People in Africa’s largest economies oppose more migration into their countries

Barrier to entry.
Barrier to entry.
Image: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer
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Anti-immigrant rhetoric stemming from far-right movements and politicians in the US and Europe has grown increasingly vocal in recent years. But, as it turns out, a majority of people in some of Africa’s largest economies do not want more immigrants either.

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 27 nations shows the four African countries featured—Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Tunisia—have high levels of opposition to more migration. Indeed, except in Tunisia, the percentage of people in the African countries surveyed who do not want an increase in the number of immigrants allowed into their country is higher than the median across all 27 countries analyzed in the report.

While the survey does not detail what is driving attitudes, the four countries listed have long struggled with migration issues. Tunisia’s neighbor Libya has become a major transit hub for sub-Saharan migrants hoping to cross the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Those who do not make the crossing may look to start a new life in Tunisia, while agreements to limit migrant crossings in Libya have prompted smuggling networks to look to the country as an alternative base. Kenya is home to a large community of Somalis refugees, with which it has a strained relationship.  And South Africa, an established destination for African migrants, has suffered repeated episodes of violent xenophobic attacks against migrants perceived to be taking jobs away from locals.

Residents of the four African countries surveyed also admitted that outward migration—locals seeking better jobs and quality of life elsewhere—was a “very or moderately big problem.” Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has particularly failed to deal with outward migration, with desperate, young Nigerians taking life-risking journeys to reach Europe illegally.

Indeed, Nigerians accounted for the largest national group for migrants arriving in Italy by sea in 2016. Richer Nigerians are also looking outward, especially to Canada, for immigration programs and asylum claims.

In total, nearly 150,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to the shores of Italy and Spain last year alone. This outward flow of migrants is an indictment on successive national governments who have failed to spur job growth and provide amenities to disincentivize migration.

Less than a third of people in every country surveyed by Pew support letting in more immigrants. Regardless of these views however, migration has grown substantially in the last few decades, with a record 258 million people recorded as living outside their country of birth last year, compared to 153 million in 1990.