Home away from home: The rise of immigration from Africa to Europe and the US

An analysis of the migration patterns from Africa to Europe and the States indicates that the number of migrants is expected to increase in the coming decades. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

An analysis of the migration patterns from Africa to Europe and the States indicates that the number of migrants is expected to increase in the coming decades. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Migration from African countries to other regions across the globe has increased dramatically over the past decade with “African nations accounting for eight of the 10 fastest growing immigration populations since 2010”, according to a report released on Thursday.

The report analysed data on migration patterns from sub-Saharan African countries–  specifically South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania– to Europe and the United States. Published by the Pew Research Center, it is titled: At least a million sub-Saharan Africans moved to Europe since 2010: Sub-Saharan migration to the United States also growing.

It found that, between 2010 and 2017, the number of people emigrating from sub-Saharan countries grew by 31%. This far outpaced the Asia-Pacific region where emigration grew by 5% and the Latin America-Caribbean region, which increased by 9%.

The only region that had higher rates of people living outside of their birth country was the Middle East-North Africa region at 39% mostly because of large numbers of people fleeing conflict in Syria.

Most of the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa found a new home in the United States and in Europe – through various channels including applying for asylum, applying for lawful permanent residency or refugee status. Others entered on family or work visas, or as resettled refugees or international students, said the report.

Emigration to Europe

Europe– defined in the report as the European Union countries, Norway and Switzerland– is not the top destination choice for potential sub-Saharan African migrants, based on surveys conducted.  Most migrants (according to the report) have the US as their first choice of destination. 

But border statistics reveal a well travelled route from Africa to Europe.

In the year 2010, 58 000 immigrants applied for asylum in Europe. Less than a decade later, in 2017, this number had more than doubled to 168 000 representing the rising tide of migrants seeking to move to European countries.

Europe has had more immigrants from diverse African countries than the US with 54% of the population coming from Nigeria, South Africa, Somalia, Senegal, Ghana, Angola, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire.

The top countries for migrants to start a new life in once they’ve moved to Europe are the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Portugal.

Emigration to the US

From 2010 to 2017, there were approximately 400 000 sub-Saharan migrants that moved to the States.

The diversity visa programme, famously known as the green card lottery, is government’s way of diversifying the immigrant population in the US by granting visas to underrepresented regions.  Every year, the programme randomly selects 50 000 applicants and gives them a green card.

The report shows that, in South Africa, 39% of potential migrants say they want to migrate to the US versus 22% that have Europe as their first choice.

In 2010, the US had 52 000 migrants being granted lawful permanent residency and refugee status. In 2017, this number was 78 000, which is much lower than Europe’s migrant intake during the same time frame.

This signals that although more migrants prefer the US, there are stricter laws and regulations that present challenges to moving there so people end up in Europe instead.

The countries with the most migrants living in the states, as of 2017, were Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya— less diversity than Europe.

The US’s migrant population was generally more spread out across the country with 42% living in the South, 18% in the Northeast and 17% in the Midwest.

Reasons for leaving country of origin

In 2017, the Pew Research Center ran a survey in six African countries – South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania – which have provided the highest number of the migrants living in the US and Europe.

People living in these countries were asked whether they would move to another country and at least four out of 10 in each country answered that they would definitely move if they had the “means and opportunity”.

The biggest reason given was the high unemployment rates and low wage rates in many of their countries.

Other reasons were political instability and conflict, which is how large numbers end up as refugees in other countries. The report said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the number of sub-Saharans displaced within their own country nearly doubled to 9 million between 2010 and 2016. 

An analysis of the migration patterns from Africa to Europe and the States indicates that the number of migrants is expected to increase in the coming decades, with a major reason being the continent’s growing population. However, the response of nations receiving these migrants is yet to be seen.

READ MORE: Supreme Court refuses to hear Trump bid to end DACA

Europe’s response so far has been to focus on illegal immigration through the contentious EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative. 

READ MORE: Is the European Union putting African migrants at risk?

The EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, more commonly known as the Khartoum Process, is an agreement between 37 European Union and African states aimed at creating a platform to address issues surrounding smuggling of migrants and human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the US government has reduced the number of refugees it resettles and has proposed to cut back on other legal pathways to the country.

READ MORE: The very American myth of ‘exceptional immigrants’


Read the full report here:

  At Least a Million Sub-Saharan Africans Moved to Europe Since 2010 report

Mashadi Kekana

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