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Why the sudden rise of African migration to the US?

Last month we reported on the sharp rise of the number of migrants from Central American countries to the US. Rather unexpectedly, there is also a dramatic increase of African migrants, who only reach the US border after first travelling to a Latin American country and then crossing sometimes as many as ten borders to reach the US. Migrants from Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have been said to enter Brazil and Ecuador, and possibly other South American countries, without a visa.

“Data form Mexico’s interior ministry suggests”, according to Reuters, “that migration from Africa this year will break records” and cities such as San Antonio have already indicated that they are “in desperate need for French-speaking volunteers”. In Portland, Maine, the surge in African migrants has prompted the city “to turn its basketball arena into an emergency shelter and depleted assistance funds meant for other groups”.

The Atlantic notes that African migrants rely on the “network effect”, meaning that most of those who decide to undertake the journey have a network in the US that waits for them and can take care of them. It should also be noted that asylum claims from African migrants are much more successful than those of Central Americans. The Migration Policy Institute has shown that nationals of Democratic Republic of Congo constitute by far the largest group of refugees admitted to the US, and that “though the number of Central American migrants seeking asylum has risen, admission of refugees through formal resettlement channels from this region has been relatively low”.

Foreign Policy makes a direct link between the record number of African refugees at the US-Mexico border and the European Union’s policy since 2018 of making Libya not only the main center for processing refugee and asylum applicants but also the country where African refugees intercepted at sea are returned to. The conditions in Libya are such that migrants are increasingly opting for the more expense route through Latin America into the US, also because on a national level, Italy has prohibited nongovernmental organizations and seafarers from rescuing migrants since mid-2018.

Although it may appear that a massive African exodus is taking place, some commentators have argued that this is in fact not the case. Referring to the World Migration Report 2018 published by the International Organisation for Migration, they note that “in 2017, more than 50% of the world’s migrants originated from just 21 countries. The top four were India (6.4%), Mexico (5%), Russia (4.1%), and China (3.9%). The African country that accounted for the largest share of migrants, Egypt, ranked 19th … Africa as a whole accounts for only around 14% of global migrant flows, most of which are confined to the continent”.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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