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Regional Governance of Migration and Social Policy in Africa

8 May 2012



Much could be gained in Africa from advancing regional integration, guaranteeing social protection and services to all—migrants and residents alike—and implementing more coherent migration policies.

A conference on Migration and Social Policy: Comparing European and African Regional Integration Policies and Practices--held on 19-20 April 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa--brought together participants from the South African government, UN organizations, national research centres and NGOs to underscore the potentials to develop more effective regional social policy, improve policies for social protection and meet the social protection needs of cross-border migrants. UNRISD research coordinator Katja Hujo made a presentation on “Linking Migration, Social Development and Policy in the South—Implications for Africa”, based on past and current UNRISD research on South-South Migration and Social Policy. The conference was organized by a new programme associated with the new UNESCO-UNU Chair in Regional Integration, Migration and Free Movement of People, jointly located at the United Nations Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS) centre, Bruges (Belgium) and the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria (South Africa).

Participants at the two-day conference on the regional governance of migration and social policy in Africa highlighted a number of areas of focus. In particular, panellists discussed the role of regional governmental coalitions in facilitating free movement of migrants, both within and between regions, to allow equitable entitlements to residence, work, social protection, health, education and other social services.

Several ideas that would help progress toward coherent migration and social protection policies at a regional level were presented:
  • Lessons can be drawn from cross-regional research experiences, in particular new directions of regionalism and its implications for migration and socioeconomic and political rights. The EU is the most prominent example in this regard. The focus should be on advancing knowledge on region building and the need to bring in stronger participation from citizens – in what has often been an elite-driven process – while at the same time avoiding Eurocentrism and overly-simplistic transfers of "best practices";
  • Going beyond "migration management", toward more coherent governance systems that advance the social dimensions of migration. This approach could lead to more positive development outcomes of migratory processes. Governance of migration differs according to policy level – global, regional, bilateral, national – and with regard to type of migration – refugees and asylum seekers versus different types of labour migrants (low-skilled/irregular, high-skilled). The governance regimes are thus shaped by governments interests, policy externalities and power relations (with countries who receive migrants often acting as the "makers" of governance policies, while migrant sending countries acting as the "takers" of policies);
  • Looking at regional integration through the lens of the free movement concept was considered a useful approach to map out the advantages of advancing free movement in a regional context, for example with regard to already existing institutions and common regulations. Challenges exist with regard to barriers against non-bloc members, overlapping memberships of countries, further ratification of treaties and full implementation of agreed agendas.

Other issues raised during the conference included challenges presented by informal labour markets, irregular migration and insufficient formal social protection mechanisms; the lack of political will to promote free movement; and the need to construct a regional identity and "ties that bind", in particular among civil society. Migration was still seen primarily as a "family" issue rather than as an issue for the government.

The conference provided insight into a highly relevant and under-researched theme that will require both more analysis and monitoring of existing legal frameworks, policy practices and social outcomes. Future actions also must include more dialogue and strategic thinking on how to advance these processes based on sustainable (regional) funding mechanisms, greater citizen participation and improved state capacity.

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