even trying to swim from shore to shore.
Now, the situation may not be as deadly as intra-continental migration, but it is equally dramatic.
For instance, when travelling to Ghana from Nigeria for the conference, the number of immigration exercise I went through before I could board the plane to Ghana was somewhat herculean. For instance, I was checked at about four different spots before boarding the plane – one; before entering the airport, another one was before proceeding to get a boarding pass, and then before proceeding to the ‘waiting gate’ and finally before boarding the plane. By the time I got to my final destination, I was bone-tired. Arriving back home was also as stressful as we (I and other passengers) have to wait on a long queue for immigration to check us in. I even felt sorry for a Ghanaian who was subjected to another round of search after he had cleared from the immigration checking us into Nigeria and was on his way to exit the airport after receiving his baggage. This experience will even be consider a child’s play when compared to the hustle of acquiring visa to travel to some African countries –in countries like Chad, you need to have a certificate that indicates that you do not have a criminal record among other things.
Sometimes, when travelers or migrants think of the hurdle they will face in acquiring a Visa legally or the immigration tussle they will face in the course of trouble, they resort to illegal means. As someone said at the conference, which I totally agree with, travelling across border in Africa via air can be more strenuous than travelling by road sometimes.
The Lure of Migration: Why are People Migrating?
The issue of migration and mobility has been at the centre of the world discussion. African leaders are also concerned about the centrality of human movement within Africa for continental integration. Besides, they are worried about migratory inflows to destinations outside the continent including brain drain.
While urban areas across Africa are becoming extremely overcrowded and overburdened, inter/intra Africa borders are also getting equally frustrated by the high wave of migration.
People migrate to other places for different reasons. While many people, especially youths see migration as a coping mechanism to escape poverty, unemployment and an avenue to improve their status; others move as a result of conflict, poor governance and under-development.
However, one underlying issue that keeps coming up is how these migrants are moving across border and what are the hurdles faced by these migrants as migration is now becoming a do or die affair.
Like Emmanuel whose story was shared at the beginning of this piece, many people are now making desperate journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe through illegal means –at the risk of their lives.
In 2014 for example, an estimated 170, 000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, majority of them leaving Libya. Most of them came from Syria, the Horn of Africa and West Africa.
According to IOM, there has been increase in migrant deaths in the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2015. Mortality rate of migrants increased from 2,223 (between January to September 2014) to 2, 760 deaths January to September 2015.
Some of the challenges faced in tackling the problem of intra border migration, especially within Regional Economic Commissions (RECs), has been the fact that territorial borders are considered sacrosanct despite socio-cultural irrelevance. Also, African countries appendages of the former colonial powers continue to influence policies and Visa regimes in African Union/RECs.
Also Xenophobic attacks on migrants, conflict of national laws with regional and sub-regional treaties as well as the ambivalent nature of some African countries to the principle of free movement of persons, among other factors have debar the ease of migrating within Africa. Infact, when the issues affecting migration are critically into, the lack of trust among nations is dominant.
Migration is today a global trend and its high on the agenda of governments across the world like it has never happened before.
The African Union, the International Organisation on Migration and other concerned authorities in charge of migration issues in Africa are very much aware of the challenges people face moving across border. But are they doing enough?
Recently, following the adoption of the Migration Policy Framework for Africa in 2006, the Summit of the 25th African union (AU) Assembly Declaration (Assembly/AU/Decl. 6(XXV)) on Migration in June 2015 reaffirmed the commitment of African leaders towards promoting regional integration through mobility while addressing irregular migration. The declaration mandated the Commission of the African Union to, among other things, speed up the development of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the implementation of continent-wide visa free regimes including issuance of visas at ports of entry for Africans; offer all Africans the same opportunities accorded to citizens of countries within our respective Regional Economic communities by 2018, expedite the operationalisation of the African Passport that would facilitate the free movement of persons, harmonise mechanism to ensure compatibility of higher education in Africa and enable recognition of credentials that will facilitate transferability of knowledge, skills and expertise particularly for the empowerment of African women and youth; and strengthen effort to combat human trafficking and smuggling of migrants through enhanced international cooperation and capacity building.
However, to effectively manage migration while targeting the management of its root cause, the first “Joint Annual Forum for Intra-regional Consultations of African Regional Frameworks on Migration” took place in Accra Ghana on September 15-18, 2015 with the theme: “Enhancing Capacities of Africa Regional Frameworks on Migration to Facilitate Intra-Regional Labour Mobility, Free Movement of Persons and Integrated Border Management.” In attendance were delegates from the African Union Commission (AUC), International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Commission for Africa (ECA), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) as well as officials from ministries and institutions with migrations related functions and responsibilities.
The confluence of the Joint Annual Forum for Intraregional Consultations of African Regional Frameworks on Migration couldn’t have come timelier. This is because at the center of development issues across the world are the migration of refugees and the freedom of movement of persons across borders. The forum was also held ahead of the Africa-EU summit in Valetta, Malta from 11-12 November, which seeks “to further dialogue and deepen cooperation in the field of migration and mobility within the framework of the Joint Africa-EU strategy through a global and concerted approach to maximize their development impact on both Africa and the EU”.
The Accra Forum of Migration was therefore held to build solid blocks for good policy making, especially in facilitating free movement of persons in Africa and addressing the critical gap in providing an all-inclusive, open, balanced and comprehensive conversation on migration issues.
Current migration trends, patterns and dynamics, newly emerging issues and migration data at the national, regional and continental level were also shared by participants to find durable solutions to the migration challenges of concern to the AU and its member states.
While steps have been taken to provide a comprehensive, balanced approach on migration; much still needs to be done in taking accounts the current trends as well as linkages between migration and other key environmental, social and humanitarian issues.
Migration is a problem that will be around for a long time, so it is important to start paying attention to it now. To this end, migration should not only be seen as a challenge, but also as an opportunity that can foster socio-economic growth across the region.
Drawing from lessons and recommendations made at the Accra Forum, African governments need to develop a comprehensive migration management system and policy that will benefit migrants, families and the economy. They also need to tackle the inconsistency of national immigration laws which affects the implementation at the regional and continental level.
Also, since migration issues cut across almost all the freedoms and rights, there is need for a comprehensive approach when dealing with all aspects of migration. Parliamentarians, private sectors and civil societies should therefore be involved and sensitized on disseminating information on the benefits of the regional integration agenda.
Worthy of note is also the recommendation given by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Chief of Staff, Ovais Sarmad. According to him: “Repressive approaches will not only drive migration further underground, it will also force people to play into the hands and pockets of smugglers and this will inevitably increase the risks to migrants’ lives.”
This corroborates what some of the participants pointed out at the conference, that, once there is free movement at the border, the number of people migrating will dwindle because they will have the option of deciding whether to migrate or not since they will have free access to scout whether the country/region is favorable for them or not. By then, they will think twice on if their purpose of migrating is worth it or not.
Meanwhile, in years to come, the joint forum on migration will provide a platform for cross fertilization and strengthen the migration policies between the African regions.
Nevertheless, participants at the Accra conference on migration should take the necessary steps to implement the recommendations made at the conference to accelerate safe and legal intra-regional mobility. This is because in the absence of sufficient, accessible, safe and legal migration channels; irregular migration and the demand of smuggler will continue.
Hence, only well-managed migration will prevent people from taking the high road of risking their lives.