IOM to Support Popularization of Free Movement of People in Africa

Dakar - IOM/ UN Migration will from 2020 work with the African Union Commission (AUC), based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to popularise the continental body's ‘Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment’.

This was revealed in a consultative meeting convened by the AUC in Dakar, Senegal from 11 to 13 December to discuss accelerating ratification of the Free Movement Protocol (FMP) by member states.

Representatives of 27 countries and regional economic communities (RECs) discussed the issue of 'Right of Entry', which is part of ongoing deliberations on the continent’s strategy on free movement.

There was consensus that the current situation where many African citizens experience difficulty to cross borders on their own continent, compared to some holders of foreign passports, has become untenable and required urgent policy intervention.

IOM Ethiopia was invited to share on the benefits and challenges of free movement on the continent, and to present a proposed framework to popularize the Protocol.

Continent-wide free movement is central to the African Union (AU), which currently has a membership of 55 countries, and the 2018 FMP now explicitly encourages and promotes free movement of persons in Africa.

The 1991 Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, also known as the Abuja Treaty, recognizes migrants as an integral part of the continent’s human resources regardless of where they reside.

The FMP goes further to facilitate the creation of an economic community on the continent through progressive implementation of what it terms 'free movement of persons, right of residence, and right of establishment'.

Besides general movement of people, this important document dwells on free movement of specific groups such as residents of border communities, students and researchers, and workers – with a focus on mutual recognition of qualifications, as well as the transfer of the social security benefits for nationals residing in another country.

It also underscores the right of African citizens to reside and to establish a business or economic activity in another country, with use of a common travel document to be called the ‘African Passport’ being another key highlight.

However, since adoption by AU member states in January 2018 the Protocol has registered 32 signatures and only 4 ratifications, when at least fifteen ratifications are needed for it to enter into force.

This slow start stands in contrast to the March 2018 ‘Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)’ a sister agreement meant to create a single continental market for goods and services, and which paves the way for the establishment of the African customs union.

The AfCFTA has to date garnered 29 ratifications, is better recognised and is speeding towards implementation.

IOM has been working closely with the AUC to create and streamline relevant migration policies for the African continent.

It has offered technical assistance in migration policy development and programme implementation in areas like labour migration, trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, free movement, diaspora engagement, and youth engagement.

As a result, the AU has recently adopted four major migration frameworks that fall within the ambit of its blueprint for development and continental integration known as Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

These include the Revised Migration Policy Framework and Plan of Action (MPFA 2018-2030) approved in 2018, the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and AfCFTA mentioned above, as well as the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), also known as the open skies agreement.

Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia shared their experiences on immigration and border management with visa-on-arrival frequently mentioned, and the meeting agreeing to accelerate ratification of the FMP especially in light of the benefits shared.

It also recommended that the Commission work with member states and RECs to urgently appoint an eminent political personality to champion Free Movement, as well as to elaborate a comprehensive popularization strategy to promote the Protocol.

Work on free movement in Africa is being supported by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For more information, please contact Eric Mazango at IOM Ethiopia, Email: emazango@iom.int, Tel: +251 11 6611117 (Ext. 456).

Member states discussing to accelerate the ratification of the Free Movement Protocol