Panel 31

African Migrants in Times of Crisis

Panel organiser: Robtel Neajai Pailey, University of Oxford, UK.


What happens to African migrants if there is a major crisis in a regional host country, which may endanger them and force them to leave? In crisis situations, these migrants are likely to fall between two stools – they are neither citizens who might get protection, nor, should they flee across borders, would they be eligible to receive protection as refugees. As migrants, they may face particular obstacles that make it harder for them to reach safety, such as language barriers, legal restrictions and discrimination. While origin states may have the responsibility to look after their nationals abroad, they may struggle to offer assistance – especially in poorer regions of the continent. Whereas some migrants may opt to stay in a country affected by crisis for a variety of reasons, return of others may have challenging impacts on several levels – on individual migrants and migrant family members who have to return relatively unprepared and need to rebuild their lives, on households that may have depended on migrant remittances to a significant extent for their livelihoods, and states, for whom return especially of significant numbers raises challenges in terms of reintegration and associated issues, at national, sub-national and local levels. At the same time, crisis may also come with opportunities and act as a catalyst for positive change. This panel will examine these and other questions and aims to contribute to the literature of crisis and migration, focusing on the meaning, assumptions about and consequences of crisis.

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