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International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

Current migration themes in Southern Africa: an IOM perspective

International Organisation for Migration (IOM)


May 2005

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Background & Overview

Southern Africa has a long history of cross-border migration. Most of this movement has involved either organised labour (such as migrants from Lesotho and Mozambique working in the mining sector of South Africa) or individuals seeking employment opportunities in the informal sectors of the economy (such as commercial farm workers, traders and domestic workers). During recent decades, however, population mobility has become a matter of central concern for governments in the region.

Southern Africa faces a host of migration issues including the increased prevalence of irregular migration (people who wilfully contravene immigration laws or evade border control posts), the spread of communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS within migrant communities, the emergence of the brain drain created by the emigration of skilled Africans, and the aftermath of several regional and national conflicts that have produced high numbers of refugees and other displaced persons.

The need for enhanced, comprehensive migration policies is a priority for both individual governments and regional bodies. Migration management has become a locus of health, social welfare, education and crime-fighting strategies, and is fast becoming an element in foreign policy agendas as well. The linkages between national (and regional) security and migration have, moreover, prompted governments to factor international organised crime and international terrorism into strengthening their migration management measures.

While international media have focused on African migrant flows toward the Mediterranean and Europe, contemporary migration patterns also exhibit a southward trend. The end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, and relative political stability in Botswana, Namibia, and Mozambique, have provided sufficient “pulls” to attract an influx of African immigrants who pursue both legal and illegal means of entry into these “host” countries, mainly for employment. Furthermore, the Region is also observing a trend whereby extra-regional migrants use the region as a transit stop en route to industrialized countries.

For South Africa in particular the number of people crossing national borders has increased dramatically since 1990. Fuelling this rise in mobility is the expansion of both formal and informal cross-border trading. Within the informal sector, women have come to play a major role in the buying and selling of goods. Their voluntary—and, in many instances, involuntary—movement in responseopportunities for employment in formal and informal economic sectors reflects an overall trend in regional mobility: the feminization of migration.

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