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African Migration, Global Inequalities, and Human Rights:
Connecting the Dots

William Minter

Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Uppsala, 2011

Full PDF available for download at

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In the year 2000, the baseline for the most comprehensive comparative survey of international migrants worldwide, there were approximately 183 million people living outside their country of birth or 3% of total world population.4 They included approximately 24.6 million Africans, a little more than 13% and roughly in line with the percentage of Africans in the world population. The largest number of international migrants were born in Asia (about 63 million) or in Europe (about 55 million), with migration rates ranging from a low of 1.1% for Northern America to a high of 7.3% for Europe (driven, in part, by the breakup of the former Soviet Union into multiple countries). Africa's migration rate, 2.9% of people born on the African continent and now living outside their country of birth, was only slightly under the world average.

In the last half century, the total number of international migrants has expanded significantly, from 77 million in 1960 to 195 million in 2005 and an estimated 214 million in 2010. The share of migrants in the world population also grew, but only modestly, from 2.6% in 1960 to 3.1% in 2010.

Table 1 shows the distribution of African migrants by region, again using estimates from the year 2000. Among approximately 7.4 million migrants from North Africa, 57% were in Western Europe, 26% in the Middle East (outside Africa), and only 10% in other African countries. For the 17.2 million migrants born in Sub-Saharan Africa, the pattern was the reverse: 72% were in other African countries, 16% in Western Europe, and less than 12% elsewhere in the world, including 5.5% in Northern America and 4% in the Middle East.

pdf of Table 1

The diverse migration streams, by country, can be seen in more detail in Tables 2 and 3. The patterns are shaped by historical and linguistic ties as well as geographical proximity. For example, a large percentage of Liberian migrants and a moderately high percentage of other migrants from English-speaking African countries go to Northern America (Canada and the United States).

pdf of Table 2

pdf of Table 3

Table 4 shows the size of the African-born population in 26 countries, also in the year 2000, from data compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).5 Although it does not include Germany, which does not track immigrants by place of birth, or important non-OECD

pdf of Table 4

4. These numbers, like all statistics connected to migration, should be considered very approximate "best estimates," given the many caveats on data collection and compilation. There are large disparities between data compiled from different sources. See Batalova (2008) for a review of the major data sources. The figures in this paragraph are calculated from Table A in UNDP (2009). Note also that almost all statistical sources do not taken into account second- generation immigrants born in the destination country to immigrant parents. The "immigrant community" is therefore in almost all cases substantially larger than the number of foreign-born or the number of foreign citizens resident in a country.

5. Note that these numbers vary somewhat from those in Table 1, an indication of the possible range of error in both sets of statistics.


destinations such as the Middle Eastern states, it shows most countries outside the African continent in which African immigrants form significant population blocks. The largest number are in France (some 2.7 million), the United States (838,000), United Kingdom (763,000), Italy (407,000), Spain (372,000), Portugal (332,000), Canada (278,000), Belgium (232,000), the Netherlands (216,000), and Australia (166,000). The countries with the largest proportion of African-born residents are France (with almost 6%), Portugal (almost 4%), and Belgium (almost 3%). Others with over 1% African-born include the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Luxembourg.

In 2000, as can be seen in Table 4, none of the Nordic countries had more than 1% of the population African- born. By 2010, however, according to na-




tional statistics6, the African-born population had reached 1.05% in Norway and 1.23% in Sweden. It had increased from 0.19% to 0.33% in Finland over the decade, while in Denmark the percentage dropped slightly from 0.6% to 0.58%. Overall, in 2010, there were 215,000 African-born recorded in these four Nordic countries, for slightly less than 0.9% of the population.

