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With regard to regional migration, West African countries can be classified into five main categories in terms of their status in the migration cycle/chain. There are net sending coun­ tries (i.e. Côte d’Ivoire and the Gambia), net receiving countries (e.g. Burkina Faso and Ni­ ger), both origin and destination countries (e.g. Guinea and Liberia), both origin and transit countries (e.g. Mali), and countries with multiple hats, constituting origin, transit and destina­ tion countries, such as Nigeria and Senegal. Various factors account for this type of migra­ tion, particularly the search of employment and trade opportunities, family links, political per­ secution, armed conflicts and natural disasters. These movements date back to the colonial era, some policies of which amplified it, such as forced labour, military service and colonial administration. The period from the early independence in the 1960s to the end of the Cold War saw a continuation of migration flows, particularly as post-colonial states had varying degrees of economic development and political tolerance. While there were massive dis­ placements of people due to the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) and severe droughts in northern Mali and Niger in the early 1970s, armed conflicts that broke out in the region from 1990 account for the majority of refugee and IDP flows in the region. This flows have how­ ever seen a decrease since 2005.

The main security threats of migration in the region concern the individual migrants, particu­ larly those embarked on forced migration. Due to their vulnerability, they are often exploited and their human rights violated. But migration poses also security risks for both sending and receiving communities/countries, and this is true for both in-country and regional migrations.

It constitutes a loss of manpower and skills for certain sending communities, with important human security implications. As for receiving countries, it sometimes leads to competition over increasingly limited resources between locals and migrants, resulting in manifestations of xenophobic attacks or massive expulsions of migrants who appear to be ideal scapegoats for all sorts of social ills. The instrumentalisation of migrants and refugee populations by re­ bel movements and criminal networks constitutes a significant risk for stability in the region.

This was illustrated by recruitment in Liberian refugee camps in Guinea and Sierra Leone to fight in their country, as well as the presence of migrants from Niger and Ghana in the so­ called Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Some gaps in research on migration in the region, particularly with regard to the availability of systematic quantitative and reliable data are also discussed. But the lacuna regarding re­ search are being filled by a growing research community on the phenomenon with special­ ised research units being created at universities and research centres. Adequate policy re­ sponses to either manage the risks or capitalise on the opportunities of migration are also needed. But although significant efforts are being made, particularly from the regional group­ ing ECOWAS. The main challenge consists in getting national governments to develop their capacities and fully implement the various instruments that have been devised by the ECOWAS and other international organisations. Finally, the study indicates that improved governance and democratic records of certain countries not only prevents conflicts and forced displacements in the region but also has the potential of attracting migrants back home.


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Fischer, Clara and Ruth Vollmer, “Migration and Displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa The Security-Migration Nexus II,” Brief 39, Berlin, BICC 2008.

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Working with the Diaspora’, Tripoli (Libya), 21 – 25 October 2007.

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