Refugee and Labour Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: Shelter Provision and Settlement Policies for Refugees

By Jonathan Baker; Roger Zetter | Go to book overview

Refugee and Labour Movements in
Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review1
Jonathan Baker
Nordiska Afrikainstitutet

Introduction

Population mobility in sub-Saharan Africa is a complex issue and there are no simple reasons as to why individuals migrate. This presentation will address two aspects: first, migration of labour across international boundaries for work within sub-Saharan Africa, and second, the involuntary or forced movement of people from one country to another as refugees. However, as this review attempts to illustrate, the distinctions between migrants workers and refugees are often unclear. Migrants workers often face expulsion and hardships similar to the plight of refugees, while refugees in countries of asylum can contribute to economic development in host countries as labour and as consumers.

Africa has always been a continent characterised by high population mobility. In pre-colonial Africa, movements of people were an integral part of the historical development of the continent throughout the present millennium. Many of these movements were not voluntary and involved the forcible removal of millions of peoples to locations outside the continent by Arab and European slave traders.

Furthermore, as Julius Nyerere has commented “If one looks at what are called African tribal migrations over recent centuries, many of the movements would today be defined as “refugee problems”. Minority groups, or dissident families, were fleeing from the dominant authorities and moved to what is now a different country. Very many African nations are made up of a lot of old waves of refugees” (Nyerere, quoted in Kibreab, 1991:18–19).

One of the greatest external influences on sub-Saharan Africa was the impact of Islam from 640 until the 19th Century. Muslim traders crossed the Sahara into the Sahel and West Africa, bringing with them goods, innovations, new organisational forms and the Koran (Serpa, 1992: 235). Other ways in which Islamic impulses were introduced were by sea to East Africa. The upshot of these processes was to add a new and resilient dimension to traditional African forms of organisation and behaviour. Islamicised areas became the foci for inter-regional and long-distance trade which encouraged migrations for economic reasons. Among those who had the wherewithal, the pilgrimage to

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1
This is a revised and updated version of a paper presented at a conference entitled Population and Development, arranged by DANIDA and The Centre for Development Research, Copenhagen, September 1993.1 would like to thank Tor Sellstrom for his insightful comments and suggestions on the final version of this paper.

-7-

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