The numbers for the Nordic countries reflect several factors with distinct effects. The region's countries are not traditional immigration countries (except from within the Nordic region), sharing neither colonial, linguistic, nor geographical closeness with Africa or other immigration regions. But all except Denmark rank high on the Migration Integration Policy Index rating policies towards immigrants ( Particularly relevant for immigration from Africa is a relatively open policy toward asylum-seekers. This accounts

6. Available on-line at the relevant national statistics agencies:,,, and


for the fact that the largest national group among African-born residents in the Nordic countries is from Somalia, with 72,000, about a third of the total. Other relatively large groups are from Ethiopia (19,800), Morocco (18,300, part of the wider expansion of Moroccan economic migration in Europe), and Eritrea (15,300).

While exploration of this theme for specific countries goes beyond the scope of this paper, it is notable that anti-immigrant political movements on the European continent, already significant in Denmark and Norway before 2000, have also recently gained ground in Sweden and in Finland.

Despite the fact that the majority of African immigrants in the Nordic countries are refugees rather than work- seekers, the issues raised increasingly resemble those elsewhere in Europe.

International migrants, including those from Africa, are diverse not only in terms of their origins and destinations, but also in many other ways. Undocumented or irregular migrants (often pejoratively labelled "illegal") are those who have no documentation or inadequate documentation of their legal right to be in the destination country. They include those who enter countries without papers, those who overstay their visas, those who stay on after being refused asylum, and, in the case of legal residents, those who are working without authorization to do so. Statistics for these groups of migrants are rarely available. Estimates for irregular migration as a proportion of the total in developed countries range from 5% to 15%; as much as one-third of migration in developing countries could be irregular (Sabates-Wheeler 2009: 4; IOM 2010: 120). But these data are highly uncertain. In some cases, such as South Africa, there is a common perception that the proportion of "irregular" migrants may be several times higher than indicated by official figures. But the scholarly consensus is that the data for South Africa are insufficient to provide reliable estimates, and that popular estimates are wildly exaggerated (Polzer 2010a; Landau and Segatti 2009).

A much more clearly defined category is that of migrants with refugee status, since this is incorporated into international law, and monitored by both national and international agencies. According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2009 there were 15.2 million refugees worldwide, including 4.8 million Palestinians and 10.4 million people under UNHCR responsibility. The largest number were from Asia (6.4 million), and the next largest from Africa (2.8 million). African refugees were therefore less than 10% of the total number of African international migrants (24.6 million in 2000, and probably some 29 million by 2009). Internally displaced people were some 15.6 million worldwide, with 6.5 million in Africa, more than twice the number of African refugees.

Finally, migrants differ significantly by skill level. Table 5 shows the distri-


pdf of Table 5

bution of migrants to OECD countries by education level for African countries and for world regions. Among African migrants to OECD countries, 44.6% have less than upper secondary education, 28.6% have upper secondary education, and 24.5% have advanced education, a distribution not that different from world averages. Among migrants to OECD countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, only 31.9% have less than upper secondary education, while 31.6% have upper secondary education and 33.1% have advanced education. The greatest contrast between African migrants and those from elsewhere in the world is the "tertiary education ratio," that is, the proportion of those with advanced education living outside their countries. While the world average is 3.7%, it is 9.1% for the African continent, and 12.2% for sub- Saharan Africa.

The character of migration flows differs considerably from one African region to another, as well as by country within region. The following sections provide brief summaries and illustrative country cases for Africa's five regions, with particular attention to more general issues in the analysis of African migration.

North Africa

As befits its intermediate position, both geographically and in economic rankings, North Africa is exceptional among African regions. The majority of its emigrants go not to other African countries but to Europe and to the Middle East (in 2000, 57% and 26% respectively). And increasingly, North African countries not only send migrants but also serve as destination and transit countries.

As can be seen in Table 2, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia each send over 70% of their emigrants to Europe; Egypt sends over 70% to Asia, while Libyan emigrants go to Asia (40%) and Europe (27%).7 The scale and duration of the migratory flows from North Africa to countries outside Africa (almost 7 million in 2000, and some 8 million by 2005) show that these migration streams are almost certainly long-term structural features of the regional economies, part of an established migration system with effects on both origin and destination countries.

Among the regional migration streams, that from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) to France is the most solidly established. During World War I, France recruited migrants from the Maghreb for its army, industry, and mines. Recruitment continued during World War II, the postwar period, and the postcolonial period as well, although the national distribution changed, particularly due to the war for independence in Algeria. During that war, France

7. The single best source for description and analysis of migration from and to North Africa is the work of Hein de Haas. See particularly de Haas (2007) for migration from North Africa, and de Haas (2006) for trans-Saharan migration to and through North Africa. A wide variety of other publications are available through his website (



recruited more workers from Morocco. After Algerian independence in 1962, over one million migrants left Algeria for France, including both French colonists and Algerians who had fought on the French side during the war. In the 1960s and early 1970s, in response to European recruitment of "guest workers," migration from the Maghreb continued to grow, extending beyond France to countries such as Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

The second major migration stream in the region, to oil- producing Arab states in the Gulf and to Libya, took off after the 1973 oil crisis. Egypt, which under Nasser had a policy of restricting emigration, opened up the doors under Sadat. This led to the departure of some 2.3 million Egyptians by the mid-1980s, mainly to the oil states of the Gulf. Libya also began to attract emigrants, particularly from Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.

While it boosted the economies of the Gulf states, the oil crisis also heralded economic downturn in Europe. European countries turned to more restrictive policies, limiting new immigration and encouraging guest workers to return home. However, the restrictions actually encouraged many Maghrebi migrants to stay permanently, since they feared that if they left Europe they would find it more difficult to return. These settled migrants then brought family members to join them. Similarly, although the 1991 Gulf War led to repatriation of migrants from the Gulf to North Africa, and increased the Gulf states' preference for South Asian immigrants, migrant flows from Egypt to the Gulf nevertheless continued.

In the last two decades, three major developments introduced new currents into the stream of migration from North Africa to Europe. With rising demand for unskilled labour in southern Europe, migration from Africa increased to that region, particularly to Italy and Spain. At the same time, Italy and Spain introduced new visa requirements, ensuring that a rising proportion of that immigration was irregular. In addition, increasing numbers of migrants from West


Africa began reaching North Africa, a flow stimulated by recruitment to Libya. While many stayed in North Africa, others used North Africa as a launching point for reaching Europe. Many succeeded, but some did not: West Africans, as well as North Africans, began to feature regularly in reports of migrants lost at sea in the Mediterranean or in the Atlantic.

As Europe tightened its admission requirements and enforcement measures, it also began to pressure North African and West African states to cooperate in reducing immigration. Libya, where migrants constituted at least 10% of the population by 2000, joined in stepping up deportations, driven both by popular anti-immigrant sentiment and by government policies agreed with Europe.8 Yet, according to Hein de Haas and other researchers, these measures did not alter the fundamental trends based on the need for labour in Europe and supply of labour available from Africa. They did, however, ensure that a rising proportion of migrants were forced into more risky means to reach their destinations and contribute to a misleading image of "an invasion" of destitute migrants.

Despite the increase in irregular African immigration into Europe and of the proportion of Sub-Saharan African immigrants, that image is misleading. The dominant migration flows from North Africa continued to be North Africans joining the already large North African population in Europe through regular channels. North African migrants in Europe outnumber migrants from Sub- Saharan Africa by more than 50% (see Table 1). West Africans trying to reach Europe illegally through North Africa were only a small fraction compared with West Africans reaching Europe through regular channels on direct flights (de Haas 2008b, 9). And North African countries, far from being only a transit route to Europe, have became destination countries themselves. There are probably more West Africans living in the Maghreb than in Europe (de Haas 2008b: 9). And that, in turn, is a smaller proportion than West African migration within West Africa itself.

