Migration and Development

Published on 13th July 2015

African migrants brave a fence P. courtesy
Migration and development is a subject that has become so overwhelmingly critical and urgent to all of us across the world, especially in Africa. Migration crosses international, regional and national boundaries. It is an issue that affects all policy areas-economics, politics, social policy and security. For these reasons this issue should be addressed at an international, continental and regional level.

There is a paradox in the debate on statelessness and migration, which we have to address head on, if we are to make significant headway. In relation to GDP, Africa has been the fastest growing region in the last decade, and has recorded remarkable economic success stories. As Africans we have managed to overcome many of the obstacles created by a world economic order that to date has not been shaped to care for African development and interests.

Developing countries face far greater challenges and it should be noted that they have to date responded to refugees and migrants in ways that are humane and compatible with international human rights instruments. This fundamental commitment to protection and migration is clearly reflected in the African Union’s excellent legal framework on forced displacement.

The Africa Common Position locates migration within the broader discourse of sustainable development, which emphasises regional economic integration, co-operation and development. Our role as Parliaments is to ensure that our governments comply with the commitments they enter into, and which we ratify.

Looking at the state of refugee and migrant protection in Africa today, I am struck by the strong African solidarity with neighbours. All host countries affected by the large crises of recent years have kept their borders open to allow refugee and migrant protection.  At a personal level, as a person who was displaced as a result of an unjust Apartheid regime, I have been deeply moved by the hospitality of communities who take in thousands of new arrivals although they are struggling to make ends meet.

Since the advent of democracy, South Africa, like other countries in the region, has taken a progressive approach to migration. The recent incidence of violence on foreign nationals in the country, which occurred just a few months ago, however, suggests that we need a more focussed approach to manage migration, whilst simultaneously addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality that our people continue to face.

We need to do more to ensure that citizens view migration as strategic rather than negative. As we go forward, we as Africans together with the international community, must tackle these challenges going to the root causes of the problems and not merely papering over the symptoms. We should therefore focus on two things: prevention and solutions.

We have to ensure that our respective governments have the requisite legal instruments in place to deal with displacement and migration. The SADC Parliamentary Forum (PF) in particular has to advocate for a regional policy framework to govern migration in SADC, as there is currently no overall regional policy in place.

The challenges of displacement and migration are clearly not an issue which only governments can deal with. This requires the effective participation of stakeholders including civil society and international organisations which deal with displacement and migration.

Parliaments have the ability to bring such stakeholders together and must be seen to consistently do so in order to open up dialogue and ensure that our respective governments deal with such matters humanely and effectively.

The call I would like to make here today is for an enhanced compact of solidarity. Let us show the commitment that is necessary to put displacement and migration in Africa higher on the international agenda. In the interest of social stability, balanced regional integration, and equitable development, it is imperative to have a strong regional perspective on the issue of migration in all its forms. 

The implementation of Agenda 2063 and the SADC Master Plan are most important hopes in ensuring that lasting peace is attained, by addressing various factors that continue to undermine Africa’s determination to rise.This is not just a question of continental solidarity and shared human commitment. It is also one of global peace and security.

By Baleka Mbete

The author is a South African politician who is currently serving as a Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa.

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