African governments should encourage and facilitate free movement of persons within the continent and provision of alternative legal channels of migration.
This was the message at the opening of a three-day international conference on migration and labour mobility which opened in Kigali, yesterday.
About 60 African regional economic communities are represented at the roundtable meeting on ‘Intra-Regional Migration and Labour Mobility within Africa.’
The meeting is a joint initiative of the African Union, the International
Organisation for Migration, the Economic Commission for Africa, the Swiss government and Rwanda.
The first of its kind, the meeting aims at identifying challenges to free movement across borders for the continent’s integration.
“The challenges that still impede mobility include lack of transformative leadership whereby some countries have not yet ratified while others ratified but have never implemented the protocols signed,” said Dr Khabele Matlosa, director for political affairs in the African Union Commission.
Other challenges cited include security, epidemics, fear of impact of migrants on national identities and culture, fear of being overwhelmed by irregular migrant and foreign workers, restrictive immigration policies and tighter border controls due to fear of disastrous consequences such as human trafficking and smuggling.
“It is an occasion to evaluate challenges and opportunities for free movement of persons, sharing experiences on benefits, improving awareness and understanding that well-managed migration and labour mobility is powerful driver of African development,” Dr Khabele said.
Calling for ratification of protocols for intra-regional migration and mobility, participants urged governments to outgrow the fear of impacts of free movement.
“It is time for African people to move freely within the continent rather than risking their lives while, for instance, crossing Sahara deserts en route Europe. Intra-regional migration and labour within Africa can also reduce those calamities,” Khabele added.
Rwanda performs well
Dr Khabale said Rwanda is among few countries that have ratified and implemented the free movement protocols.
Regional economic blocs like East African Community made good progress to put in place policies that facilitate free movement, Khabale said.
The Minister in the Office of the President, Venantie Tugireyezu, said East African Heads of State have been str0ng advocates of labour and migration reforms in Africa.
“In the recent past, Heads of State in East African Community have joined efforts to fast-track integration with migration and labour mobility among the key elements,” Tugireyezu said.
Rwanda initiated the National Migration Policy in 2008.
“The policy contributed to fostering sustainable economic growth, promoting tourism, investment, regional economic integration and increased private sector competitiveness,” he added.
The Director-General of Immigration and Emigration, Anaclet Kalibata, said Rwanda has facilitated free cross-border movement in EAC by accepting the use of identity cards and other legal documents such as voter’s cards and student’s identity cards to travel to or from Kenya and Uganda.
The initiative was launched in 2014.
The country has also availed visa online application for incoming travellers and all African nationals can get entry visas at the point of entry.
“Some countries have restrictive policies for labour immigration but if they have competent skills to contribute to your needs, they should freely move,” Kalibata said.