Migration Policy in Sierra Leone: War, desease and no perspective

Sierra Leone is located far from the typical routes for migration and flight. Nevertheless, the country has a very large and well-educated diaspora.

2014: A burial team prepares an Ebola virus victim for interment Foto: reuters

The small country of Sierra Leone with its population of about 6 million made headlines in 2014 with the outbreak of the fatal Ebola virus, from which at least 3,956 people died. During those months, a long-term, noticeable trend with which the country has been struggling for decades became especially clear: massive brain drain. As one doctor estimated in November 2015 in a personal conversation, there are supposedly fewer physicians with Sierra Leone passports in Sierra Leone itself than in the USA. Their estimated number was lower than 200.

This development started during the civil war from 1991 to 2002, in which more than two million people left the country, among them numerous academics. In the year 2000, 52.5 percent of citizens with a university education

were apparently living abroad. Due to the poor infrastructure and the lack of economic growth with its corresponding low wages, bringing these emigrants back was not successful. In any case, most Sierra Leoneans who fled to neighbouring countries have meanwhile returned .

Yet those emigrants living in Great Britain, for instance, or in the USA, are central to the country's economy. Their remittances for the year 2009 made up between twelve and 25 percent of the gross domestic product, according to various estimates.

Because of the Ebola outbreak and its consequences, northward migration may have become more complicated, yet simultaneously more attractive: since mid-2014, many airlines have cancelled their service to the capital of Freetown. Furthermore, due to the total economic collapse, family members could no longer pool their money to pay for the journey to Europe, as they would have usually done. At the same time, this trend may also have made emigration more attractive than ever before, as the GDP fell by 21.1 percent in 2015 and will recover only very slowly.

New Projects

One year before the civil war ended, the number of asylum applications for 2001 was just short of 14,000. In 2105, 1,262 Sierra Leoneans submitted applications; the approval rate was 18.5 percent. 293 asylum seekers came to Germany; Italy and Hungary ranked just below that. So far, return agreements do not exist, neither with individual states nor with the European Union. The country is also not among those scheduled to receive funding from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In any case, Sierra Leoneans can take part in the REAG reintegration programme. They belong to the second group and receive €300 upon repatriation. Around €266 million were designated for the country up until 2013 in the 10th Development Aid Fund of the EU. In the eleventh, investments are planned in three main areas – good governmental leadership, support for state facilities and the creation of essential infrastructure.

Some laws and strategies on flight and migration are being discussed only since the Valletta Summit in November 2015 and therefore, likely at the urging of the EU. For instance, a workshop on work migration took place in April 2016 in the context of the ECOWAS project, “Support to Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa“ (FMM West Africa).

Since 2014, migration and border security have been linked with the Ebola outbreak more often than with continuing journeys toward North Africa and Europe. One example of this is a project by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) entitled “Health and Management of Borders and Mobility“. Its goal is to curb the risk of infection that comes with the free mobility to travel. Uncontrolled and uncontrollable borders were viewed as one reason why the epidemic spread so massively throughout three countries. At the same time, border crossings used to be the norm, i.e., going to work or to shop in a neighbouring country was once a constant and common part of life.

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