Interrelated to global economic activity, international migration will be affected by the global financial downturn. As has often been the case, the poorest of continents, Africa, will be the site of the most damage. The world financial crisis will weaken African economic growth and food provision. A mixture of rising food prices, increasing difficulty to secure international loans, deteriorating export avenues, and shrinking labor markets will cause brain drain, societal unrest, and conflict. Unrest and conflict will exacerbate human rights problems and refugee flows, another kind of migration. Migration of all categories from and within Africa will increase strongly in the coming years. In the worst-case scenario, Africa will face a massive refugee and migration crisis. However, with wise acceptance of facts, domestic initiative and timely international help, it is possible to limit the recession-bound difficulties for African migration.

Scarce Food Supplies and High Prices Cause Conflict and Migration

Hunger-related migration, which refers to any forced or voluntary form of migration caused primarily by famine or food scarcity, is likely to occur. African food supplies have generally been limited, even in times of low food prices and global upturn. In February 2008, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) listed 36 countries suffering from acute shortages of food and therefore needing external help. Most of these countries are in Africa. Droughts, ineffective use of agriland, and labor force diseases (such as Tuberculosis and HIV) have complicated the scene, causing shrinking food production.

Simultaneously, food is one of Africa’s major export objects and foreign currency received in countervalue is critical for the very survival of the continent. Global prices have risen and will not drop due to the recession: developing countries with increasing populations needing food elevate food prices and also inhibit major drops in them. Food is a basic Maslowian commodity, affected by population growth but not by economic turns. Unlike cars, construction or travelling, the consumption of which can be cut in downturns, food is for survival in all turns.

Persistently high global food prices maintain the profitability of African food export, making it harder for the poor domestic markets to buy food. Henceforth, instead of feeding the domestic populations, Africa will export its shrinking crops to countries that are capable of expending the increased price. This also means that African food prices will remain much higher than prior to the global price increases.

Hence, in Africa, scarce food supplies have now paired with constantly high food prices, making life for many individuals in Africa intolerable. Due to such individual impossibility to find and purchase food, emigration from Africa will increase. Potential bases for near future hunger-related migration are already there. In Somalia, for example, the price of rice, corn, durra and other crops has more than doubled, while at the same time the value of the Somali shilling has halved. In other words, the price of imported crop may have quadrupled, making life next to impossible for the destitute, half of whose incomes goes to food. Another representative example is Egypt, where police used batons and teargas to end violent food demonstrations in the coastal town of Burullus in May 2008. The sharp increase in wheat prices has caused damage to state-supported bread deliveries, a service upon which many poor people in the cities are dependent. These examples will multiply if food prices remain high and if it becomes impossible for the poor segments of African societies to buy food. These segments will then have only two alternatives: either mount the barricades or flee. Darfur-type refugee camps may ensue, only this time due to food shortages.

Credit and Aid Problems Breed African Brain Drain

In addition, the global resource and financial crisis will cause emigration pressures at the skilled end of the population spectrum. Job markets for the skilled population will contract and African export companies will suffer due to decreasing European and US demand. Although Chinese and Indian investments have recently expanded the total foreign pool of investments in Africa, more than 50 percent of the African manufacturing businesses are still in European or US ownership. European and US production will probably be the first to shrink, due to the crisis cycle, but it is probable that even Chinese and Indian businesses will suffer. These ailing businesses will most likely be forced to decrease their employment of skilled laborers. But the shrinkage in foreign business is not the only way in which skilled workers may lose their jobs and be forced to look for work somewhere else.

Also, the public sector in many African countries will start to suffer from the global downturn. An ailing public sector means cuts on government projects, which will further shrink the educated labor market. This risks further brain drain, as a result of two aspects. First, it is increasingly difficult for the African governments to get international credit. For example, the 2010 World Cup football tournament in South Africa may be underfinanced, putting large infrastructure projects in jeopardy and making the job market insecure. Second, credit from institutional lenders, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and various UN bodies may become uncertain if these bodies face challenges themselves. Debt return payment schedules may be accelerated, causing further pressure for African national economies.



The slow-down in private and public credit, through cutting ongoing projects and reluctance to plan and implement new ones, will retard or altogether halt the job markets for workers in, for example, education, health, and social services. Emigration and brain drain will ensue for many, in particular for those qualified enough to already have international experience and contacts.

Brain drain may also ensue from the drop in foreign and development aid from the Western countries suffering from their own financial crises. Skilled workers in development projects may notice their jobs vanishing, due to decreasing foreign aid that funds their salaries. Emigration may then be the only means to remain employed.

Rising Unrest and Human Rights Violations

Hunger and food riots, the deterioration of labor markets, and the general economic situation are likely to increase societal instability, because the potential for societal unrest increases when people are hungry or unemployed. Examples of economic problems linked to societal instability are clearly visible in many countries. As of December 2008, a dangerous situation is brewing in Zimbabwe with the combination of economic, health, and political problems. Students may rise up to the barricades, due to lack of employment, as has happened in Greece. Lack of opportunities and unemployment, with consequent violent conflict, may lead to major refugee crises that could reach Europe.

There is a clear possibility that the economic problems may cause more inequality, conflict, and refugee flows. Brain drain resulting from the global economic crisis will shrink labor markets, leave many without the opportunity to emigrate, and cause unrest. South Africa is one country that may see such developments.

