African immigration to Europe

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The Moorish Ambassador to Elizabeth I.

African immigrants to Europe are European citizens and residents born in or with ancestors from Africa. Although immigration from Africa to Europe has increased substantially in recent decades, it is not a recent phenomenon.


With over one million migrants a year and 299,000 asylum applications in 2006 alone, Europe is the primary destination for African migrants worldwide. Migratory flows from Africa currently make up the largest share of migration into Europe. The majority of African migrants living overseas are in Europe, approximately 4.6 million, according to the International Organization for Migration. But the Migration Policy Institute believes there are between seven and eight million irregular African immigrants living in the EU - the actual number changing depending on regularisation schemes in the member states. About two-thirds of Africans in Europe are from North Africa (particularly Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia). An increasing number of immigrants are from Western Africa (mainly Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal).[1][2]

The Council of Europe records people according to their birthplace and their self-described ancestry, although aggregated data for Africa is split between "Sub-Saharan" and "North Africa". The number of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in Europe are between 3,5 and 8 million, concentrated mainly in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.[3]


During the period of 2000-2005, an estimated 440,000 people per year emigrated from Africa, most of them to Europe.[4] The European Union Frontex agency's "Operation Hermes" is monitoring the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy. Due to increased border controls along the Mediterranean, there has been a shift of preferred migration routes towards Greece.

Current European policies[edit]

In 2006, Spain received at least 636,000 migrants, representing almost half of the EU’s total and 122,500 more than the number of migrants arriving in Germany, France, and Britain combined. Recently, Spain has started to recruit legal workers from countries such as Senegal, all while encouraging the adoption of a common EU immigration policy. At the same time, however, it has also attempted to forge broad bilateral accords with African countries that would exchange repatriation for funding to help the returned in France, in 2007, new Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux announced a plan to offer monetary incentives for legal immigrants to return to Africa, and President Nicolas Sarkozy established the controversial Ministry of Immigration (ABC), Integration, National Identity and Co-development. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, an estimated 5 million, many from northern Africa, and national identity was one of Sarkozy's campaign themes in the spring of 2007.[2]

Europe wants to reject illegal immigration. The European Union is exploring the establishment of legal job centers across Africa. Portugal, during its EU presidency, has declared the need for a “realistic” immigration policy that will take into account the need for economic migration.[2]

With respect to migration, cooperation between the EU and Africa will involve the establishment of a network of Africa-based migration observatories which will collect, analyse and disseminate information on migration flows within Africa and between Africa and the EU. Special attention will be given to the skilled labour issue. It will encourage the movement of skilled labour through the creation of partnerships between European and African institutions such as universities and hospitals. Finally, in order to offer Africans a genuine alternative to migration to Europe, the partnership will focus on creating more and better jobs in Africa, particularly in the formal economy.[5][6]

Illegal immigration[edit]

Rescued migrants, October 2013

Illegal immigration from Africa to Europe is significant. Many people from poor African countries embark on the dangerous journey for Europe, in hopes of a better life. In parts of Africa, particularly Mauritania and Morocco, trafficking of immigrants to Europe has become more lucrative than drug trafficking. But some illegal immigrants die during the journey and most of them who do not get asylum get deported back to Africa.[7] Libya is also a major departure point for irregular migrants setting off for Europe.[8][9]

Between October 2013 and October 2014, the Italian government ran Operation Mare Nostrum, a naval and air operation intended to reduce irregular immigration to Europe and the incidence of migratory ship wreckages off the coast of Lampedusa. The Italian government ceased the operation as it was judged to be unsustainable, involving a large proportion of the Italian navy. The operation was replaced by a more limited joint EU border protection operation, named Operation Triton managed by the EU border agency, Frontex. Some other European governments, including Britain's, argued that the operations such as Mare Nostrum and Triton serve to provide an "unintended pull factor" encouraging further migration.[10][11]

In 2014, 170,100 migrants arrived in Italy by sea (a +296% increase compared to 2013), 141,484 of them leaving from Libya. Most of them came from Syria, the Horn of Africa and West Africa.[12]

The issue returned to international headlines in April 2015. International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates suggest that between the start of 2015 and the middle of April, 21,000 migrants had reached the Italian coast and 900 migrants had died in the Mediterranean.[13] Critics of European policy towards irregular migration in the Mediterranean argue that the cancellation of Mare Nostrum failed to deter migrants and that its replacement with Triton "created the conditions for the higher death toll".[14]