West Africa

While the flow of West Africans across the Sahara and on to Europe has been attracting attention, the dominant West African migration streams continue to be those established in the colonial period, which have expanded in volume in recent decades. These are, first of all, migration within the region—from the interior to the coast, from urban to rural areas, and from countries with fewer economic opportunities to those offering jobs in agriculture and industry. Sec-

8. The backlash against Sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya began with clashes in 2000, followed by a range of repressive measures, including detentions and deportations. For documentation see reports by Human Rights Watch ( libya).


ondly, there is the migration of students and professionals to the former colonial powers and increasingly to other developed countries as well.9

Within West African countries, an average of 3.2% of residents are immigrants from other countries, and emigrants from each country constitute an average of 2.9% of their respective populations (de Haas 2008b: 21). Of emigrants from West African countries, 61% stay within the region, with 15% going to Europe and 6% to North America. Mobility within the region has been facilitated by the ECOWAS 1979 Protocol Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment. While this protocol is not yet fully implemented, freedom of movement is substantial. All ECOWAS countries have abolished visa and entry requirements for community nationals for stays of up to 90 days. And nine of the 15 ECOWAS countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, issue ECOWAS passports to their nationals.

Intra-regional mobility has been and still is characterized by a predominantly north-to-south and inland-to-coast movement. The countries with the largest numbers of immigrants (as of the year 2000) were Cote d'lvoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. The largest number of emigrants came from Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal also sent the most West African migrants to Europe and North America. Significantly, however, West African countries sent only small fractions of their populations as migrants to OECD countries (de Haas 2008b: 24). Only Cape Verde has a high rate of emigration to OECD countries, about 23%. Guinea-Bissau has a rate of 2.4%, and five other West African countries (the Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) have rates of 1% or more.

Among Sub-Saharan African regions, West Africa has the lowest number of refugees and asylum seekers, only 158,000 compared to 469,000 in Southern Africa, almost 900,000 in East Africa, and almost a million in Central Africa (UNHCR 2010: 26). Despite the return of peace to Liberia, the majority of the refugees in the region are still from that country. If one includes internally displaced people as well as refugees and asylum seekers, however, the 851,000 number in West Africa exceeds the 469,000 in Southern Africa, driven by more than 500,000 internally displaced within Cote d'Ivoire.

Each country in West Africa has its own distinctive migration pattern, shaped primarily by its geographical position and colonial history. While all are both origin and destination countries for migrants, the balance differs widely, from the largest net outflow of 38% in Cape Verde and over 10% in Mali to net inflows over 10% in Cote d'lvoire, Gabon, and The Gambia. Countries such as Burkina Faso and Ghana have both high inflows and high outflows, but end up

9. For convenient summaries of the West African migration system, see Bakewell and de Haas (2007: 9-13) and International Organization of Migration (2010: 140-143). De Haas (2008b) provides a more compehensive overview.


with contrasting balances, a net outflow of 3% in Burkina Faso and a net inflow of 4% in Ghana.10

Two countries with contrasting migration patterns, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, point to the range of issues raised, many with parallels to other countries on the continent. Ghana illustrates, for example, the importance of internal as well as international migration, and the problem of emigration of skilled workers ("brain drain") even in countries generally regarded as politically stable and economically successful. Cote d'Ivoire, on the other hand, illustrates the interaction of generations of migration with current issues of citizenship and internal political divisions, an issue that also dominates the intertwined histories of countries of the Great Lakes region.

