OIM République Démocratique du CongoDemocratic Republic of the Congo

Migration en République Démocratique du Congo: Profil national 2009


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Number of pages : 128
Format : Electronic copy
ISBN: 978-92-9068-567-8
Language of Publication: French
Year of Publication: 2010

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) is located in Central Africa and has a land surface of 2,345,000 km². Its population is estimated at nearly 68 million for 2010. Most of the population is concentrated along the periphery of the country, which highlights the need for the sound management of the country’s 10,292 km of borders and its interaction with its nine neighbouring countries. The country has rich natural resources, particularly mineral resources. However, recent decades have been extremely difficult for the DRC; the country was shaken by a series of violent conflicts, maintaining an extremely high level of poverty. In 2007, the DRC was ranked 176th out of 182 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index (UNDP Human Development Report 2009). According to the same source, in 2000-2007, 59.2% of the population were living on less than USD 1.25 per day. Achieving the Millennium Development Goals would appear impossible for the DRC, notably in the areas of poverty, education, gender equality, and HIV/AIDS and malaria, which affect an alarming proportion of the population.

Concerning migration, it must be noted that, considering the situation in the country and the condition of state structures, it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable data and figures. However, migration is clearly an important part of life in the DRC. Immigration to the DRC has decreased during recent years; it is relatively limited in numbers, but very diverse in nature. An important phenomenon in the African subregion of the Great Lakes is that of refugees and asylum-seekers resulting from the numerous and violent conflicts that hit the subregion. According to the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the net migration rate (per 1,000 persons) in the DRC was 5.9 for 1990-1995. This tendency was inversed in the 1995-2000 period, with a rate of -5.8. The net migration rate then stabilized at -0.9 for 2000-2005, and is projected to be -0.3 for 2005-2010.

Immigration to the DRC

Although figures are difficult to obtain and seem to be limited, the DRC remains a destination country for immigration. The country’s rich mining resources attract migrant workers from Africa and beyond. There is also considerable migration for commercial activities, from other African countries and the rest of the world, but these movements are not well studied. Transit migration towards South Africa or Europe also plays a role.

The DRC attracts fewer international migrants than in the past. The annual growth rate of immigration has been negative since 1995, and dropped between 1995 and 2000 to a rate of -22.7%. According to estimates by the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty of the University of 24 Migration en République Démocratique du Congo : Profil National 2009 Sussex, based on 1995-2005 census data, the stock of migrants in the DRC was about 740,000 persons. These include many different nationalities; no particular country, region or continent is predominant, with origin countries such as the Russian Federation, Mexico, India and Ukraine. This diversity of migrant origins could be due to the country’s mineral resources. However, local studies indicate a stronger presence of African nationals from neighbouring countries.

According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2009, the number of immigrants in the DRC has evolved as follows: just over 1 million in 1960, 754,000 in 1990, 480,000 in 2005, and a projected 445,000 for 2010. Valid figures are not available on migrant workers in particular, partly due to the predominance of the informal economy in the DRC. In addition to commercial activities, mining and construction projects attract migrant workers. Recent data on foreign students in universities in the DRC are not available. As could be expected, data are also lacking on irregular immigrants; yet it is safe to state that irregular migration is a significant phenomenon in the country. In particular, citizens from neighbouring countries, often ethnically linked to nationals of the DRC, cross borders in the region without being registered.

Sharing borders with nine other countries, the DRC is a logical destination for refugees fleeing conflict in their own country; this has been the case in recent years for Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, the Congo and the Central African Republic. According to UNHCR figures, the number of refugees in the DRC strongly decreased between 2001 and 2008, from 360,000 to 155,000, as a result of diminishing conflicts in the region. Angola remains the main country of origin of refugees in the DRC, with nearly 187,000 persons registered in 2001 and still over 111,000 in 2008. The DRC does not appear to be a privileged destination for asylum-seekers: their numbers have been dropping regularly since 2003.

The decrease in the number of asylum-seekers is linked to the insecurity which, in some regions of the country, is associated with the presence of foreign armed groups, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from Uganda and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Emigration from the DRC

The economic climate, conflicts and bad governance, generating strong internal and international mobility, are the main factors in the migratory tendencies observed in the DRC since 2000. Urban and rural populations are on the move in search of better living conditions. The big cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi are points of convergence for a considerable rural exodus. Mining resources also attract the population to certain regions of the country, in addition to internal migration driven by war and conflicts.

