President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has launched the High Level Panel on International Migration in Monrovia and described migration as an important subject because it has become a major issue that poses problems for every country in the world.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was speaking on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at the formal launch of High Level Panel on International Migration held in the C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium at the Foreign Ministry in Monrovia.
The Liberian leader recalled that about a week ago, some forty young men and women died of thirst in the Sahara Desert, while trying to reach Europe. She added that more than a thousand people have perished in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of the year- while in many places in Europe today, a mixture of migrants from diverse backgrounds have been living in the streets, under conditions that can best be described as inhumane.
She termed as the ugly face of migration, however noted that there are aspects of the movement of people across countries and borders that can be looked at from various perspectives. President Sirleaf said she looks forward to interacting with members of the panel and others around the world to come up with an African framework that puts forward recommendations, which will lead to sustainable policies on migration.
Referring to migration is an integral part of human history; she observed that: “If Africa is said to be the origin of humanity, we can rightly say that the movement of the people of Africa has populated the world, from an initial point somewhere in Kenya.”
She pointed out her own country – “Liberia is a nation founded by migration – when in the early 19th century, freed slaves from the Americas moved on these lands to start what has become the modern nation of Liberia, a country which attracted people from across the continent and beyond the oceans. Therefore, we are well placed to know both the positive and negative aspects of migration.”
The Liberia Chief Executive noted that it was in March-April 2016, in Addis Ababa, that African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development passed a resolution mandating the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa – UNECA – and the African Union Commission – AUC – to provide the necessary technical support to a High-Level Panel to reflect on issues surrounding migration within and out of the continent.
She highlighted the challenge where: “People risk their lives to escape their countries to enter another one; People waking up one day and deciding that they need to move to another land to find a better life; Some time, they are chased out of their land and homes; and Sometimes, it is just the human instinct to want to see what is on the other side.
She also underscored the misconception about African migration, especially the numbers that want to go beyond the boundaries of the continent. For example, according to recent data, more than 82 percent of people who migrate in Africa do so – on the continent, going from one country to another. She said in West Africa, 70 percent of the people migrate within the region while the lowest data shows that in East Africa the percentage is lower, at 47 percent. According to the same research – only 12 percent of African migrants want to reach Europe, with 6 percent going to other continents.
President Sirleaf stressed the need for these numbers to be looked at closely and interpreted to form the basis of migration policies. “In as much as local economic and political conditions may sometimes lead to xenophobic spurs or total rejection, African people generally accept migrants, she indicated.”
She said migrants bring with them experience, knowledge and talents that benefit the host country; while refuting an unverifiable theory that wants us to believe that migrants take jobs from locals at such a scale that it undermines the prosperity of local people.
Quoting UNECA study, President Sirleaf said, more than 55 percent of countries on the continent require visas from other African nationals while many of them waive visa for tourists and migrant workers coming from other parts of the world. She added that “Even in places where there is no visa requirement, 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.”
Citing Liberia’s experience throughout its long-protracted conflict when the state could not meet the basic needs of the people, the Diaspora sent remittances in the tunes of millions of dollars, which sustained families and allowed the state to somehow function without being able to provide services. She emphasized that remittances still help sustain many families and we must integrate the Diaspora in our policies on migration.
The war, she observed also displaced more than 70 percent of the population in and across borders, posing a different set of problems that took us many years to resolve, adding that these are matters that concern our work and we must find policy directions to address them.
The role of the High-Level Panel will among others, focus on the following – Carrying out advocacy and sensitization program to create a broad coalition of support that will be instrumental in implementing our recommendations when we shall have concluded our work in July 2018, in just about a year; Undertaking consultations to promote the main issues, opportunities and challenges of African migration for origin, transit and destination countries; Collect data and reports of experts’ meetings and workshops that discuss strategies on how to harness the benefits of migration and mitigating the challenges; and Develop a major set of knowledge and policies on African migration.
Speaking earlier, Dr. AbdallaHamdok, the Ad-Interim Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa thanked President Sirleaf for the warm reception accorded him and other panelists since their arrival in Liberia. Dr. Hamdok said the panel would like to see African countries make significant contributions to address the problems of migration.
He intimated that in many countries, problem associated with migrants are concerns of those states that often host them. Dr. Hamdok said it will not be in the right direction to mix migration with terrorism because according to him, the issue of migration is about seeking transformation of one’s own economic conditions, while terrorism is a new phenomenon totally different from the purpose for which most Africans migrate to Europe and other places. He furthered more than 70 percent of migrants are living in Africa.
In separate remarks, H.E. Knut Vollebaek, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway, Ms. AlmazNegash, Founder, Africa Diaspora Network, California, USA, Foreign Minister, Marjon V. Kamara and Professor Mohammed Mohamedou, International History, Graduate, Geneva, Switzerland called for concerted efforts to deal with migration.