Ghana's international migration includes significant flows of both immigrants and emigrants. Its internal migration is mainly from north to south and from rural areas to urban areas. In 2005, the foreign-born population made up 7.6% of Ghana's resident population, with almost 60% coming from other West African states and the remainder from elsewhere in Africa and from outside the continent. Emigration from Ghana has gone through significant shifts over time. Economic decline led to large-scale emigration to Nigeria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but this was reversed when as many as 1 million Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria in 1983 (Anarfi and Kwankye 2003). In the last two decades, Ghanaian emigrants, including many skilled professionals, have created a wide-ranging Ghanaian diaspora, with a significant presence in other English-speaking African countries as well as in North America and Europe.11 Ghana's tertiary emigration rate (the proportion of university-trained Ghanaians living outside the country) was high at 33.7% (see Table 5).

pdf of Table 5

In West Africa, Cote d'Ivoire ranks the highest in the number of residents born outside the country, and second to The Gambia in the percentage of foreign-born residents. An estimated 2.3 million residents (13.5%) in 2000 were born outside the country; by 2010 the estimate had risen to 2.4 million, while the percentage dropped to 11.2%. If second-generation immigrants are included, the percentage of immigrant population is roughly doubled (some 26% of the total population in 2000).12

The system of labour migration to Ivorian plantations and other economic

10. De Haas (2008b: 21). These estimates refer to the year 2000. More recent figures from Ghana show closely balanced inflows and outflows, with a very small net outflow (Quartey 2009).

11. The issue of migration of skilled professionals and other issues prominent in Ghana, such as internal child migration from north to south, are explored most comprehensively in a series of studies by the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation & Poverty (

12. For a clear background account of migration and citizenship issues in Cote d'Ivoire, see Manby (2009: 81-95). See also Conchiglia (2007).


sectors, primarily from Francophone inland states, was well established during the colonial period, and reinforced during the presidency of Félix Houphouêt- Boigny, who ruled from independence until his death in 1993. Later presidents, including Laurent Gbagbo, elected in 2000, opportunistically used the concept of ivoirité to mobilize anti-immigrant sentiment for electoral advantage. The distinction between immigrants and northerners belonging to the same ethnic groups was often blurred, linking the issue to one of ethnic rivalry. Many residents of immigrant parentage were denied citizenship, while land law was changed to allow only citizens to own land. Acquisition of citizenship was made more difficult, and a 2000 referendum changed the constitution to deny the right to run for office to anyone who lacks full proof of both paternal and maternal Ivorian ancestry. There followed more than a decade of conflict, which was not resolved despite successive peace pacts and an internationally recognized election won by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Although Ouattara was installed in power after months of conflict in early 2011, the prospects for national unity remain elusive.

Southern Africa

For more than a century the political economy of Southern Africa has been moulded by a complex pattern of labour migration and political exclusion. The mining economy established in South Africa in the late 19th century relied on labour not only from South Africa's rural areas but also from neighbouring countries. Miners from Lesotho, Mozambique, and other countries formed the majority of the mining work force until the 1970s; they continued to make up some 40% of the total thereafter, despite new preferences given to South African workers. Migrants from the Southern Africa region also worked inside South Africa in agriculture, industry, and the informal sector. But only whites were considered potential permanent immigrants, with African immigrants defined as "foreign natives."13

Internally, pass laws defined the rights of South Africa's own Africans. None had political rights, and only some were granted rights of residence in urban and other "white" areas. This system, established in the late 19th century, was systematized and intensified under the "apartheid" label in the period following World War II. The pass laws and forced removals of Africans to rural "homelands" were among the most visible and widely denounced aspects of the apartheid system. The Group Areas Act regulated where those classified as Indians or Coloureds by the apartheid state were allowed to live and do business.

13. For a convenient summary, see Crush, Williams, and Peberdy (2005). For more detailed accounts, classic sources include Crush, Jeeves, and Yudelman (1991) and Wilson and Ramphele (1989).


The end of political apartheid in 1994 dismantled racial barriers to residence and to economic and political advance. But South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, and overall levels of inequality have even increased (Leibbrandt et al. 2010). These internal legacies of apartheid have been widely debated. Until recently, however, the effects of apartheid thinking on regional structures of inequality, reflected in the treatment of regional migrants in South Africa, has not faced similar public scrutiny.14

Illegal as well as legal migration to South Africa continued to grow in the post-1994 period, driven both by economic disparities and by the arrival of political refugees. In addition to migrants from the traditional Southern African sending countries, Somalis, Nigerians, and Congolese are among the nationalities prominently represented and visible in urban centres, particularly Johannesburg and Cape Town.

