11 December 2018

Africa: Migration and the Economy - an Inseparable Pairing

Marrakech — On the streets of Casablanca there is only one thought on the mind of Ibrahima, a young Senegalese migrant.

"I want to go to Europe to give meaning to my life and to help my family back in my home country live a better life," Ibrahima says.

This is the most familiar answer that most young and energetic migrants give when asked about the reasons for leaving their countries, as they often are part of a constant flow northward from the Global South (although migration between countries of the South actually far outweighs this South to North flow).

While many migrants flee wars and political persecutions, economic causes are often a major influence too. In poor countries where unemployment is sky high, all too often people, especially the poorest, have no choice but to go elsewhere in search of economic opportunities.

To achieve this they are ready to risk lives by getting on shaky and unreliable boats run by unscrupulous operators making a living out of ferrying people across dangerous waters to the fabled other side where, it is believed, a better life awaits.

It is this relentless trend that propelled global leaders to come up with the first ever intergovernmental Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). During the Dec. 10 to 11 gathering of leaders and representatives from more than 160 countries in Marrakesh--about 250 kilometres south of Casablanca--to adopt the Compact, the economic factors triggering migration dominated the discourse.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations discussed how migrant remittances reached 650 billion dollars in 2017, representing three times the official development aid that developing countries receive from the developed community.

Guterres pointed out that this amount, as important as it is, represents only 15 percent of migrants' revenues. Hence 75 percent of their money stays in the countries in which they work through taxes and consumption - a sizeable contribution to the prosperity of their host country.

"The countries of the North need migrants," Guterres said. "They occupy jobs abandoned by nationals and help offset the demographic decline observed in most Western countries."

This point was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stressed that "migration for work creates prosperity for all," adding how Europe "needs a lot of manpower."

Erol Kiresepi, CEO of Santa Farma Pharmaceuticals and a representative of the private sector at the GCM, said companies around the world are facing a lack of talent, hence they are paying particular attention to migrants with the skills to meet the surfeit in skilled labour.

Against the narrative of Africans racing to escape the continent, people point out how, as with everywhere in the world, people prefer to live and work in their home environment if conditions permit.

"We want partnership, exchange and investment and not aid," said Julius Maada Bio, president of Sierra Leone, while emphasising the importance of partnerships and investments in the Global South.

But when preoccupied with economic survival, the likes of Ibrahima, the young Senegalese, often do not know or care that the leaders of the world appear to be on their side in Marrakech.

Those global representatives have, in theory, adopted what could provide an economic lifeline to Ibrahima and millions of other young Africans trekking the dangerous journey across deserts and oceans in search of economic success.

For now, though, until the economic factors pushing people away from their countries are tangibly addressed--read changed--migration and economics will remain an inseparable pair.

"We do not have the choice," Ibrahima says. "Either we stay in the country to do nothing because politicians think only of themselves, or we take the risk of leaving."

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