Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2014, 11:13 GMT

West Africa: Policy overhaul needed to halt illegal migration

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 10 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), West Africa: Policy overhaul needed to halt illegal migration, 10 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48ce1d62c.html [accessed 23 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

DAKAR, 10 September 2008 (IRIN) - Illegal migration continues, but is hard to track because most migrants enter a country legally, but then overstay their visas, according to the 2008 International Migration Outlook released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"It is difficult to reduce unauthorised migration through border control measures alone," the study notes, "When there exist genuine labour needs and employers have limited means for recruiting abroad, legal entry, followed by job search and overstay, seems to be one way used in practice to match up supply and demand."

OECD writes it is hard to stop needy employers from hiring willing labour.

Some countries are fighting against such employers by offering a special permit to migrants who fall into illegal status to report illegal employment or exploitative employers to authorities.

Thus far in 2008, authorities in Spain and Italy, two popular destinations for job-seeking migrants from West Africa, estimate about 25,000 clandestine migrants, many from Sub -Saharan Africa, have arrived to their shores.

Initiatives to cut back illegal migration

Spain signed an agreement with Senegal in March 2007 to recruit Senegalese workers on temporary visas to work in Spain's fishing and farming sectors. Thus far, about 500 Senegalese have advanced through the programme, with an additional 2,700 expected to participate in 2008, according to Senegal's youth ministry.

Nicolas El Busto, the Spanish Embassy's representative in The Gambia, told IRIN this training and recruitment programme has been effective in stemming the tide of migrants risking their lives at sea to work in Europe, by offering them a legal way to travel and work.

But Dakar-based sociologist and migrant expert, Cheikh Oumar Ba, says the programme is not enough to discourage illegal migration "Candidate selection is not done openly, and is open to corruption. Pregnant women are being recruited for agricultural positions. Qualified people tire of waiting for their chance and will resort to illegal migration."

Despite criticism, the Spanish government is considering a similar programme in the Gambia, but has postponed decision making.

"We will not do it soon," says embassy officer El Busto, "because of how our economy is right now. We cannot afford to explore this idea until maybe 2010."

With rising unemployment rates, Spain's economy has practically stopped growing, verses its near four percent-growth last year, according to the Spanish government. The European Commission has predicted a recession in Germany, England and Spain next year.

Countries must recognise labour needs to curb illegal migration

Despite sputtering economies in many parts of Europe, the OECD migration trends report predicts the continent will need two million low-skilled workers by the year 2015 as retirement shrinks the working population, and professions requiring little formal schooling expand, like construction and transportation.

Mamadou Mignone Diouf with the Dakar-based Consortium of Non-Profit Organizations for Development said more jobs in Europe will simply increase the risk of abuse if migrant workers' rights are not protected.

"Europe has always had a hypocritical migration policy. Europe preaches the global village, but it really does not want Africa to be a part of this village, only to come and staff its companies, harvest its agriculture and takethe low-skill jobs Europeans do not want. But these workers have awful work conditions. More jobs will just mean more of the same."

How to legalise migration: OECD recommendations

The report suggests countries with clandestine migrants review their labour migration policies to improve labour policies and to guarantee workers' rights, "The persistence of unauthorised movements [migration] and of irregular [clandestine] employment of immigrants?suggests that existing policies are not entirely adequate."

Countries need to review their labour needs periodically, create "shortage lists" for international recruitment, and to simplify recruitment processes, according to the OECD. "This is especially the case for small enterprises, which can neither afford long delays before replacing essential workers nor build them into their planning the way a major employer can."

OECD concludes there is a general reluctance by government officials to admit their low-skill labour needs, and to accept that migration may be the answer. "Whether this reluctance will persist in the presence of growing labour needs remains to be seen."

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