Policy Brief

Free movement in West Africa: Juxtapositions and Divergent Interests

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Key Messages

  • The coronavirus pandemic has brought international movement to a standstill, including in West Africa. In reality, however, implementation of the free movement protocols has long faltered.
  • Recent EU cooperation with countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in restricting irregular migration to Europe has led to the adoption of more formal procedures at internal ECOWAS borders. Yet in many regions, free movement within ECOWAS relies on the absence of effective controls on the ground. Thus, more formal border procedures have led to de facto restrictions on free movement.
  • Diverging national interests among West African states are another reason why application of the free movement protocols within ECOWAS is fragmentary.
  • ECOWAS needs to re-establish norms for free movement and plans for implementation. These should include finding a balance between the informality needed to allow for cross-border mobility, and the effective formalities needed to track migration patterns, prevent trafficking, and manage other security issues.
  • For the EU, a commitment should be made to respect what free movement and mobility mean in the ECOWAS context, even if they may differ from the European notions of migration and mobility.