20 June 2018

Many more to come? Migration from and within Africa

A recent publication by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the future of migration patterns from and within Africa and to explore the main driving factors that impede or further migration flows. Building on those findings and data from the OECD, Gallup, the UN Population and the World Bank this paper use macro-econometric analyses to develop three forecast scenarios up to 2050.

Since 1960 the number of Africans citizens living outside their country of birth has increased from 8.1m to almost 36.3m in 2017. This absolute number represents an increase which is in line with the current demographic growth of most African countries, but, in relative terms, this growth of people living outside their citizenship countries is relatively stable.

Four key determinants are identified as drivers of migration. First, demographic transition in Africa has been slower than in many areas of the world creating a clear divergence between a lowering child mortality slowly increasing life expectancy, against a slow reduction in total fertility rate per household. This slow transition explains in part why the African population should, as the UN World Population Prospects estimates, double from 1.2 billion (2017) to 2.5 billion (2050). Second, socio-economical changes due to foreign and domestic investment might trigger a fast-paced development that would encourage the reduction in the average number of children and widespread education. Such assumptions are aligned with the “EU's External Investment Plan which aims to channel more private investments into African infrastructure, create jobs and address the so-called 'root causes' of migration.” Third, climate change resilience being fairly undeveloped in some already fragile and vulnerable countries. As a result, internal displacement is likely to increase, but desertification, crop failures, rising cost of subsistence as well as the loss of habitat in coastal regions could also lead to higher emigration toward the neighbouring regions or toward Europe. Finally, political instability, violence and geopolitical factors might foster displacement and an increase in asylum seeker demands.

Three scenarios were developed to forecast how many Africans might leave their home countries in
the decades to come:

Scenario 1 is based on the continuity of the current trends of socio-economic development, population growth and migration intensity. The current emigration rates remain constant with an absolute increase due to the higher population growth. The annual prediction under this scenario means a constant increase from 1.4 million in 2015 to 2.8 million in 2050.

Scenario 2 predicts an increase in economic growth due to foreign investment and the transformation of many informal economic sectors into a wage-bearing formal economy. This will consequently imply a better education and a faster decline in fertility rates that may lead to a reduction of the number of young people willing to emigrate. Nevertheless, such socio-economic increase may foster the human capital of many African countries and open doors to higher paid opportunities abroad. Under those projections, an increase in the annual number of Africans emigrating is expected to move from 1.4 million in 2015 to 3.5 million in 2050.

Scenario 3 integrates the consequences of the destabilisation induced by the complex interactions of disruptive events brought by climate change. The most significant impacts are expected to arise from extended scorching heat waves and the disruptions of many water cycles which may worsen or create droughts making human survival in affected regions more difficult. While the consequence and the magnitude of such changes are hard to foresee,  the effects on fragile states will be undeniable. There is an increased risk of escalating tensions over land rights and scarce water and the bolstering of internal displacement. Much of the literature has linked such risks as potential vectors for unrest and political violence which foster a vicious circle for more displacement. Opposed to the previous scenarios no valid quantification is possible when it comes to climate change due to the lack of data on its overall disruptive effect.

Nevertheless, It is hard to predict the extent to which gradually increasing or additional migratory flows will take place mostly within the African Continent and Europe due to the lack of data, the inevitable unanticipated socio-economic change, the worsening of climate condition with its destabilising effects and the future migration policies of sending and receiving countries.

The core findings of this analysis are the following:

  • African migration has so far grown in line with overall population growth.
  • More than one in two African migrants moved to another African country, while the other moved mostly to Europe, Western Asia or North America
  • The number of African immigrants settling legally in the EU Member States has dropped significantly in the past decade. In counterpart, irregular migration flows across the Mediterranean have increased
  • Climate change and its potentially destabilising effects will accelerate future migration within Africa and eventually also to neighbouring parts of the world
  • In sending countries, migration pressure will depend much on policy decisions in three key areas:
    • Investing in a serious manner in education, especially of younger women, will slow down population growth
    • Boosting job creation to offer opportunities to stay
    • Reinforcing efforts aimed at reducing climate change will help to structurally reduce pressures on people to leave their homes

Read the report here