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Migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean: New report from IOM

(c) MOAS 2016

Berlin – Public debates surrounding migration in West and North Africa—indeed, across the Mediterranean Sea basin—often are riven by misconception and partial representations of a truly complex reality.  

A new volume by IOM’s Global Migration Data and Analysis Centre (GMDAC) titled Migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean provides a more nuanced view. This comprehensive, fact-based and balanced account of migration from and within West and North Africa and on routes towards the Mediterranean sifts through important new data from the past two years.  

Besides offering analysis on migration flows within and from North and West Africa, this report also offers new evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on migrants and migration. 

Contrary to common assumptions about migration from and in West and North Africa, overall levels of international migration in these regions are relatively low, especially compared to norms elsewhere.  

In mid-2019, countries in West and North Africa hosted 10.4 million immigrants, based on UN estimates, representing only 1.6 per cent of these regions’ total population. That’s well below the world average of 3.5%. Outbound emigrants comprise 3.4% of the total population of these countries, on average.  

A common misconception also endures concerning the direction of outbound migration—that it mainly takes migrants out of the region. 

“Intraregional migration is by far the predominant migration pattern in West Africa. Most migrants from countries in West Africa migrate to other countries in the region and these are often short-term movements.”   

Frank Laczko, Director at IOM’s GMDAC, explained.

Evidence presented in the volume shows that migration contributes to economic and human development and to the resilience to economic and environmental hazards within communities across West and North Africa. For example, migrants acquire new skills, knowledge, social norms and values in destination countries which help them to contribute to development back in their home communities in a variety of ways. 

For most countries in West Africa, remittance inflows in 2019 represented upwards of 5% oftheir entire GDP, with Nigeria being the top recipient country in the region. Remittances to that country increased by almost 47 per cent-from19.7 billion USD in 2010 to 23.8 billion USD in 2019. Similarly, Senegal’s remittances received  saw a record increase of 67 per cent from 1.5 billion USD in 2010 to 2.5 billion USD in 2019, based on World Bank data.  

Regionwide, total remittances, have increased 43% between 2010 and 2019, from 23.6 billion USD to 33.7 billion.Migrants interviewed in countries in West and North Africa report to be moving mainly to seek better livelihood opportunities, join their family members or study.

This contrasts sharply with reasons given by migrants interviewed in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean, which often include fleeing conflict and political insecurity and searching international protection.  

“This may be an indication that migrants seeking international protection often have no choice but to embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and that the original reasons for migrating may change during the journey due to violence and abuses faced in countries of transit or first destination.” 

noted Marzia Rango, one of the lead editors of the report.  

“Europe’s tightening of external border controls and the increasing tendency to criminalize irregular migration in countries in West and North Africa may have exacerbated risks faced by migrants.” 

she added.  

Mobility restrictions have resulted in many migrants becoming stranded at international borders and in quarantine and transit centres across these regions – an estimated 50,000 by the end of June 2020, according to data from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). 

Despite COVID-19, migration along the Central Mediterranean Route more than doubled during 2020. Arrivals to Italy during the first half of 2020 increased by 150 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, from 2,779 in 2019 to 6,950, though overall levels are quite low compared to previous years. Arrivals to Malta increased by 33 per cent from 1,276 in the first half of 2019 to 1,699 during the same period in 2020.  

Lack of job opportunities due to the pandemic has likely contributed to such an increase, among other factors. 

“Migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean: trends, risks, development and governance” comprises 38 chapters contributed by nearly50 experts across international organizations, civil society and migrant associations on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. The work was supported financially by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. 

Access the full report here

For more information about the Edited Volume please contact Marzia Rango at IOM GMDAC, Tel: +49 (0) 30 278 778 24, Email:  or Irene Schoefberger, Tel: +49 (0) 30 278 778 38, Email:

For media inquiries please contact Stylia Kampani at IOM GMDAC, +49 (0)30 278 778 16, Email:

Editor: Johnoy Harrison

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