West African Mobility and OECD Migration Policies


October 2008

ISBN: 978-92-64-02942-2


This SWAC/OECD publication contributes to the Euro-African dialogue initiated at the Rabat Conference in July 2006: it reviews migration policies in the main OECD countries receiving West African migrants and analyses the recent discussions within Europe. This report lists common approaches undertaken in Europe, Africa and West Africa and aims to shed light on decision makers’ strategic thinking. It provides the greater public with an understanding of this recent dynamic.

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Most of West African migration is intra-regional (86% i.e. 7.5 million people). The remaining 1.2 million are dispersed between North America and Europe. Heated political debates and media reports distort statistical realities. While humanitarian and security aspects should not be overlooked, the focus is on human mobility in terms of development and dialogue concerning host, transit and departure countries. To address the challenges of globalisation, policies should seek a co-ordinated response to the demands of the Economic Partnership Agreement and the European and African demographic dynamics.


Overview of selected OECD Country Migration Policies

This document examines management instruments for migration issues concerning West Africa. The overview of the approaches and policies of OECD member countries that are destinations of West African migration reveal the following trends:

  • Belgium is working towards integration by promoting access for Non-European nationals to citizenship and combating discrimination. However, asylum seekers’ reception conditions are less generous than in the past.
  • Canada is a model of flow management and the creation of global integrated measures. It makes the most of migratory dynamics by associating admission conditions with foreigners’ ability to integrate (principle of selectivity). Unskilled labour migration management has
    been decentralised to the provinces (circular migration and partnership with countries of origin).
  • In France, recent innovations concern the return to labour migration and the promotion of selective migration. The establishment of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Development Partnership is an illustration of the conceptual and operational framework of ongoing reforms. “Control and security” remain a priority, coupled with the “migration and development” agenda in foreign policy.
  • In Germany, reform in favour of a global approach is beginning to emerge but nevertheless fails to resolve the question of how to fill low-skilled labour needs and how to promote the integration of foreign residents and their descendants.
  • Italy aspires to develop a global approach that is consistent with increasing migration. Its priorities are controlling unauthorised migration, managing security challenges due to the rapid increase in flows and addressing integration beyond the local level. It fully supports European initiatives.
  • The Netherlands has adopted a new, more restrictive and selective management system since the limitations of its traditional approach were revealed. This system has given particular attention to integration issues, protection and assistance to asylum seekers.
  • Portugal receives a large African migrant population because of its colonial history. Combating discrimination and promoting integration are key objectives of its migration policy, and social dialogue and consultation are its preferred methods.
  • In Spain, the debate is focused on unskilled labour migration and controlling undocumented migration, with both often being addressed from the perspective of security concerns. Since it joined the EU, Spain has sought to collaborate with its European partners on migration issues. It plays an active role in EU relations with African origin and transit countries.
  • The United Kingdom advocates the effective management of flows in order to maximise the benefits of human mobility while reducing its costs. Despite particular attention given to the promotion of cultural diversity, the “control and security” aspect remains at the heart of the
    measures in place.
  • In the United States, global reform is necessary but lacks unanimous support due to the combination of several factors: security issues raised by the 2001 attacks, the control of illegal flows and growing labour needs. Stronger security measures seem to have negatively impacted student immigration. But African students are less affected than those from other communities.

Towards a Common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy: What are the stakes for West Africa?

Europe is sometimes defined as a land of immigration, despite itself. The European approach to migration has gradually become richer and more complex in both conceptual and institutional terms. While it nevertheless attempts to incorporate other domains such as relations with third countries, development aid and employment and integration, the security paradigm remains dominant. The following trends can be observed:

  • OECD member countries' approaches to migration are rather convergent. They indicate a renewed interest in labour migration, especially skilled labour.
  • A trend specific to European countries concerns the readiness to delegate the formulation of common rules for migration management to the EU.
  • Africa is the preferred region for applying European migration initiatives now that EU expansion eastwards has nearly come to an end.

The African Approach on Migration

Discussions of intra- and extra-continental migration are now on the agenda in Africa. The report reviews ECOWAS and African Union initiatives and provides an overview of West African national migration policies. The following observations can be made:

  • Human mobility is one of the key objectives of Africa’s regional co-operation organisations since the free movement of persons integrates the lifestyles of the continent’s populations.
  • The progress towards creating a European migration system has led to a search for similar initiatives across the African continent.

>> learn more about the ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration


About the Author


Born in Rome, Donata Gnisci has been working on development, peace and security in Africa since 1998. After working in Kenya and Senegal for two years, she joined the OECD’s Sahel and West Africa Club in 2001. As a conflict analyst, Ms. Gnisci has concentrated on, among other subjects, involuntary migration in the Mano River countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), Côte d’Ivoire and along the Senegal River. She has co-authored the chapter on Migration for the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa. Ms. Gnisci has been working and living in London since 2006 where she has specialised in managing cultural diversity within organisations working on development.

Contact: Ms. Donata Gnisci


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