A main feature of emigration from the DRC is the increasing diversity of destination countries. Traditional destinations include Belgium and France; in recent years, however, other countries in Europe and beyond have played an increasing role. Nonetheless, most migrants remain in Africa, with new destinations countries being South Africa and countries located between the DRC and Europe. Furthermore, refugees and asylum-seekers generated by armed conflicts are a considerable group.

Figures on emigration vary depending on the source. According to estimates from the Development Research Centre based on the 1995-2005 census round, the stock of Congolese emigrants was 821,057, mainly in other African countries. Concerning the number of Congolese nationals abroad, estimates vary from 3 to 6 million; this considerable variation is brought about by the lack of official, reliable data. Emigrants from the DRC are above all long-term emigrants. According to the Human Development Report 2009, based on figures from the Development Research Centre, in 2000-2002, 79.7% of emigrants from the DRC were living in Africa, and 15.3% in Europe.

The DRC has gone through a long period of internal conflicts, strongly linked with other countries of the Great Lakes region. This led to a high number of refugees and internally displaced persons; the peak was reached in 2004, when, according to UNHCR, there were 461,042 refugees from the DRC. In 2008, there were still 367,995 refugees, 68% of which were living in other African countries. Figures for asylum-seekers from the DRC appeared to be growing in 2008 with 32,742 persons; whereas this figure had been below 20,000 since 2005.

According to the Human Development Report 2009, the stock of migrants from the DRC in OECD countries is 100,700 persons. Of these migrants, 25% have less than an upper secondary education level, 32.5% have an upper secondary or post-secondary education, and 35.5% have a tertiary education. According to the same data, the migration rate to OECD countries among persons with a higher education in the DRC is 9.6%. In 2000, 14% of the population with a higher education level emigrated, but this group represented only 11% of the total migrant population. Thus, it can be said that emigration from the DRC mainly concerns persons with a relatively low level of education. Furthermore, 66.5% of DRC emigrants in OECD countries were professionally active (among those whose status was known). The unemployment rate in this group was 21.8%. According to UNESCO, 3,402 students from the DRC were studying abroad in 2007, which makes for 2% of all Congolese persons engaged in higher education. This number has decreased, given that it was 4,624 in 2000 (UNESCO, 2010).

Official figures concerning Congolese nationals identified as being in an irregular situation abroad are not available. Data were found only selectively for some countries. Empirical observation suggests that most Congolese nationals in other African countries are not officially registered. This situation is mainly caused by the ease with which borders can be crossed, the lack of skills of immigration officers, the lack of trained and equipped border police, fraud and forged immigration documents, inefficient border controls and multiple nationalities. In 2007, 659 irregular migrants from the DRC were arrested in the 27 countries of the European Union, and 299 were expelled. Comprehensive data cannot be obtained on the flux or stock of return migration to the DRC; currently, only IOM runs programmes to support return migration. According to information provided by the IOM Office in Kinshasa, the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme supported about 700 persons between 2004 and 2009.

A vice-ministerial post for Congolese nationals abroad was created within the Government to promote the participation of emigrants in the development of the country and to defend the interests of the Congolese diaspora. In addition, the Directorate for Congolese Nationals Abroad was established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and whose objectives render the abovementioned vice-ministerial post superfluous, given that this high administrative authority is more stable. However, despite all these initiatives, more concrete action must still be taken, and the number of Congolese diaspora is not known. Some initiatives have, nonetheless, been taken to enable the country to benefit from the competences of its expatriate nationals. For instance, under the MIDA (Migration for Development in Africa) programme, members of the Congolese diaspora return to their country temporarily, for example to teach in universities.

Factors leading to migration

Between 1958 and 1984, the population of the DRC grew from 13.5 to 30.7 million; in 2010, as mentioned above, it was estimated at nearly 68 million. The yearly growth rate is approximately 3%. The population is unequally distributed in the country, and up to 70% live in rural areas. After negative growth in 2000 and 2001, the DRC’s economy somewhat stabilized in the years that followed. The GDP per capita is growing slightly, although it remains very low. Several governmental plans and economic development programmes were not enough to establish sustainable and dynamic economic growth; implementing such plans and programmes is very difficult in the country’s unstable context and without the thorough and transparent management of public finances. Furthermore, starting in late 2008, the international financial crisis severely affected the DRC’s economy, which heavily relies on the mining sector. The climate for investments in the country is not good. The DRC also heavily depends on imports, with raw materials being its only exportable resource. The informal sector represents a major part of the national economy; most families in the DRC depend on this type of activity for their subsistence. Informal commercial activities are also strongly linked with international mobility. 