Due to economic crisis, new migration-inducing conflicts may ensue, while old ones may intensify. Sudan, Somalia, Chad, and Zimbabwe are all countries with potential forthcoming economic challenges, simultaneously unsettled democracy, and human rights problems. Increasing unemployment and poverty--the result of the falling economy--will be counted as the government’s failure, and this will increase opposition support. Anti-government activity will ensue, leading to government reactions. Prolonged and intensifying conflicts are likely. A worsening of the human rights situation will ensue, which again may cause major refugee flows.

Corruption and nepotism, endemic to Africa, will sharpen due to the lack of allocable revenues. In Nigeria, oil companies are troubled by the global recession and the uncertainty in oil prices. This means that revenues need to be repatriated more strenuously, leaving less and less for the domestic African market. There will be ever less prosperity from oil for the local economy, both through official and unofficial channels. In addition to the corrupt elite noticing their informal revenues diminishing, there will be less allocated to the “honest” domestic markets as well. Corrupt elites will look for other sources for revenues, and simultaneously the population will become discontent, due to less favorable circumstances. This development of “less allocated goods”, when added to the already dire ethnic problems and violence in Nigeria, may lead to further serious conflicts crossing national borders and resulting in further migratory flows to Europe.

Civil discontent, due to economic and food shortages, is also a breeding ground for coups d’état, increasing dictatorship, and general disregard for human rights. In a dictatorship, riots and turmoil can be managed and eliminated with brute force. The resulting human rights violations could lead to refugee flows.

The Coming Crisis on the Surrounding World

We are seeing global economic trends affecting Africa that will increase hunger migration, brain drain, and refugee flows. Given the economic crisis and the continuing instability of African societies, we must assume that most of the intensifying causes of refugee flows and irregular migration are without any immediate remedy.

Migration, which often originates from the countryside to the cities, will not halt in the cities, as circumstances in the slums may be even harsher than the problems in the rural areas. Therefore, Africa’s neighbors in the Mediterranean and the European Union can expect increasing African migration. Africa’s neighbors will be the first ports of call for most refugee flows. Since the economic crisis also affects most of these neighbors, African migrants may encounter hostility from the local residents, who may view them as more competition for scarcer resources. Many neighbors lack the resources to accommodate immigrants, and some of their populations are downright hostile towards immigrants.

The nearby countries are often unable or reluctant to manage migrant and refugee flows. Since the United States is too far away and the Arabian Peninsula too harsh, particularly for non-Muslim refugees, the only logical consequence is further pressure on the Mediterranean. Southern EU countries and Israel are the most probable destinations of first choice. Italy and Spain are already receiving an influx of desperate migrants to such sites as Lampedusa and Algeciras. Border reception sources are, even without a major crisis at hand, stretched to the maximum. Already, refugee and migrant boats are sinking and migrants drowning. How will the situation look like with a tenfold quantity of migrants?



Migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean will be expelled as illegal immigrants unless they can present a credible indication of persecution (i.e. physical injury or other concrete evidence) or a valid work contract in a European country. The current Geneva Convention for Refugees does not consider hunger, general unrest, or lack of work as justified causes for becoming a refugee. As a consequence, many suffering Africans on Europe’s borders will be expelled. Some may remain near the African northern and northwestern coasts and try again. In any case, the odds are that would-be crossers of the Mediterranean will stay in these coastal countries, leading to further problems and unrest in these areas.

Although most of the economic escapers, hunger migrants, and refugees, without evidence of persecution, will be rigorously stopped near the Mediterranean, some will seek and receive asylum or shelter in European countries on humanitarian grounds. In any case, they will not automatically be returned to countries such as Somalia or Congo. This process leads to more refugees in the countries of destination, a trend for which European countries must prepare.

How to Combine Sufficient Control and Pertinent Shelter?

The global financial crisis may increase African food shortages, job market shrinkage, and societal unrest. There is little chance that these causes of migration will simply vanish in the foreseeable future. Brain drain, hunger migration and actual refugee flows will follow. Some migrant streams will move within Africa, others will endeavor to cross the Mediterranean, and still others will strive for more distant destinations. As increasing migration within and out of Africa is foreseeable, what can be done to keep the flows orderly and to prevent as many casualties as possible?

On the African neighboring country level, regional organizations need to be maintained for multilateral discussion and negotiation platforms. On the global level, Africa needs – now more than ever – foreign aid for stability and democracy projects. Reducing the foreign aid of European countries due to domestic financial crises would be short-sighted as this might ultimately lead to even greater refugee flows to the same countries. Independent of possible preventative and alleviating measures, there will be more African refugees with undisputed indications of persecution. The European resettlement programs need to be redirected and increased to prepare for the possible forthcoming African migrant crisis. Also, national European asylum policies need to be alert for further streams. As the situation materializes, persons with a valid cause should be given at least temporary shelter.

Would new attempts at international cooperative projects be of any value? Common European Union asylum policies are still in the making, and will not in the near future be flexible or humane enough to coherently respond to the coming crises. One chance for better coordination of global refugee crises is the extension of the mandate of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or the establishment of a World Organization on the Geneva Convention (WOGC). The powers of such a body should include the ability to decide on refugee rights and coordinate fair burden-sharing for resettlement quotas based, for example, on the total GDPs of potential destination countries. The WOGC could also chart, prevent and eliminate patterns of asylum misuse.

Independent of whether the coming African migration flows will be managed primarily on a national, EU, or international level, a sustainable balance between control and humane means needs to be sought. Misuse of the asylum system is to be tackled first and asylum will be reserved solely for genuine refugee cases. This is a timely question, as there is reason to believe that genuine refugee and asylum cases from Africa are on the rise in the near future, due to these aspects of hunger, economics, and conflict.