A widespread outbreak of xenophobic violence in May 2008, which led to over 60 deaths, brought new attention to the issue. So has the ongoing drama of migrants from Zimbabwe, roughly estimated as between 1 and 1.5 million, most undocumented, who were granted temporary protection from deportation in 2009 and 2010, but many of whom may face deportation in 2011.15 There is still much disagreement about the causes of and the remedies for anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa—even the use of the term xenophobia is contested— and about the potential for further violence. But the evidence shows that hostility to foreigners from other African countries is "pervasive, deep-rooted and structural, cutting across all divides" in South African society (Crush and Ram-achandran 2009: 14). As these authors point out, this sentiment is shared by the majority of South Africans of all races and classes, making South African views on immigrants among the most hostile anywhere in the world (see also Kleeman and Klugman 2009: 11). This is despite the fact that the South African Constitution explicitly extends basic human rights to all residents.

Sensationalist media coverage has encouraged misconceptions and stereotypes. Media reports feature images such as a "flood" or "invasion" of migrants. There are no reliable data on the numbers of foreign-born in South Africa, but the total is most likely between 1.6 and 2 million people, or approximately 3% to 4% of the population—hardly an invasion (Polzer 2010a).

Among the most detailed surveys of attitudes was the one done in 2006 by the Southern African Migration Programme (Crush 2008). In that survey,

14. Nevertheless, there has been significant research for some time, most notably the extensive work of the Southern African Migration Programme (, which was founded in 1996.

15. For well-researched summary studies see Polzer (2010a: 2010b), Landau and Segatti (2009), and Crush (2008). Strategy and Tactics (2010) provides both analysis and original research, prominently featuring the response by civil society. Two other prominent works, of less consistent quality, are Neocosmos 2010 and Hassim, Kupe, and Worby 2008.


67% of South African respondents regarded migrants as a criminal threat, and the same proportion said that foreigners consumed resources that should be allocated to South Africans. A majority of respondents had unfavourable impressions of migrants whatever their origin.

Migrants from North America and Europe were regarded more favourably (an average of 22% favourable) than those from African countries, and those from Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland more favourably than those from elsewhere in Africa. Angolans, Congolese, Somalis, and Nigerians, as well as Mo-zambicans and Zimbabweans, were viewed most unfavourably. Thirty-seven percent of respondents favoured a total ban on immigration of foreign nationals, while 38% said there should be strict limits, and 84% said South Africa was letting too many foreign nationals into the country (Crush 2008: 24).

Strong anti-immigrant sentiment makes significant policy reform difficult, but it by no means implies that violence is inevitable. Research by the Forced Migration Studies Programme (Polzer 2010b), considering both the 2008 violence and subsequent case studies in 12 communities, compared areas where violence occurred and where it did not. It concluded that violence against foreign nationals was not more prevalent in locales with the highest rates of unemployment or the highest percentages of foreign residents. Although it did occur in areas with high levels of economic deprivation, male residents, and informal housing, violence was typically triggered by the competition of leaders for local political and economic power, which occurred in areas with weak local governance structures. The implication is that even in the absence of adequate policy at the national level, local governments and civil society coalitions can have an impact on curbing violence.

Despite policy changes in 2002 favouring skilled immigration, the admission of a limited number of refugees, and a temporary amnesty for undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in 2009-2010, South African immigration policy still lacks provisions to accommodate the legal immigration of African migrants. At the national level, in light of anti-immigrant sentiment among government officials and the public, major reforms will undoubtedly be hard to achieve. Nevertheless, advocates for reform see a potential for change, in part because there is an economic imperative to expand opportunities for legal immigration. Migrants, particularly skilled migrants, are in economic demand, and legal employment has the potential to reduce stigma. There is also scope for public education to combat misinformation, given that most South Africans who hold negative opinions actually have had little or no contact with migrants.

