Japa: ECOWAS Parliament Expresses Concern Over Irregular Youth Migration

The Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has expressed concern over the high rate of youth leaving the region in search of greener pastures mostly through irregular means even as the regional parliament maps out strategies to halt the trend.

This was the crux of discussion at the ongoing First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament 2024 presided over by the Speaker, Hon. Memounatou Ibrahima, in Abuja on Wednesday, as Members of Parliament brainstormed on possible ways to invest in the skills and capacity of the West African youth and explore their potential for the benefit of the sub-region.

LEADERSHIP reports that in what is now popularly known as the ‘Japa Syndrome’, skilled Nigerians were leaving the country for Europe and other developed countries in search of greener pastures.

The discussion by the sub-regional lawmakers followed the presentation made at the plenary by Teresa Boteli (Policy and Liaison Officer) of the International Organisation (IOM) about the increasing rate with which West African youth were leaving the region in droves mostly to Europe and North America using dangerous routes.

According to the IOM, the dangerous journeys undertaken by migrants expose them to numerous risks, including human trafficking, exploitation, and death (an estimated 5,000 migrant deaths – IOM 2023 figures). It said further that while migrants contribute to cultural exchange and diversity in host countries, they also face significant challenges in terms of integration, discrimination, and legal hurdles in their destination countries.

Despite the dangers (human trafficking, exploitation, loss of life), irregular migration towards North Africa and Europe persists. An estimated 300,000 West African migrants often use perilous routes through the Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea annually, as reported by the IOM in 2023.

This surge, according to the World Bank, is caused by high youth unemployment rates, which stand at an average of 12.8% across West African countries. The National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria reported a 19.6% rate of youth unemployment in 2023. Also, the pursuit of higher education and vocational training that is not readily available in home countries motivates many West African youth to migrate to Europe and North America, according to the UNDP in 2021.

These alarming figures compelled the Members of Parliament to react strongly to this dire situation and called for concerted efforts to halt the trend.

Leading the pack in the discussion was the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Jibrin Barau, who blamed the situation on the myriad of conflicts ravaging the sub-region, including economic crises and youth unemployment.

Barau, who is also the First Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, noted that conflicts around the world, such as the war in Ukraine, have contributed to the crisis in West Africa. He called for concerted efforts by all the countries concerned to stop the scourge.

Also, making his submission, the Deputy Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, called for urgent need to create jobs. He said: “there must be the political will on what should be done on economic development, job creation, conflict resolution. We must develop the solid mineral sector through value addition so as to reduce the dependence on oil and gas.”

Another Nigerian MP, Awaji Inombek Abiante, noted that the matter called for serious introspection into the root causes of why West African youths were leaving the region in droves in search of greener pastures in mostly Europe and North America.

He stated that the regional leaders have failed the youth with poor governance coupled with corruption in high places, which diminished opportunities in the region. He also said that electoral corruption has compounded the crisis as the region is now replete with leaders who are not accountable to the people, leading to massive poverty despite the abundant resources of the region.

Abiante said that the solution lies in changing the governance system by “electing credible people in office that will be accountable to the people to provide prudent management of their resources.”

For his part, Hon. Orlando Diaz from Cape Verde said there must be a deep and detailed approach to this scourge even as he warned that if urgent steps were not taken, the situation could get worse in the region.

Hon. Mabinty Fatmata Funna from Sierra Leone said that creating more employment opportunities in member-states to reduce youth migration across seas was a huge challenge that requires a comprehensive approach.

She highlighted some strategies that member-states could consider to address the issues to include; promoting entrepreneurship, which can create more job opportunities for young people.

She said: “Governments can provide training, access to finance, and mentorship to encourage young people to start their own businesses.

“Investment in education and skills development and providing training programmes that are aligned with market needs can help young people acquire the skills needed to access job opportunities in growing sectors.

“We can diversify our economies beyond traditional sectors like agriculture and mining. Investing in sectors such as technology, renewable energy, and manufacturing can create new job opportunities for young people.”

The parliamentarian pointed out that the region must improve the business environment by simplifying regulations, reducing bureaucracy, and improving access to finance to encourage investment and entrepreneurship, leading to job creation.

She posited that SMEs are a major source of employment in many economies, stressing that providing support to SMEs through access to finance, training, and market linkages can help create more job opportunities for young people.

“Developing infrastructure such as transportation, energy, and telecommunications can create jobs in the construction and maintenance sectors, as well as support the growth of other industries.

“Enhancing trade and cooperation among ECOWAS countries can create new market opportunities and stimulate economic growth, leading to more job opportunities for young people.

“Resolving conflicts and promoting peace and stability are essential for creating an environment conducive to job creation.

“Leveraging the opportunities presented by the digital economy, such as e-commerce, digital services, and online platforms, can create new job opportunities for young people,” she added.

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