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.

Approved abstracts panel 31

1. Migrants in Countries in Crisis: The Experiences of Ghanaian and Nigerian Migrants during the Libyan Crisis of 2011

Author: Leander Kandilige, University of Ghana, Ghana and Hamidou Manou Nabara, ICMPD, Niger.
E-mail:; and

Using the experiences of Ghanaian and Nigerien migrants who were implicated in the 2011 Libyan crisis as a case study, this paper highlights the importance of examining micro-level factors in explaining migration decision-making processes. It, therefore, challenges the uncritical use of macro-level factors as exogenous ‘root causes’ of migration especially in developing country contexts. Adopting mainly qualitative approaches among 75 key informants from six distinct categories, the study finds that migration culture, household livelihood aspirations, geographical propinquity and the existence of social networks as well as migrant smuggling rings motivate migrations to Libya. The paper also challenges scholarship on the 2011 Libyan crisis that treats the experiences of Sub-Saharan African migrants in the country as though they were an undifferentiated group. Recommendations include the need for the regionalisation of evacuation and repatriation programmes to facilitate the timely extraction of trapped migrants from countries in crisis, and the elimination of latent as well as explicit signs of racism and xenophobic practices from host countries to avert the scapegoating of migrants during crisis situations.  

2. Libya, A Crisis That Closes on Migrants: The Case of Migrants Fleeing to Tunisia

Author: Hassen Boubakri, University of Sousse, Tunisia.
E-mail: and

This paper focuses on the conditions in which migrant workers fled Libya during the 2011 revolution and continue to flee, left to the authority of militias, human traffickers, and smuggling networks. I not only present the findings of migrant surveys conducted as part of the MICIC research project, but also explore the evolution of the Libyan situation since then and its impact on migrants. I underline the roles and responsibilities of local and national Libyan actors, as well as that of international actors. I also focus on the slow evolution of reception and of assistance conditions for migrants in Tunisia, including an organic law enacted in July 2016 to prevent and fight human trafficking and a bill introduced in January 2018 in the Tunisian Parliament to prevent all forms of racism and discrimination. Migrants, including those fleeing Libya, are most exposed to these abuses.

Beyond this contextual regard of the situation of migrants in Tunisia and Libya, I measure how societies and different stakeholders in the Maghreb region manage crisis-induced migratory flows primarily from Sub-Saharan Africa in a context where North African countries work to deepen their political and economic relations with other regions of the continent.

3. The Owners of Xenophobia: Zimbabwean Informal Enterprise and Xenophobic Violence in South Africa

Authors: Jonathan Crush, Godfrey Tawodzera, Abel Chikanda & Daniel Tevera, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.,,

This paper is a contribution to our understanding of the intertwined economic and political crises in Zimbabwe and the crisis of xenophobia in South Africa. There have been few studies to date specifically examining the impact of xenophobic violence on Zimbabweans trying to make a living in the South African informal economy. The paper first provides a picture of Zimbabwean migrant entrepreneurship using survey data from a 2015 study of migrants in the informal economy. All of the Zimbabwean entrepreneurs interviewed in depth for the study in 2016 had either witnessed or been the victims of xenophobic violence or both. The interviews focused on the experience and impact of xenophobic violence on personal safety and business operations. The migrant accounts clearly demonstrate that they see xenophobia as a key driver of the hostility, looting and violence that they experience. The paper argues that the deep-rooted crisis in Zimbabwe, which has driven many to South Africa in the first place, makes return home in the face of xenophobia a non-viable option. Zimbabweans are forced to adopt a number of self-protection strategies, none of which ultimately provide insurance against future attack.

4. Return and Reintegration in ‘Post-Crisis’ Contexts

Author: Robtel Neajai Pailey, University of Oxford, UK.

Crises, defined for the purpose of this paper as armed conflict, impact migrants differently depending on a wide range of factors such as the economic stability and geo-political positioning of the origin or host country, the high-profile (or low-profile) nature of the crisis and resulting external responses, the socio-economic status of migrants, their relationships with non-migrant populations and with the origin or host state, as well as migrants’ “preparedness” and “resource mobilisation” (Cassarino, 2004). Migrants may respond to crises by staying put, returning to their countries of origin or re-migrating elsewhere depending on the opportunity structures available.

Situating ‘post-crisis’ return as part and parcel of the crisis cycle, this paper argues that socio-economic embeddedness in countries of origin is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for sustainable and successful return. It investigates the degree to which transnational linkages, national, regional, and multilateral policies and practices play a role in facilitating return and reintegration. Because of the dearth of available data on the micro-, meso-, and macro- level outcomes of return and reintegration resulting from crises in host countries, the literature on return in ‘ordinary times’ is used as an entry point. The case studies employed include the return of Liberian refugees, Ghanaian and Burkinabé economic migrants during the dual political crises in Côte d’Ivoire from 2002-2003 and 2010-2011.

5. Mobility of Cameroonians in Central African Republic: Integration under the Prism of Differentiated Strategies

Author: Henri Yambene Bomono, National Centre For Education /Ministry of scientific research, Cameroon and innovation & Jean Marie Nkenne.
E-mail: and

This paper highlights certain aspects of mobility of Cameroonians to the Central African Republic (CAR) as well as their settlement in Central African territorial spaces pre-crisis. It explores the deterioration of the situation in CAR following the overthrow of the government in March 2013, which forced Cameroonian migrants to use varied strategies to flee the crisis. Based on interviews with 23 Cameroonian returnees, this paper explores the legal status of Cameroonian migrants in CAR, their motivations for migrating and outcomes, and their integration strategies once returned to Cameroon. 

6. Return and Reintegration of Burkinabé from Libya to Burkina Faso

Author: Konkobo Bourahima, Université Ouaga1, Pr Joseph KI ZERBO, Burkina Faso.

Like countries in the Sahel, Burkina Faso continues to experience significant emigration. While traditional migration destinations were countries of the sub-region, notably Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, new destinations emerged gradually from the beginning of the 1990s, particularly towards Libya. But with the collapse of the Libyan state in 2011, which subsequently led to socio-political conflicts, the living conditions of settled or transiting migrants deteriorated gradually, including that of Burkinabé. During the revolution, the European Union funded a voluntary return and reintegration programme implemented by the Government of Burkina Faso and the International Organisation for Migration, allowing many Burkinabé migrants to return ‘home’. This paper explores their processes of return and reintegration, as well as the socio-economic development implications therein for migrants and their households, the origin state, and the international agencies facilitating the return journeys.

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