It is likely, however, that incremental measures in this regard, such as the effort to register Zimbabwean migrants in 2010, will continue to be accompanied, as in Europe and the United States, with stepped-up deportations and largely ineffective efforts to tighten border control.


Given structural economic realities and the embedded character of public opinion on the issue, it is virtually certain that these measures will not significantly reduce the growth of the migrant population in South Africa, curtail ongoing human rights violations, nor eliminate the threat of new large-scale violence.

Central and East Africa

Unlike the other three African regions, where dominant migration patterns defined by economic relationships are clearly visible, that is not the case for Central and Eastern Africa. For this reason, as Bakewell and de Haas (2007) note in their survey, most research on migration in these regions has focused on forced migration produced by conflict. Data are particularly scarce on other forms of migration, even though the majority of population movements across borders within the region are not refugees. Flows of migrants, mostly non-refugees, from East and Central Africa to destinations outside Africa are also significant, especially to Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Neither in Central nor in East Africa, however, do these migration flows seem to form coherent migration systems at the regional level. Transportation networks linking the countries of the region are particularly weak in Central Africa, while in East Africa only the former British territories of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda make up a significant multi-country transportation system. Migration outside the continent follows separate colonial, linguistic, and regional trajectories for different countries and sub-regions.

Instead, it is the high proportion of refugees that most strikingly defines the distinct character of these regions, and justifies discussing them together here. Refugees numbered some 930,000 and 1.3 million in the two regions respectively in 2009, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR 2010). Refugees were nowhere near the majority of emigrants from these regions: in 2000, there were some 2.7 million emigrants from Central African countries and some 3.3 million emigrants from East African countries (see Table 2; comparable totals on emigrants are not available for later years). But the size of the refugee population, the media attention to refugee-producing crises in these regions, and the involvement of international agencies and nongovernmental organizations with refugees has made them particularly visible. For worldwide media audiences, the refugees of Central or East Africa have become emblematic of African migrants not only for these regions but arguably for the continent as a whole.

Four Central and East African countries are among the top ten source countries of refugees worldwide. Somalia ranks third, behind Afghanistan and Iraq, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks fourth. Sudan ranks seventh, and Eritrea ranks ninth.


East and Central Africa also have the largest numbers of internally displaced people in Africa, with an estimated 2.5 million in Central Africa and 3.4 million in East Africa as of 2009 (see Table 6). Internally displaced people have attracted additional attention from international agencies in recent years, and, following a 2005 agreement with other agencies, the UNHCR has formal responsibility for coordinating the international response. Notably, internally displaced people outnumber refugees both at a regional level and in the principal refugee-producing countries (Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia). Those three countries were first, fourth, and fifth respectively among the six largest internally displaced populations worldwide, with 4.9 million, 1.9 million, and 1.5 million respectively (

pdf of Table 6

The large number of refugees from Central and East African countries is a product of a series of interlocking conflicts in countries of the area, many of which have continued for decades. In terms of scale, the largest have been the conflicts in the Great Lakes region, culminating in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the series of wars in Eastern Congo, the continuing internal conflict in Somalia, and the wars in southern Sudan and Darfur. In Central Africa, conflicts in the Central African Republic and Chad have produced both refugee flows and internal displacement. Although the open war between Eritrea and Ethiopia lasted only two years, ending in 2000, the continuation of hostilities and internal political conflicts in both countries means that the number of refugees and asylum seekers continues to be substantial. There are still some 400,000 internally displaced in Kenya from the aftermath of the 2007 disputed election. In Uganda, more than 400,000 people remain internally displaced after conflict in the north with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), although the number has diminished in recent years. The LRA, however, has taken its campaign of violence to neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and southern Sudan.

