The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a key plank in achieving progress towards enhanced availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive secretary for the Economic Commission for Africa Vera Songwe has said.
The AfCFTA came into force on January 1, 2021 and migration and human mobility are closely linked with the opening up of trade, she said.
“The African Continental Free Trade Area… marks a significant milestone in realising the free movement of people, goods, and capital on the continent,” Songwe said at the official opening of the first Regional Review meeting on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Africa (GCM) Wednesday.
The two-day GCM meeting ended Wednesday.
She said excessive border controls and immigration restrictions increase the costs and risks of migration and often come in conflict between individual motivation to migrate and state restrictions on mobility.
“This conflict facilitates the demand for private, and non-state, entrepreneurs, including smugglers, to facilitate movement, often with disastrous consequences,” Songwe said.
Member states recognise that irregular migration can be reduced by easing restrictive immigration and visa practices to boost circular migration for trade and thereby unlock economic opportunities for millions of African nationals, she said.
Progress in regional integration through Regional Economic Communities, improved cross-border transport options and infrastructure, and growing opportunities in circular cross border trade are positive developments.
Songwe said measures taken by governments in response to the pandemic have included movement restrictions affecting international and domestic travel which have led to arbitrary screening procedures at points of entry thereby worsening existing vulnerabilities of migrants and unfair denial of passage.
She said the non-recognition and non-compatibility of skills and qualifications across national borders was a major concern in Africa and more specifically within the Regional Economic Communities.
“This contributes to poor utilisation of skills, reduced productivity and skill shortages. Non-recognition or comparability of skills is a major impediment to good governance of labour mobility and hinders individuals from moving between jobs, which is a key element of worker employability and increased productivity,” Songwe said.
She said migrants face significant challenges accessing social protection benefits. Consequently, they risk the loss of entitlement to social security benefits in their country of origin due to their absence, and may at the same time encounter restrictive conditions under the social protection system of the host country.
Amira El Fadil, Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development said the African Union Commission has been very active from the outset of the GCM process.
“We worked with all partners, including ECA and IOM, to support our member states to actively engage in their contributions to the development of the initial texts to the draft GCM. Through the Common African Position on the Global Compact on Migration, we consistently supported our African Group in New York to actively engage in the International negotiations sessions of the final text of the GCM,” she said.
“The Commission, working closely with our partners, has also developed a draft Plan of Action on the implementation of the GCM in Africa for our Member States during the upcoming STC on Migration, Refugees and internally displaced persons in November, 2021.”
El Fadil said the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic on the continent has posed a challenge in the implementation efforts of the GCM.
“…In some other instances, the lack of coordinated approach to support Member States and RECs in the implementation process at national regional and continental levels; has provided a lacuna in harmonisation of reporting tools of the GCM. However, despite these challenges, it is encouraging to note that there are a number of AU Member States that innovatively devised ways of implementing the GCM within its national framework, based on their national and regional priorities and specificities,” she said.
United Nation Network on Migration coordinator Antonio Vitorino said national lockdowns, border closures, and the restrictions on population movements have highlighted the centrality of migration in today’s world.
“In Africa, the disruption of remittance sending services in countries of destination, along with lockdown restrictions is estimated to lead to a 5.4% decline in remittances this year alone –a decrease of $ 1billion. Furthermore, the inability of governments to register and renew documents has left many migrants in precarious situations in host countries, risking detention or deportation,” Vitorino said.