Data collected at 35 key transit points across West and Central Africa by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate regional migration has dropped by nearly 50 per cent during the first half of 2020 (compared with 2019) due to government travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On International Day of Family Remittances, the data reflect the double burden low- and middle income countries bear at this time: the response to COVID-19 has caused great disruption to cross-border mobility and trade even as the World Bank is projecting remittances to sub-Saharan Africa will drop 23 per cent.
One in nine people on earth are affected by remittance flows. Roughly half reside in small towns and rural villages where remittances put food on the table, educate children and support small businesses.
The effects of the border closures in this region are being felt by many.
“With the lockdown, I cannot travel out of Ouagadougou to sell the soap I manufacture in other towns and localities,” said a migrant IOM interviewed in Burkina Faso.
“It is like I have to start from scratch once more.”
Although mobility restrictions such as border closures have been instrumental in limiting the spread of the virus, they have had devastating repercussions on regional trade and livelihoods. Migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) disproportionately face the effects of these restrictions. Border communities and cross-border commerce have been impacted in a region where 60 per cent of the economy is informal.
“We estimate that at least 33,000 migrants are currently stranded at borders including in overcrowded transit centres as a result of COVID-19 mobility restrictions,” said Sophie Nonnenmacher, Acting Regional Director for IOM’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa.
“Most of them have lost their jobs or incomes, which can also be an obstacle to accessing health services,” she added.
IOM’s data also indicate movement has continued within countries and between countries, despite domestic and international restrictions.
Among these thousands of stranded migrants are seasonal migrant workers across a wide area from the nations of the Gulf of Guinea countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, itself. Other frequent travelers are Quranic students who move between West African countries, and transhumant herders along what is known as the “Transhumance corridor” stretching from Mauritania to Chad.
In addition, there are more than six million internally displaced persons across West and Central Africa who are almost exclusively reliant on humanitarian aid, which has been impacted by restrictions on mobility. IDPs who previously had been able to earn wages through an informal local labour market, now are unable to do so given restrictions on entry and exit from many of the region’s IDP camps.
“The area between Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso is a good example of the migration dynamics in the region. The need for seasonal workers in large farming areas or in gold mining areas has seen a lot of cross-border movements which, in the context of mobility restrictions, have become irregular,” explained Damien Jusselme, Regional Information Management Officer at IOM. “As a result, thousands of seasonal workers have been stranded in neighboring countries and are unable to return home, highlighting the need for a more integrated approach to migration management amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“This situation is worrisome. It is crucial, now more than ever, to integrate migrants in national, regional and global response plans,” Nonnenmacher added.
Since 2016, IOM, with the support of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration as well as the DFID-funded Safety, Security and Solutions programme, has been collecting and analyzing data on travel movements in West and Central Africa through more than 30 Flow Monitoring Points set-up at key transit hubs in the region such as bus stations and border crossings. IOM DTM, through the Emergency Tracking Tool, provides updates on mobility trends and stranded migrants in the region and along the Central Mediterranean Migration Route.