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New perspectives on African migration

June 01, 2018

The number of people in Africa moving from their home country is set to increase in line with population growth over the coming decades, according to the findings of a joint study from the JRC and the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC).

Demographic expansion will by itself lead to an increase in the absolute number of people on the move. Currently the majority remain on the African continent, with about 40% of them coming to Europe.

Every year, some 1.4 million Africans leave their country of birth for a longer period of time or for good. This is expected to reach 2.8-3.5 million per year by 2050, in line with population growth.

Although 27% of Africa's adult population would like to move to another country, only 1% are actively preparing for such a move and only 0.12% of all Africans actually migrate annually.

Direct investment in the continent is likely to make living conditions better for people, but this might also increase mobility in the coming years.

A team of scientists analysed past and present migration patterns from and within Africa, as well as the drivers behind them.

Their findings give insights on the potential effects of policy decisions on migratory flows, and project potential scenarios for the future, up to 2050.

-Future migratory trends

On average, Africans who take concrete measures to migrate are likely to be better educated and economically in a better position than those who want to migrate but have not taken concrete steps to do so.

Factors stopping people from taking such steps may include lacking the necessary economic means or information. More than 50 % of all those who prepare their departure have completed secondary or tertiary education.

Socioeconomic development, better education, job creation and improved income opportunities for Africans are found to contribute to higher migration.

Economic development will reduce population growth, but also increase the ability of people to migrate. The study finds a nonlinear relationship between GDP, income and emigration rate.

And it will take around 30-40 years until the majority of African countries reach a GDP per capita threshold where emigration becomes less likely.

Climate change will also remain a key determinant for migration. Its destabilising effects will potentially accelerate future migration within Africa and to neighbouring parts of the world.

Changes in African migration over the past half-century

The number of Africans not living in their country of birth increased from 8.1 million in the early 1960s to almost 36.3 million in 2017.

This increase is in line with overall population growth and the total percentage of Africans living abroad has actually remained quite stable.

The share of African migrants living in a country outside of Africa grew from 23% in the early 1960s to 47% in 2017.

Between 2008 and 2016, the total annual number of African migrants remained stable. However, legal immigration was declining in this period, while the number of irregular arrivals and asylum claims of Africans increased.

Irregular arrivals of Africans via the Mediterranean started to decline again in 2017.In Europe, the majority of African immigrants come from North Africa, with most people making the move to reunite with family members already settled in a European country.

-Background and methodology

The study is primarily based on macro econometric analyses, assessing different scenarios for variables and their potential impact on migration patterns across the entire continent of Africa.

These variables include population demographics, socio-economic development, climate change, political instability, violence and geopolitical factors up to 2050.

These analyses are complemented by data from a set of questions relating to the intention and preparation for migration contained within the Gallup World Poll Survey.

Using this data, scientists analysed intentions to migrate in different forms: the desire to move abroad, actual plans, and preparations.

European Commission Joint Research Centre

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