Since most refugees go to neighbouring states, East and Central African countries are also among the continent's and the world's largest hosts of refugee populations. The two regions together host some 1.8 million refugees out of the 2.2 million refugees on the continent. Kenya and Chad rank fifth and sixth, respectively, among refugee- hosting countries worldwide.

Despite the existence of international agreements on the rights of refugees and a United Nations agency dedicated to their welfare, widespread violation of these rights attracts little public attention. Whereas housing of refugees in camps was originally conceived as a temporary measure, long-term unresolved crises have led to "warehousing" of refugees for decades at a time, and even for generations (see box). While in recent years, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has given greater attention to these broader issues (UNHCR 2008),



public and private agencies, as well as public opinion, continue to focus on responding to immediate crises to the neglect of such fundamental issues.

The case of Somalia, where internal conflict for almost two decades has provided an uninterrupted stream of refugees, primarily to neighbouring countries, well illustrates the issue. Kenya bears the disproportionate share of the burden, with over 300,000 of the more than 600,000 Somali refugees registered worldwide, along with substantial but unknown numbers of unregistered Somali nationals. According to reports by Human Rights Watch (2009) and Amnesty


Statement Calling for Solutions to End the Warehousing of Refugees

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

September 2009

The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees provide that persons fleeing persecution across borders deserve international protection, including freedom from forcible return (refoulement) and basic rights necessary for refugees to live a free, dignified, and self-reliant life even while they remain refugees. These rights include the rights to earn a livelihood—to engage in wage-employment, self- employment, the practice of professions, and the ownership of property—freedom of movement and residence, and the issuance of travel documents. These rights are applicable to refugees independently of whether a durable solution, such as voluntary repatriation, third-country resettlement, or naturalization in the country of first asylum, is available. They are part of the protection mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Of the nearly 14 million refugees in the world today, nearly 9 million are warehoused, confined to camps or segregated settlements or otherwise deprived of these basic rights, in situations lasting 10 years or more. Warehousing refugees not only violates their rights but also often reduces refugees to enforced idleness, dependency, and despair.

In light of the foregoing, the undersigned:

1. denounce the practice of warehousing refugees as a denial of rights in violation of the letter and spirit of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol and call upon the international community, including donor countries, host countries and members of the Executive Committee of UNHCR to do the same;

2. call upon the international community to develop and implement strategies to end the practice of warehousing, including examining how refugee assistance can enable the greater enjoyment of Convention rights;

3. call upon UNHCR to monitor refugee situations more effectively for the realization of all the rights of refugees under the Convention, including those related to freedom of movement and the right to earn a livelihood;

4. call upon those countries that have not yet ratified the Convention or the Protocol to do so;

5. call upon those countries that have ratified the Convention and/or the Protocol but have done so with reservations on key articles pertaining to the right to work and freedom of movement to remove those reservations; and

6. call upon all countries to pass legislation, promulgate policies, and implement programs providing for the full enjoyment of the basic rights of refugees as set forth in the Convention.


International (2010), both the international community and the Kenyan government have failed to protect the rights of these refugees. As of early 2010, camps in Kenya originally built for 90,000 refugees house more than 250,000, and residents are confined to the camps by a de facto prohibition on freedom of movement. By closing the border, returning refugees, and otherwise restricting the rights of refugees, the Kenyan government has aggravated humanitarian conditions in the camps and violated the rights of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers elsewhere in the country.16

Given that resolution of the crisis in Somalia does not appear imminent, the situation of Somali refugees must be addressed. Conditions in Kenya need to be improved. At the same time, the international community should take up a greater share of the burden of supporting and receiving Somali refugees, with provisions for increased resettlement beyond Kenya. The situation serves as a stark reminder of the long-term structural failure to implement existing international commitments for protection of refugee rights.

16. See also the reports on Somali refugees from Refugees International (http://www.refugeesi-