Southern Africa

The regional migration context

By the end of 2013, more than 232 million people globally were estimated to be migrants, of which 19 million were estimated to be in Africa. At the same time, some 42.5 million people worldwide were considered to be displaced due to conflicts (36 per cent of which were refugees; 62 per cent were internally displaced persons; and around 2 per cent were individuals whose asylum applications remained to be adjudicated). Of refugees, nearly 2.7 million refugees were in Africa, roughly 25 per cent of the world’s refugee population.1 Indeed, Africa remains a continent with complex migration dynamics. It is generally characterized by dynamic migratory patterns and has a long history of intraregional as well as interregional migration flows. Conflict, income inequalities and environmental change can result in very low levels of human security that act as push factors for migration.

The Southern African region experiences all types of movements, including mixed and irregular migration, labour migration and displacement due to conflict and natural disasters. By virtue of its strong economic position in the continent, Southern Africa experiences a high volume of migration due to work opportunities in the mining, manufacturing and agricultural industries. Industrial development in some countries in the region, especially in South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, and the oil wealth of Angola have been magnets for both skilled and unskilled labour migrants from within the region and elsewhere, notably the Horn of Africa and West Africa. Southern Africa is also a springboard often used as the staging ground for regular and irregular migration to Europe and the Americas.

In 2013 the Southern African region recorded over 4 million migrants, excluding irregular migrants, of which 44 per cent were female and 20 per cent were under 19 years of age. By far the largest number of migrants is found in South Africa (2.4 million, including some 1.5 million from Zimbabwe) followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (447,000) and Zimbabwe (361,000). Among the 4 million migrants are approximately 200,000 registered refugees, primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa.

The Southern Africa region continues to experience a significant rise in mixed and irregular migration flows. These flows originate mostly from the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia and Somalia, and consist of refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants, and victims of trafficking, including women and children. The large majority of these migrants attempt to reach their destinations through established smuggling and trafficking networks. At least 20,000 migrants travel through the Great Lakes and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regions to try to reach South Africa each year. Human rights violations and the lack of protection of migrants, including from extortion, abandonment and physical, and to a certain extent sexual, violence continue to be a harsh reality for these mobile populations. In addition, relatively large mobile populations move between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as from Zimbabwe to South Africa, and often prompt the affected governments to take measures to promote the departure of irregular migrants. Insecurity, lack of economic livelihood, drought and crop failure are some of the push factors that motivate migrants seeking better opportunities to undertake risky migratory routes. Labour migration remains one of the dominant forms of population movement in the region. Some migrants experience xenophobia, including negative social attitudes, discrimination and, at times, violence.

 

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1 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends 2012: Displacement: The New 21st Century Challenge (Geneva, 2013). Available from http://unhcr.org/globaltrendsjune2013/UNHCR GLOBAL TRENDS 2012_V08_web.pdf.