Reflecting on the importance of migration in an African context: A case for the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by African States

Introduction: Migration in a pan-African Context
In Southern Africa, the ‘great shattering’ of the Nguni people that led to mass migration in the form of the Mfecane in the 19th century teaches us that the free movement of peoples to escape conflict or disruptions to the way of life is an integral part of African history. Similarly, trends of mass migration in the 20th century in North Africa, be it from Libya or Sierra Leone during their civil wars or even mass migration in East Africa from Rwanda during the genocide demonstrate that migration of people away from centres of conflict to pursue a better life is a core part of African history.

Migration as a phenomenon of globalisation in the employment sector
There are around 26.3 migrant workers within Africa who have fled civil war, economic collapse or governance failure thrust upon them by the uncaring regional elite. These individuals seek to take back control over their lives by seeking employment elsewhere in the hopes of finding a dignified life for themselves and their families.
With the steady rise of technology and the mass expansion of logistics and transport, globalisation has brought with it the potential for Africans to travel far further than possible in the past. With Africa becoming rapidly more interconnected through telecommunications and travel infrastructure, migration is on the increase.

"Migrant workers often have unclar legal entitlements to reside in any countries. Job employment is even difficult" and given the propensity of domestic labour law to poorly regulate the employment of non-citizens, a lacuna in law has emerged that threatens fundamental human rights and freedoms of migrant workers and their families.

This is precisely why, now more than ever, we need comprehensive regulation and international consensus on the way migrants, especially migrant workers and their families are treated by states and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (the Convention) is precisely the international legal instrument to accomplish this goal.

Why African states should ratify the Convention
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in Article 2 provides that all people, including migrant workers and their families, shall be entitled to enjoy fundamental human rights without discrimination. Signing and ratifying the Convention is the first cogent step towards achieving this goal in the African States. 
By signing and ratifying the Convention, African States become bound by its provisions, both to not violate the human rights embodied within the Convention and to domesticate its provisions to fully detail how rights will be enjoyed by migrant workers.

What are the legal obligations of states in terms of the Convention?
The Convention provides comprehensive standards for the medical treatment, welfare and labour rights of migrant workers irrespective of their citizenship status and sets out concrete obligations for host States, including obligations to allow migrant workers to seek medical treatment, to be free from degrading treatment, to be treated with dignity and to eliminate the clandestine employment of migrant workers in irregular situations. 

The Convention is not an instrument to be ratified solely for the interest of migrant workers and their families but provides proven benefits to the economy of African countries. Studies have shown that labour migration brings skills in deficit to the host country along with individuals of low skills who fill essential gaps in the economy by virtue of being willing to work in occupations which nationals are usually unwilling to do. 

Regularising labour migration brings the recognition of remittance and income of migrants and expands the tax base of countries while ignoring the plight of migrant workers means there is a far higher chance that any income is not known to the State and cannot be subject to equitable taxation. 

The Convention grants rights for migrant workers and their families to live in conditions that are in keeping with standards of safety, health and the principles of human dignity and prohibits the mass expulsion of migrant workers by states.

It is important for African leaders to recognise the phenomenon of migrant labour within Africa and to regularise it instead of ignoring it. In recognising the role played by international law to solve many of the issues faced by migrant workers and their families, African States should honour the pan-African tradition of migration within Africa by ratifying the Convention.

Author - Jonette-Ann Matilda O. Greene holds a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communications (Hons.) from the University of Sierra Leone, Fourah Bay College. She is currently a human rights advocate, pursuing her MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa. 

Author - Waris Asmal holds an LLB from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa Presently, he is an intern at the Centre for Human Rights Migration Unit and pursuing his LLM in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.