Migration policy in Ivory Coast: Getting out at all costs

Ivory Coast has long been a popular target country for immigrants from West Africa. These days, however, many want to leave the country, especially young people.

Cocoa beans are an important export good in Ivory Coast Foto: dpa

Ivory Coast, currently inhabited by about 23.7 million people, has a long tradition as an immigration country and has been particularly attractive to migrant labourers from Burkina Faso. According to a national census from 1998, the 3.4 million Burkinabé were by far the largest group of non-Ivorians. Many have been living in the country for decades, frequently working in cocoa cultivation. Ivory Coast is the world's largest producer of cocoa, with an annual production of around 1.7 million tons. The Burkinabé are regarded as a cheap labour force and, compared to native workers, are often poorly trained. The great majority of them works in the informal sector, which gives them scant legal rights.

According to various statistics for the years 1998 to 2006, as many as 7.8 million immigrants in total may have lived in Ivory Coast in that period. However, the World Bank estimated just 2.4 million immigrants in 2010. The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) assumes that this number is decreasing and will continue to fall. Numerous immigrants have been leaving the country because of its many political crises since the year 2000.

Immigration has been present in Ivory Coast since the beginning. Yet under President Henri Konan Bédié and his concept of Ivorité starting in the 1990s, an emergent xenophobia has been on the rise. The current president, Alassane Ouattara, was excluded from the 1995 elections since his parents supposedly had immigrated from Burkina Faso. The issue of nationality is still a major problem in Ivory Coast today, confirms political science researcher Arsène Brice Bado, who works for the Centre for Research and Action for Peace in the business metropole of Abidjan.

In any case, in 2010 great numbers of Ivorians became refugees themselves. Following a run-off election in late November – in which ex-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede his office to Alassane Ouattara, leading the country into severe conflict which left more than 3,000 dead – 250,000 people departed for the bordering country of Liberia. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, as of mid-2016, a solid 20,000 Ivorians were still living in the neighbouring country. Another 11,000 Ivorians remain in Ghana today.

New migration

Beyond that, however, hardly any further data is known on migration to neighbouring countries, or to Europe, as stated in “A Survey on Migration Politics in West Africa“ by the West African economic community ECOWAS. Up to 1.2 million Ivorians could still be living abroad long-term. Silvère Yao Konan of the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny called the former colonial power of France the most important target country in Europe in 2009, with 26 percent of the migrants. The majority – at least 65 percent – also leaves the country permanently. This means that a majority of migrants remains abroad for at least five years. EU claims that 80,000 Ivorians currently hold residence permits there. 7,000 new residence permits are issued per year.

UNHCR estimates that three percent of migrants and refugees who reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean are currently Ivorians. In 2015, 7,712 Ivorians applied for asylum; the approval rate globally was 13 percent. Italy ranked in first place, followed by France and the neighbour country of Ghana. Germany ranked in fourth place with 548 applications. The rate of repatriations was at 14 percent. A Frontex report claims that in 2014, about 25,000 visas were issued to the Schengen area. However, the quota of rejections was 28 percent.

Since 2015, migration has become a subject of hefty debate within Ivory Coast itself. This is related to the fact that 60 percent of the population is under 25 years old. Despite having had a good education, in part, the majority of them can't find regular employment upon entering the job market. The 2015 economic growth rate of just 8.5 percent didn't help matters. Since the economic situation in neighbour countries tends to be even worse, they don't present themselves as likely targets for migration to find work. Multiple events organised by entities such as the General Direction of Ivorians Abroad (DGIE, Direction Générale des Ivoiriens De L'Extérieur), which belongs to the Ministry for African Integration and Ivorians Abroad, are intended to make young Ivorians aware of the dangers of overland migration.

Biometric compilation

Five months after the Valletta Summit of November 2015, a meeting was held in Abidjan between Foreign Minister Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri and his Dutch official counterpart, Bert Koenders. The Netherlands held the presidency of the EU council at that time. The EU found that Ivory Coast was still lacking an approved national strategy on migration policy. This national strategy would supposedly form the basis for Ivory Coast's further co-operation with the EU and also for the implementation of the Valletta goals.

Koenders has also negotiated an agreement for the EU with Ivory Coast on combatting illegal migration. The intent is to develop an effective strategy for a systematic return of migrants, who also “should be discouraged from putting their lives in danger“. Outcomes were to be announced by the end of the year.

Within the 11th European Development Fund, for the years 2014 to 2020 a total of €273 million has been allocated to be distributed over three areas: Fortifying the state and securing peace, including funding for agriculture and the energy sector. With €139 million, this takes the largest share of the funding. The EU Trust Fund for Africa, in any case, does not see Ivory Coast as a priority nation.

In 2009, Ivory Coast introduced a biometric passport. Those responsible for issuing them included the nation's Corporation for the Issuance of Identification Papers, and the Zetes Corporation, founded in 1984. Both were also responsible for the biometric visa introduced in 2013, which can be applied for and paid for online. Upon entry into the country, it is issued and pasted into a passport.

Overland, border control – at least with neighbouring Liberia and Guinea – remains difficult to impossible. During and after the election crisis in late November 2010, for example, supporters of ex-president Gbagbo frequently could flee to the Liberian side. Dense forests, untracked by any paved roads, make the region hard to control. Especially during the rainy season, the slopes become nearly impassable in some places. According to a customs official on the Ivorian side in October 2011, residents there rarely used the official transition points, preferring to cross the green border.

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