Some of the larger populations of immigrants from Africa living in Europe are:

Country African Population Population centres Description
 France About 4.5 million[15][16] Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marseille, Nantes, Lille Includes anyone who was born in Africa and who had at least one parent from the continent. Mainly from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Mali. See also: African immigration to France
 United Kingdom 2,800,000 (2011)[17] London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham 2011 ONS estimates: includes only foreign born population.
 Italy 1 million (2011)[18] Rome, Milan, Turin, Palermo, Brescia, Bologna, Lecce, Florence Mainly from Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Eritrea, Somalia, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. See also: African immigrants to Italy
 Germany 817,500[19][20] Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne Mainly from Ghana, Cameroon, the Maghreb countries and Nigeria. See also: Afro-Germans
 Spain 683,000 (those with mostly or visibly significant black ancestry)[21][22] Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia, Seville, Palma de Mallorca Mainly from Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Nigeria, Cape Verde and the former Spanish colony Equatorial Guinea. See also: Afro-Spaniard
 Belgium 250,000-300,000 (2011) (Could be higher)[citation needed] Brussels, Liege, Antwerp, Charleroi Mostly from Rwanda,Democratic Republic of the Congo and cameroon See also: Afro-Belgian
 Portugal 140,530 [23] Lisbon, Porto, Faro Mostly from former Portuguese colonies in Africa, particularly Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé (see Afro-Brazilian). 47% of foreign legal residents in 2001 was from an African country.[24]
  Switzerland 73,553 (2009)[25] Geneva, Binningen, Giswil, Varen, Vevey, Berne, Fribourg, Lausanne Mainly nationals of Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Angola. See also: African immigrants to Switzerland

Notable individuals[edit]









See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Key facts: Africa to Europe migration". BBC News. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  2. ^ a b c Choe, Julia (10 July 2007). "African Migration to Europe". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  3. ^ "Immigration from sub-Saharan Africa". Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. 11 February 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  4. ^ World migration 2008: Managing labour mobility in the evolving global economy Volume 4 of IOM world migration report series, International Organization for Migration, Hammersmith Press, 2008 ISBN 978-92-9068-405-3, pp. 38, 407.
  5. ^ "Towards a comprehensive European migration policy". Summaries of EU legislation. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  6. ^ "From a strategy for Africa to an EU-Africa strategic partnership". Summaries of EU legislation. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  7. ^ Mbugua, Nganga. "Tough life of illegal immigrants in Germany". Afro Articles. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  8. ^ Williams, Martin (15 September 2014). "200 migrants feared drowned after boat sinks off Libya coast". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  9. ^ Attir, Mustafa O. (18 September 2012). "Illegal Migration in Libya after the Arab Spring". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Travis, Alan (27 October 2014). "UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  11. ^ Davies, Lizzy; Neslen, Arthur (31 October 2014). "Italy: end of ongoing sea rescue mission 'puts thousands at risk'". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  12. ^ "Analisi: Paolo Gentiloni". Pagella Politica. 22 February 2015. 
  13. ^ Peter, Laurence (20 April 2015). "Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum?". BBC News. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  14. ^ Kingsley, Patrick; Gayle, Damien (15 April 2015). "Migrant boat disaster: rescue hopes led to sinking in Mediterranean". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  15. ^ Être né en France d’un parent immigré, Insee Première, n°1287, mars 2010, Catherine Borrel et Bertrand Lhommeau, Insee
  16. ^ Répartition des immigrés par pays de naissance 2008, Insee, October 2011
  17. ^ "International migration". Office for National Statistics. 2012. 
  18. ^ "Statistiche demografiche ISTAT". Madrid: ISTAT. July 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  19. ^ Mwangi, Jane (19 July 2012). "Berlin exhibition exposes plight of Africa migrants". Reuters. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Black people in Spain". 
  22. ^ "Afro-Spanish". 
  23. ^ Estatísticas da Imigração (PDF) (in Portuguese), Alto Comissariado para a Imigração e Minorias Étnicas, 2005, retrieved 2007-12-14 
  24. ^ Malheiros, Jorge. "Portugal Seeks Balance of Emigration, Immigration". Migration Information Source. Universidade de Lisboa. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  25. ^ Ausländerinnen und Ausländer in der Schweiz - Bericht 2008 (German) (1196 KiB), Swiss Federal Statistical Office, page 72. Wohnbevölkerung nach Geschlecht und detaillierter Staatsangehörigkeit, Federal Statistical Office.

Further reading[edit]