Ministers from East and Horn of Africa Pledge to Harmonize Labour Migration Laws to Protect Migrant Workers’ Rights

Nairobi—The entirety of humankind’s history begins in East Africa, with early Africans’ outbound migration towards Europe and the Middle East. That movement continues, especially now, with some five million recent African migrants living and working outside the continent.     

And yet, migration within Africa remains the more dynamic trend. Over 21 million African migrants—more than five times the number of those in Europe, Asia or the Americas—are migrants to each other’s countries. Their movement, and growing presence in their neighbors’ cities and towns, are turning their countries’ economies into components of each other as well.    

Moreover, by sharing access to things like complementary trade in goods and services, tapping parallel labour pools and creating rising remittance flows, African migrants are engaged in an ever-accelerating cycle of cooperation and co-dependence.   

Those are just some of the themes stimulating policy discussion here this week during a second Regional Ministerial Forum on harmonization of labour migration policies in the region, which brought together officials from East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) countries to chart the next steps in what is being called the “Regional Ministerial Process on Harmonizing Labour Migration Policies in East and Horn of Africa: A United Approach on Safe, Regular and Humane Labour Migration (Regional Ministerial Forum on Migration, i.e., RMFM).  

"The RMFM calls on countries to cooperate towards establishing a common platform for engagement between countries of origin, transit and destination on labour migration, as well as to enhance inter-state, intra and inter-regional cooperation for strengthening the protection of the labour, social and human rights of African migrant workers in destination countries,” said Mohammed Abdiker, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa.    

IOM and the Government of Kenya—Chair of the RMFM, called this week’s meeting as a follow up to a January ministerial regional meeting to start discussions.    

Ministers from Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Rwanda and Burundi worked with other high-level government representatives to harmonize labour migration policies in the region. They also made commitments to make labour migration safe, orderly and humane by establishing a common platform for engagement with the Gulf states and other countries that are major employers of African migrant workers.  

As IOM’s Abdiker explained to participants, migrants from the Horn of Africa move through Yemen, the Middle East and beyond seeking employment. He emphasized that with demand traditionally for workers to fill the female sectors of domestic work, migration flows from the EHoA are women and youth dominated.      

Migration to Gulf Cooperation Council countries has provided jobs and generated significant remittance inflows, providing sustainable incomes for EHoA migrant workers and their families. Citing one example, according to World Bank data, in 2019 the general remittance flows into Ethiopia were recorded at USD 531 million in 2019, accounting for 0.5 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).   

But he warned of a downside. “Since the outbreak of COVID-19,” Abdiker said, “emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. This is the shadow pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis and we need a global collective effort to stop it.”   

Integrating economies in the East and Horn of Africa will make them more resilient to and able to withstand shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic currently severely impacting many economies across Africa. One form of integration is the harmonisation of labour migration laws across the region, which will allow for the free movement of people in the region and beyond, spur economic development, and boost the transfer of skills.    

According to the World Migration Report, the region is experiencing considerable levels of outward labour mobility, driven by poverty, low wages and high unemployment. The Gulf States’ proximity to Eastern Africa and their employment opportunities make them an attractive destination for many East Africans.   

Harmonizing labour migration regulations would safeguard the rights of migrant workers and prevent unfair practices such as excessive working hours, passport confiscation, confinement and denial of salary, impacting the lives of thousands of migrants, and their families, and ordinary citizens in a region with a population of nearly 420 million people. This is according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.    

Harmonizing labour migration laws further would mean people can move freely and transfer skills where they are most needed.    

“As increasing cross-border human, labour and skills mobility play a significant role in the development of the continent, the social, labour and human rights of migrant workers, women and girls, men and boys has become an ever-more urgent challenge,” said IOM’s Abdiker.   

For more information contact: Yvonne Ndege, IOM's Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa, Tel:  +2547 977 35977, Email: