New Roadmaps Show Steps for Better and Sustainable Migration in West Africa

ICMC Europe and partners have launched nine roadmaps with concrete steps towards improving migration and development in six West African countries. They collect insights from a wide range of actors and provide a clear path to reaching migration-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Togolese migrant in Ivory Coast
A Togolese migrant in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. His five children now live in Dakar, Senegal. “I hope to return to my country one day,” he says. In the meantime, he makes a living as a chicken farmer. © Christian Tasso / ICMC

How can we better protect migrant workers’ rights in West Africa? How can we promote the beneficial impact of regional migration on development? How can West African diasporas contribute to the development of their country of origin? 

These are some of the questions addressed by the “roadmaps” launched by the International Catholic Migration Commission’s Europe office and its partners in the Migration and Development (MADE) West Africa project. 

Each of the eight country roadmaps focuses on one of three topics – promoting regional migration for development, protecting migrant workers’ rights and engaging the diaspora in development – in one of six countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.  

“Our research has found that intra-regional migration flows in West Africa are huge, much larger than flows from the region to the global north,” says Professor Mariama Awumbila, from the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana. “Thus, given its magnitude, the potential of intra-regional migration for the development of West Africa is enormous. These roadmaps provide a framework for harnessing and promoting this potential,” she adds. 

Each country roadmap identifies five or six key objectives that the organizations participating in the project aspire to reach. The documents offer a concrete path towards implementing these objectives, with defined partners responsible for specific initiatives and clear outputs. They aim to facilitate the implementation of migration-related Sustainable Development Goals in the region.

“You have to know what is needed and identified by those in your target population in order to do effective and appropriate work in this field,” explains Abigail Maristela, coordinator of the MADE West Africa project and Project Officer for ICMC Europe. “These roadmaps do just that: they provide a pathway forward that was directly signaled by those with migration or migrant backgrounds.”

This pragmatic approach was made possible through the participation in – and ownership of – the project by a wide variety of actors hailing from sectors including academia, diaspora organizations, diplomatic bodies, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, law enforcement and border security, media, national, regional and local governments, community leaders, religious institutions and migrants themselves. 

The project’s whole-of-society approach has already been adopted for five projects by small civil society organizations to whom MADE West Africa has provided seed funding. These projects focus on improving community and media understanding of migration law in the region, raising awareness of the risks related to informal migration and engaging diasporas in regional development. 

The roadmaps have been published by ICMC Europe, the Forum des Organisations Internationales Issues des Migrations (FORIM), the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), and the University of Ghana’s Center for Migration Studies (CMS). 

After COVID-19, We Can’t Just ‘Go Back’

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, a supplementary roadmap was added to synthesize responses to the pandemic and provide examples of good practices in these challenging times. In many ways, this roadmap highlights the connections between the project’s key topics and the importance of tackling them simultaneously.

For example, the economic losses brought about by the pandemic may lead to more people attempting to migrate for work. At the same time, migrant workers may lose their jobs and have their visas revoked, leaving them undocumented. However, border closures and movement restrictions due to COVID-19 have added barriers to legal migration and returns. All of this affects remittance flows and the livelihoods of migrants and their communities.

All of these factors may lead to increased economic vulnerability, pushing people to resort to informal migration. This, in turn, puts them at risk of being targeted by human traffickers. 

Migrants are also more likely, as essential workers or in cramped living spaces, to be exposed to the virus. As they are unlikely to have access to healthcare and other services, ensuring their protection is vital.

The COVID-19 crisis has also impacted remittances as diasporas face economic uncertainty in their countries of residence. The World Bank projects that remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa will fall by 23% in 2020 because of the pandemic. This loss increases financial vulnerabilities and decreases the resources available for regional development.

In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the interconnection between safe, accessible migration practices, the protection of migrant workers, development and the role of diasporas, making it clear that all these topics must be addressed simultaneously.

“We can’t just ‘go back’ to the world we knew before COVID-19. The lessons learned in considering each topic of our project and the recommendations that came from that are crucial not just in recovering from the pandemic, but also for building a better reality for migrants and communities,” says Maristela.

The MADE West Africa project and the creation of the roadmaps are made possible thanks to funding from the European Union. The roadmaps’ contents are the sole responsibility of the MADE WA project and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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