African Union frameworks for migration: current issues and questions for the future

ECDPM Regional integration in relation to migration in Africa, i.e. promoting free movement and labour migration, and countering forced migration, could greatly improve the lives of the 16 million regular and irregular migrants estimated to be living in Africa. During the period since the Abuja Treaty was signed in 1991, the African Union has developed a number of policy frameworks for regional integration in migration.

The primary purpose of this paper is to summarise recent developments in the African Union’s (AU) policy on migration. The paper introduces a number of key African Union frameworks (among others the African Common Position on Migration and Development and the Strategic Migration Policy Framework) and explains what steps have been taken to operationalise them. It discusses the extent to which the African Union and the regional economic communities (RECs) have been implementing these AU frameworks, taking into account factors like institutional structures, ratification and enforcement, which may either facilitate or hamper operationalisation.

The paper also discusses the key challenges facing the actors on the road ahead. The paper looks at the European Union’s role in the development of these frameworks in the context of EU-AU cooperation and dialogue, particularly regarding regional integration in Africa. Finally, the paper draws some policy-relevant conclusions for EU support in this area, based on an analysis of the AU’s work on migration.

The paper argues that the African Union has set itself high standards in terms of frameworks. The majority of its initiatives tend to focus on capacity-building and standard-setting, and on encouraging the RECs and member states to get engaged. While some RECs have developed their own strategies and initiatives based on AU agreements, it is difficult to assess at this stage whether AU and REC initiatives have led to noticeable changes in the member states’ legal frameworks, thereby improving the lives of migrants, refugees and IDPs. Many initiatives are relatively recent and need time to take effect. Also, not much evidence is available on operationalisation. Many initiatives in the area of migration are heavily donor- funded.

The EU has influenced the development of African frameworks and also influences the type of initiatives the African Union can take, because of the limited amount of funding provided by African member states. This raises questions of ownership and accountability.

Migration crosses both national and regional boundaries. It is an issue that affects all policy areas – economics, politics, social policy and security. It has a strong international relations dimension. For these reasons, it should ideally be addressed at a regional or continental level. However, the results and impact will depend on the degree of engagement, implementation and enforcement at a national level.

While it remains vital for the African Union to propose frameworks and set standards to encourage its member states to become engaged, the implementation of these frameworks depends ultimately on the buy-in of member states and the priority they attach to migration issues. The current operationalisation efforts in the form of awareness-raising and capacity-building are the first steps on the long road towards a more migration-friendly Africa. As a key partner and supporter of the African Union, the European Union has a responsibility to develop a coherent policy that strengthens regional integration and promotes domestic accountability.

Access the ECDPM Discussion Paper 108 here.

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