|The Courier N° 153 - Sept - Oct 1995 - Dossier: Southern Africa - Country Reports: Namibia; Djibouti (EC Courier, 1995, 96 p.)|
This article is a summary of a study of the causes and effects of migration in Southern Africa, by Hussein Solomon, a researcher at the Centre for African Studies at the University of the Western Cape. Details were first published in 'Africa Insight' The author begins by making a distinction between true emigration and temporary migration, the latter being a frequent phenomenon in the region and one which is not taken into account here.
The civil wars which have ravaged Mozambique and Angola have 'officially' ended and repatriation is now being organised under the aegis of the UNHCR-with some considerable success in the case of the former. Thousands of refugees are quitting their host countries (principally Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia) and returning to their places of origin. Also returning are those who fled a violent situation brought about by external influences. Instability in countries bordering South Africa owing to the latter's support for groups such as Super-Zapu in Zimbabwe or the Mashala Gang in Zambia during the 1980s are the best examples of this. They are joined by yet others, forced by past events to leave their region under threat from a repressive political regime.
Although these refugees from conflict and oppression have mostly been well received in their country of asylum, this does not always apply to other categories of migrant. Indeed, the phenomenon of migration in Southern Africa has not halted now that peace has been restored. In fact, the return of 'war' refugees to their home country may help to mask a new type of migration, which takes place for other reasons and to other destinations.
The millions of people arriving in Johannesburg and elsewhere in South Africa from other countries in region- and also, increasingly, from Central Africa -are often 'illegals', hoping to achieve refugee status, find employment and see an improvement in their living conditions. South Africa alone hosts an estimated five million people in this category.
The principal driving force behind these new movements can be summed up precisely-the future. In their home countries, the future is synonymous with poverty. Their home lands have been devastated by war. Ecological conditions are also unfavourable, due to events such as the serious drought which struck the region in 1992. Populations are also growing by between 2.5% and 3.5% each year. The phenomenon of migration has been exacerbated by drastic economic reforms imposed by the North-the structural adjustment programmes set up by the World Bank and the IMF to tackle the economic crisis that has struck most of Southern Africa. Other factors include, galloping inflation, tens of thousands of job losses in both the public and private sectors and a general impoverishment of the population
Not all refugees are illegal immigrants, however. Recent years have seen a stream of doctors, engineers, teachers and other intellectuals leaving their countries of origin for South Africa and its immediate neighbours which have more robust economies (Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia). Others have left for the West. Such people are frequently received with open arms in their country of asylum. This represents a 'brain drain' with serious consequences for those states whose intellectuals are leaving. On the other hand, some countries are happy to 'export' their excess unskilled manpower. In the case of Lesotho, for example, this ensures an influx of foreign currency from nationals working in the mines or on the farms of South Africa who send money to their families back home.
Although a boon for an employer, who sees the new arrivals as
cheap labour, free from trade union interference, the arrival en masse of
refugees can be a source of serious tension in the destination
country. There are economic tensions in Malawi for example, where 8000 arrive every month to swell the population, 10% of which is already made up of refugees. Services such as water supplies and sanitation are under threat and hundreds of hectares of forest are being destroyed for housing, leading to soil erosion and agricultural decline. Socio-cultural tensions include fear within the local labour force of unemployment, and this can lead to an increase in nationalism and xenophobic feelings. This has been seen in South Africa which has approximately 250 000 Mozambican refugees. There are also political tensions, both within states and between them. A past example of this was where South Africa used Mozambican refugees to reinforce Renamo. Indeed, Mozambican refugees have been poorly treated by Pretoria, having been refused refugee status which is vital for them to be able to receive the necessary assistance. This action was criticised by the international community.
How, then, can migration be halted? Solomon suggests two possible approaches. The first entails deterring immigrants by forced repatriation, better patrolling of frontiers or the use of electric fences-there are many different methods available and a number of them have already been used, particularly in South Africa. The problem is that although these measures are effective in limiting 'legal' migration, they have virtually no impact on illegal movements. The second approach if more interesting. It involves tackling the underlying causes of migration in order to render it pointless and thereby to encourage a return to the home country. This is, of course, a long-term process since states need to build up the capacity to grant meaningful rights linked to social and economic development. To this end, the author emphasises the need for Southern Africa to encourage regional integration, but he stresses that this will only be possible if there is a restructuring of North/South international relations. This too is a long-term process whose anticipated results will take some years, perhaps decades, to become apparent. But Solomon believes that it is a process that cannot be avoided. Southern Africa, he points out, has millions of people who are 'potential migrants'.