Sara Moussavi (WFP), Alan de Brauw (IFPRI), & Sarah Williams (MIT)
VIRTUAL RESEARCH SEMINAR
Irregular Migration and Food Security: A View from West Africa
Co-organized by IFPRI and World Food Programme (WFP)
JUL 20, 2023 - 9:30 TO 11:00AM EDT
Addressing Irregular Migration through Principled Programmatic Approaches: Examining the West Africa Route
1. Addressing Irregular Migration through Principled
Programmatic Approaches: Examining the West Africa
Sara Moussavi (WFP), Alan de Brauw (IFPRI), & Sarah Williams (MIT)
2. The study was a collaboration between WFP and IFPRI, focused on migration from West
Africa through Libya. The research aimed to examine food security from a ‘route’
It aims to better understand how the relationship between irregular migrants and food
security, including an analysis of protection risks conducted by MIT.
3. Research Questions
What are the characteristics of irregular
migrants and the key drivers
motivating them to relocate?
How is food security compromised for
migrants, and what are the risks they
face in transit?
4. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines irregular migration as
‘’the movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or
international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the State of origin,
transit or destination.’’
Defining Irregular Migration
Irregular migration is difficult to track as it occurs outside the regulatory norms of countries and
often occurs in a manner meant to avoid detection.
Changes in the migration status of an individual are fluid.
Irregular migration encompasses some forms of voluntary (e.g., economic) migration in addition to
migrants who may have fled from their home countries for reasons other than a fear of being
5. 1. The fear of detection and deportation may cause a reluctance for irregular migrants to interact with public
officials who could report their presence to immigration enforcement.
• If migrants cannot freely report crimes against them or seek needed health care, they give up fundamental human rights.
2. Migrants endure dangerous journeys and are exposed to substantial physical risk and even death.
• IOM reports that at least 47,897 migrants have gone missing since 2014, with about half of those occurring in the Mediterranean
3. Trying to reach countries without detection, migrants sometimes use smugglers, who offer to get migrants
across borders in exchange for a financial or material benefit (UNODC, 2000).
• By paying smugglers, migrants expose themselves to specific risks related to detection; given the unequal power relationship
between migrants and smugglers, migrants can end up deceived, coerced, or exploited and in need of assistance if transactions
go awry (McCauliffe and Laczko, 2016). The smuggling industry, which exploits migrants seeking a better quality of life, is
estimated to be a market of US$ 7 billion annually.
why is Irregular migration important?
And why it is a compelling issue for humanitarian organisations
6. 1. Global Literature Review
Gathered previous evidence generated by WFP and partners to understand the role played in
the migration decisions by food insecurity and variables associated with climate change.
2. Key Informant Interviews (Global)
The researchers conducted a set of in-depth interviews with WFP staff, academics that
study migration, staff of other UN agencies that focus on migration, practitioners, and
3. Country Case Studies
7. 1. MALI CASE STUDY
• Secondary data analysis to better characterize the households from which irregular migrants depart, where they are, what they do,
and what role did food insecurity and climate change pay in pushing drivers of migration.
• In-depth interviews with practitioners in the field to understand the perceptions and priorities of each group
• Phone surveys with respondents living in migrant source areas to learn more about the variables associated with irregular
migration in those locations
• Focus group discussions to complement and validate findings, understand the viewpoints, experiences and perspectives of
irregular migrants, and get feedback regarding WFP programming.
2. LIBYA CASE STUDY
• Mixed quantitative and qualitative interviews with irregular migrants in Libya, accompanied by short survey form designed to
understand their aspirations, plans, and potential programming needs.
9. International migrants tend to be relatively well-educated males from urban areas
Households associated with migrants are less likely to be categorised as food insecure than other households. The
average cost of an irregular journey between West Africa and Libya can range from US$ 658, while cost estimates for
continuing to Europe from Tripoli ranged from US$ 900 to US$ 1300.
There is a growing trend among women and children from West Africa to undertake irregular migration. Women and girls are often
subjected to gender-based violence, exploitation, and trafficking. Children, particularly unaccompanied minors, are also at high risk of
abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. Gender is important —female irregular migrants likely have different reasons for migrating and
different experiences. According to the Gallup World Poll, women appear to be more likely to intend to migrate when food
Who is migrating irregularly and why?
• International migrants tend to be:
• Relatively well-educated males
• Less likely to be food insecure
Consistent with much of the global literature on the determinants of
migration, the research illustrates that:
• Of the migrants interviewed:
• Were almost all male and
tend to be young adults
• About two-thirds were
from urban areas
11. Main reason to migrate
Violence / war
Lack of access to healthcare
Lack of access to education
Lack of shelter
Why do people migrate? Economics!
12. Among the broader base of migrants in Libya (East Africans,
Migrants from East African
countries report leaving their
countries because of political
persecution, conflict, and
Those from outside Africa are
often fleeing conflict
9 out of 10 survey respondents
cited work (low income or unemployment) as the main
reason to leave their countries.
Most migrants in
our Libya sample
report leaving their
home countries for
13. The economics literature suggests
underlying migration decisions by individuals and
households that lead to irregular migration:
Wage differentials between
origin and destination
Risks of migrating
Migration costs Social networks
These do not necessarily work
in isolation; each can affect an
individual’s migration choice.
Considerations for migrating
1 2 3 4
14. Food security and irregular migrants
• The relationship between food security
and migration can be direct in case of
acute times of food insecurity when
migration is the only option for people to
• The relationship between migration
and food security can also be indirect
when families use migration as a
coping strategy for income
uncertainties, addressing food insecurity
• The modal respondent suggested
economic reasons were primary to
their desire to migrate.
