African Migration: Root Causes and Regulatory Dynamics (AMIREG)

  • Expected start date:
    Expected end date:
    Project Status:
    Project Type:
    Project Manager :
    Ewout Ramon

    There are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today and demographic imbalances, economic inequality, increased globalization, political instability and climatic changes all forecast further episodes of large-scale migration in the coming decades. As an important force of development in both sending and destination regions, migration forms a top-priority issue in the global policy debate. To assess the impact of future migrant flows and to develop appropriate policies to manage them, knowledge of their size, composition and distribution is crucial. There are, however, inherent difficulties in predicting the scale and dispersion of the ensuing migrant flows. Empirical analyses are typically subject to binding data constraints, inducing a reliance on a (very) coarse spatial and temporal aggregation of the data. The first and second objective of AMIREG, then, grouped in Work Package 1 of the project, are to provide a deeper understanding of the root causes of migration with a specific focus on the role of financial incentives and constraints; and to identify the effectiveness of and scope for regional agreements to ease mobility responses to such geo-localized shocks.

    The second work package of the project wants to understand the interest of political actors in and the added value of the regulation of mobility as opposed to non-regulation. Over centuries the populations in West Africa have developed a “culture of migration” functioning as a strategy to cope with local poverty, drought, or conflict. In fact, migration in Africa is a key resource in development and poverty reduction. Traditionally, West African countries approached migration in a laissez-faire way by maintaining porous borders and, if any, poorly implemented migration policy. However, the idea of managing migration by developing a more fully-fledged policy has gained traction also in West African countries. Most likely, the consequence of adopting a migration policy is the regulation of in- and exclusion of non-nationals from the territory and labour market. This shift from non-regulation to regulation may be a critical juncture in mobility management in West Africa. 

    Work Package 1

    The first objective of AMIREG is to provide a deeper understanding of the root causes of migration with a specific focus on the role of financial incentives and constraints. The project will analyse people’s capacity to respond to economic, climatic and political shocks by migrating either internally or internationally. The project aims to go beyond the state of the art by exploiting an innovative source of migration data allowing for a more fine-grained analysis, which better captures the local character of most of these shocks. Specifically, the project will draw on individual-level surveys conducted by Gallup in Central, Eastern and Western Africa between 2007 and 2016 to analyse to what extent geo-localized shocks affect people’s stated migration aspirations and their actual migration plans. The project will then investigate which factors (household income, family composition, region of residence, etc.) determine the capacity to migrate and the choice of action (migration to cities, neighbouring countries, or the OECD). Financial constraints might, for instance, prevent aspiring migrants from moving, or they might redirect them to second-best destinations. This will give predictions about the possible allocation of future migrants across destination countries, and hence the relative importance of expected internal, intraregional and OECD migration.

    The second objective is to identify the effectiveness of and scope for regional agreements to ease mobility responses to such geo-localized shocks. As migration dynamics typically lie beyond the full control of national authorities, cooperation between countries to manage these flows and reduce global inequality is essential. Yet, the optimal policy response depends on people’s capacity to migrate: (i) in countries/regions where internal migration is the most prevalent, sustaining urban development (SDG11) is key; (ii) in countries/regions where short distance international migration is frequent, regional integration is desirable (and might be promoted by the EU); (iii) in countries/regions with high rates of long-distance migration, partnership with the EU is advisable. The latter involve readmission of returned migrants and border control strategies (in the less fragile states), as well as developmental measures to limit the migration pressures (which could conversely stimulate the migration pressure depending on financial constraints). EU partnerships with Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal already show encouraging results (EC, 2016). The project will perform a comparative analysis on the extent to which existing regional associations in Central, Eastern and Western Africa develop effective policies in response to increased migration pressures or to what extent these remain still underdeveloped. Based on the expected allocation of future migrants across destinations delivered by the first objective, the project will then disentangle for which countries new international arrangements on migration are the most pressing and which type of agreement or partnership (intra- or interregional) is most suited for which countries.

    Work Package 2

    This work package wants to understand the interest of political actors in and the added value of the regulation of mobility as opposed to non-regulation. Underlying is the question whether actors consider the development enabling functions of migration to be more effective if migration is `managed’. The better understanding of how and why policy making at the national, regional and international level interacts in promoting migration management in West Africa is another goal of this project. The research is guided by the following questions:


    To what extent is the regulatory agenda of intra-African migration a result of interaction with external actors such as the EU (and its Member States) or the United Nations?


    How do international and national actors conceptualize migration in the regional context of West Africa?


    To what extent does the regulatory agenda on intra-African migration relate to or change the implementation of the 1979 ECOWAS Protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment and supplementary protocols?

    The project assumes that regulatory approaches towards intra-African migration are strongly influenced by external actors such as the EU, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Mobility within the region may be considered an alternative to international migration, for instance towards Europe. The project is also interested to what extent a notable increase of immigration within some West African countries has contributed to more endogenous interests to develop the region’s regulatory framework for migration. Yet, the development of distinct national policies also bears the risk of a fragmentation of the ECOWAS free movement regime.

    This is an explorative, medium-sized research working package building upon qualitative methods, notably in-field research and expert interviews. The regional focus on West Africa will allow to deepening insights to what extent migration and mobility constitute a source for development.

    The efforts of West African governments to develop a migration policy are still recent so there is a lack of systematic and comparative studies. The existing studies focus on individual West African countries and/or build upon descriptive observations of migration cooperation within ECOWAS. The project moves beyond a purely empirical focus and develops a systematic and comparative case study design by focusing on migration as a regulatory issue in Senegal and Ghana. The two countries are relevant from the perspective of intra-African immigration and (international) emigration. This work package is complementary to the first work package which feeds into the explanatory factors for the observation of migration policy development.

    • Ewout Ramon Ewout Ramon Research Assistant to the Director
      Project Manager