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African migration seen as economic boost

African migration could trigger big new economic benefits for origin and destination countries, UNCTAD reported. Most migrants move within the continent.

GENEVA (AN) — African migration could trigger big new economic benefits for origin and destination countries, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development reported.

UNCTAD’s 2018 Economic Development in Africa Report argues against what it calls the prevailing negative perceptions of African migration. It finds most African migrants move within the continent, which is also a destination for 5.5 million migrants from outside Africa.

Last year, 19 million international migrants moved within Africa and 17 million Africans left the continent. Africa’s international migrants were, on average, 31 years old, the lowest median age globally.

Gender-wise, the breakdown in 2017 was 53% male, 47% female. International female migrants rose to 11.6 million in 2017, up from 6.9 million in 2000.

fChantal Line Carpentier, chief of UNCTAD's New York office, told reporters the main causes of migration are unemployment, hopes of a job in a higher-income border nation, conflict and political uncertainty, climate change and environment and social factors like marriage.

"Increasingly, they're youth and female," she said in a webcast briefing on May 31.

Migration's projected contribution to Africa's gross domestic product, or GDP, on a per capita basis, is estimated to rise to US$3,249 in 2030, up from US$2,008 in 2016, according to UNCTAD. Employers are under pressure to provide jobs.

"We need to create 55,000 jobs per day in Africa to capture all of the youth that are entering the workplace every year," Carpentier said.

Some see popular misconceptions

The report was launched simultaneously at the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — one of five regional commissions of the U.N. Economic and Social Council — and at the U.N.'s European headquarters in the Palais des Nations at Geneva.

“Population movements across borders often offer individuals a chance for a better life, with the social and economic benefits extending to both source and destination countries, as well as future generations,” UNCTAD's Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said in a statement.

"Yet much of the public discourse, particularly as it relates to international African migration, is rife with misconceptions that have become part of a divisive, misleading and harmful narrative," he said.

Kituyi said he was referring to the images of thousands of African youth drowning in the Mediterranean Sea after trying to flee poverty or conflicts at home. Those images, he said, have fed a misleading narrative that migration from Africa harms rather than helps the continent.

People on the move

The commission’s executive secretary, Vera Songwe, said the report will be used to support the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a proposed U.N.-hosted treaty for governments to adopt a coordinated approach.

The report focuses on skilled and low-skilled migrants. Last year, the most popular destinations each attracted more than 1 million migrants. They were Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. In the past decade, the report found, migrants contributed 19% to the GDP in Ivory Coast, 13% in Rwanda and 9% to South Africa.

Remittance inflows from outside and within Africa rose on average to US$64.9 billion between 2014 and 2016, up from US$38.4 billion between 2005 and 2007. The trends offer evidence that migration and trade are two sides of a coin, said Junior Roy Davis, a lead author of the report.

“Africa is on the cusp of tremendous change,” he said, noting that African nations have in the past year created some important international agreements. Those include a continental free trade area; protocol on the free movement of people similar to one used by European workers; and the launch of a single African air transport market.

Africa hosts many of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. The world's top hosting nations are Ethiopia, with 791,600 refugees, and Uganda, with 940,800, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.

Conversely, 1.4 million refugees fleeing South Sudan make it one of three nations along with Afghanistan and Syria from which 55% of the world's 22.5 million refugees originate.