The 2nd Intra-Regional Forum on Migration in Africa began today in Lusaka, Zambia with a call to African leaders to back their stated commitments to the Protocols on Free Movement of People with the political will to implement them.

Addressing delegates at the two- day forum, the Assistant Secretary General of COMESA, Amb Nagla El Hussainy noted that most countries in the continent have committed to measures aimed at supporting the implementation of the protocols.

“The difficulty resides in a lack of political will and capacity of African countries to implement the decisions taken at the Ministerial level in different Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

To move the process forward, Amb El Hussainy suggested that the AU assembly of Heads of State and Government, urge Member States that have not ratified the existing Protocols in the continent to consider setting deadlines to do so and that the issue should also be subjected to the African Peer Review Mechanism.

The forum is themed: “Fostering Regional Integration: Facilitating Trade and Human Mobility through enhanced border management”. It was co-organized by the African Union, International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), COMESA and the Government of Zambia. Its objective is to contribute to the implementation of the African Union Common Position on Migration and Development adopted in 2006 in Banjul, Gambia.

Amb Nagla attributed the slow growth of intra-Africa trade to restrictive immigration practices. “That is why we keep calling on the member States of different RECs to facilitate the movement of persons to deepen regional integration and promote business development,” she said.

A considerable number of COMESA Member States have attained the highest levels of implementation with Rwanda, Mauritius and Seychelles taking the lead by removing visa requirement for majority of African countries.

In his address, the Director General of the IOM Ambassador William Lacy Swing said that boosting intra-African trade requires the adoption and implementation of coherent and efficient trade policies.

“At the very least, boosting intra-African trade requires that the trade policy of African countries be designed or differentiated in such a way that no other country would receive a less favourable treatment than is given to a non-African country whether the latter is developed or developing,” he said.

“Intra-Africa trade has remained consistently low averaging about 10 to 12 percent of Africa’s total trade. Over 80 percent of Africa countries exports are destined for market outside the continent, and a similar amount of the continents imports come from external sources.”

He said that the concept of border needs to change so that they cease being perceived as barriers to people movement but as spaces of exchange where neighbouring states manage the flow of goods and people to mutual benefit.

He said that although governments have been very willing to open their borders to trade, they have not been so liberal in their immigration policies owing to security concerns, fear of being overwhelmed by irregular migrants and foreign workers and tensions with nationals especially in periods of significant unemployment.

“Human mobility is an integral part of our globalized world and for governments in Africa, the management of that mobility is the very present challenge,” the IOM Chief concluded. Zambia Minister for Home Affairs Hon. Davies Mwila the Director of Social Affairs at the AU addressed the forum.

Over 300 delegates from the eight African regional economic communities, the AU, senior officials and experts from relevant government ministries, the UN and international Organizations, Civil society and the private sector participated in the forum.