• Irregular migrants may not be food
insecure prior to leaving, but often
experience negative shocks and
hardships leading to food insecurity.
• Irregular migrants in transit may need
food assistance on their journeys.
• In Libya, food insecurity was
worse among migrants interviewed
in Sabha than Tripoli
• 37 % of respondents overall
suggested they worried about
having enough food to eat
• 27 % of respondents stated
there were times when they had
no food to eat.
15. Studies demonstrate a significant, positive relationship between increased flows of
remittances and food security. In Sub-Saharan Africa, households that reported
receiving higher remittance flows (both volume and frequency) were less likely
to be food insecure.
Wage differences between countries also cause international remittances more
impactful than domestic flows. Domestic remittances greatly reduce the number of
severely food-insecure households and international remittances nearly eradicate
severe food insecurity.
Policymakers increasingly view remittances as a hunger-reducing tool, given
their compounding effects on food accessibility, availability, utility, and overall
Remittances & food security
16. “My son was a victim when he arrived in
Cameroon, attack and stripping of money by
bandits worth two hundred and fifty
thousand CFA francs that I had given as
“[My brother] lived through the worst before arriving
at his destination, before in Libya, he was kidnapped
by his smuggler in Libya before they boarded a boat
for Italy to return to France. Their boat capsized
before arriving in Italy and over a hundred were killed
but my brother survived.”
Risks: migrant voices (Mali)
“[My son] while leaving for Spain was swindled by a
smuggler in Nouadhibou (Mauritania) who took five
hundred and fifty thousand CFA francs from him.
That's why he came home to raise more money to
the tune of one hundred and twenty-five thousand
CFA francs and go back to Mauritania to reach
17. Many migrants at intermediate or final destination experience challenges:
detention, discrimination, fraud, assault
“When my brother arrived in Congo, he kept all his money
with his uncle and after a few years of work the latter who
hosted him to hijack everything. When he blindly trusted
him. And it turned out that his uncle had taken credit with
someone he couldn't pay him back, so he took my brother's
money to pay off his debt. This situation has made him very
late. And so far, it has not been reimbursed.”
“In Equatorial Guinea, my son was arrested by the
police who took him in front of his bedroom to turn him
back and he lost everything because he did not have
time to pick up his things. Was he going to have this if
he was in good standing?”
International migrants at
Low income/wages Lack of employment Personal safety Food insecurity Violence/conflict
Problems affecting migrants by length of stay in Libya
Less than a year
2 to 4 years
More than 5 years
Irregular migration and risk: Libya
19. Migrants/migrant families interviewed in West Africa for study discussed fatalism around journey
"They took alone the decision to migrate... you will have to go out to go and try your luck with the
help of Allah." (Mali interview)
Risks are high particularly on Sahara based migration routes
Risks remain even in destinations/protracted transit areas like Libya
20. In West Africa, irregular migration is
largely driven by wage
differentials. Climate change and
conflict are also key drivers, but
promote more internal (or regional)
displacement, rather than
international, irregular migration.
Food insecurity may not be a key
driver for households, but migrants
become food insecure during
transit and even in their protracted
Protection risks and acute
danger are key features of
irregular migration, including the
lucrative industry of human
21. Addressing the main push
factor at the country of
Meet urgent needs in transit
Address food insecurity at
• The international community should work alongside national governments in developing appropriate
policies that facilitate economic and employment opportunities in the country of origin
• Given the extremely high levels of risk during transit, international partners should seek entry points for
the provision of needs-based assistance to migrants where possible (including cash transfers)
• In locations where migrants settle or use as protracted transit sites, the international community
should address food insecurity and other humanitarian requirements, also considering the needs of the
How to help irregular migrants
Explain the geographic selection was based on the concept of a ‘routes-based’ approach (origin, transit, destination)
Mali was selected due to the high mobility of its population, both internally and internationally, to represent an origin country in the region. Environmental challenges (including desertification, drought, increasing deforestation, and soil erosion) and the conflicts between different communities in central Mali over access to land and water exacerbated by climate change provide a strong rationale for WFP programming in the country. Geographically, Mali stands at the intersection of many migratory routes from sub-Saharan African countries to the Maghreb.
Libya was specifically selected given its historical importance as a destination for migrant workers from sub-Saharan African countries, but also for its role as a major transit country along the Central Mediterranean Route to Europe. The gradual deterioration of the wellbeing, living standards, and resilience of migrants in Libya caused by the economic crisis and exposure to violence following the revolution in 2011, also stresses the importance of WFP presence in the country, and there is a strong presence of Malian migrants in Libya.
Suggests the poor or food insecure lack assets to finance cross-border migration
While there is a great deal of population movement within West Africa, it is typically a part of an adaptive livelihoods strategy
Among sample migrants:
15 percent aspired to migrate on to Europe or North America
15 percent unsure whether they would continue on towards Europe.
The literature suggests that linkages between irregular migration and food security are complex. KEY TAKE AWAY: Irregular migrants may not be the most food insecure when they decide to move, but they become vulnerable almost immediately.
Wage differentials were the key driver within this study for irregular migration. Internal and in the case of West Africa, regional displacement, are very real phenomena and can be quite disruptive – as mentioned driven by climate change and conflict that disrupt livelihoods.
If migrants do not succeed and have to return – households tend to be worse off economically as they are burdened with debt, while migrants who are able to send remittances contribute positively to household economies.
In the worst form resulting in physical harm and even death. This aspect of irregular migration deserve critical attention and the reduction or risks is a humanitarian priority.