According to official figures for 2004-2005, the unemployment rate in the DRC was 3.7%, but it can be assumed that the actual number is much higher. This discrepancy between the actual figure and the recorded data comes mainly from the lack of incentive, such as unemployment benefits, for unemployed persons to register. The informal agricultural sector is predominant, followed by the informal non-agricultural sector and by formal structures. The level of education evolved negatively until recent years, with the gross enrolment rate in primary education decreasing from 92% in 1972 to 64% in 2002; furthermore, the quality of education is deteriorating, particularly in rural areas. These development and economic factors, coupled with the lack of perspectives in the country, force many Congolese to emigrate.

 Effects of migration on Congolese society

It is difficult to give figures concerning the amount of remittances sent to the DRC by emigrants. The literature on this subject mostly contains qualitative analyses, not quantitative information. Even international sources such as the World Bank and UNCTAD are not in a position to present data on the remittances sent home by the Congolese diaspora.

However, various documentary sources and studies indicate that many families in the DRC (up to 80% in large cities) depend on remittances, and that most of these money transfers are made through informal channels. Most of the funds remitted are used to cover the immediate needs of the beneficiaries, with investments in community development or the economy being few and far between. The direct transfer of material goods, for example cars and various goods used for economic activities in the informal sector, also plays an important role. However, due to a lack and/or shortage of studies and reliable data on these issues and the predominance of the informal economy, it is difficult to estimate the overall impact of remittances on the country’s economy.

Political framework and migration management challenges

Since independence in 1960 until the 2000-2005 period, the DRC has not had a clear migration policy. Furthermore, the legal framework on this issue is incomplete and lacks clarity.

At the institutional level, the Government of the DRC established the Directorate General for Migration (DGM), an institution responsible for migration and the movements of the national and foreign population. Furthermore, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is responsible for migrant workers, and a Vice-Ministry for Congolese Nationals Abroad was created within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006. The other main institutions in this area are the Ministry of Interior (including the Office of the Border Police and the National Commission for Refugees), the DGM and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International  Cooperation (which includes the Vice-Ministry for Congolese Nationals Abroad). Other ministries have responsibilities concerning specific migration issues. The DRC also collaborates with various international institutions and other national governments. The key challenge in terms of migration policies remains political coordination. Migration is mentioned in the country’s Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy Document (DSCRP) as a means to mobilize resources and competences in fighting poverty. This document also includes the plan to establish a national programme on migration.

The DRC is a member of several regional and subregional cooperation groupings, particularly SADC, ECGLC and ECCAS, which promote, among others, the free movement of persons within particular regions or areas. Unfortunately, most of these initiatives have not harboured concrete results to date. The DRC has signed cooperation agreements on migration with several other States, notably European countries such as Switzerland and Belgium, to identify migrants and build the capacities of relevant institutions. With other African countries, agreements or special arrangements have been concluded to promote the movement of persons without visas within defined areas.

Statistical gaps

The lack of reliable data was indicated at the outset by the National Technical Working Group on the Migration Profile, and this was a major obstacle when preparing the Profile. Obtaining more and better information will remain a challenge when updating the Profile in the future. The DGM produces annual reports on its activities; in principle, these reports should register the entries and departures of Congolese nationals and foreigners. However, to date, these reports have not been made public. The Ministry of Interior’s publicly accessible archives on immigrants in the DRC are not up to date. Thus, this Profile mainly uses statistical data from the World Bank and the United Nations. However, given the lack of national information, even these international sources have important gaps in some crucial areas.

The number of foreigners staying in the DRC without regular status is extremely difficult to determine. This is because of the deterioration in the public administration’s services and its lack of means. Since 2007/2008, the DGM has had digital management tools to register entries and departures at certain border crossings which are directly linked to a central server at the national level. Thus, the capacity to monitor cross-border movements should be strengthened. However, data on irregular immigrants rely on controls carried out by the administrative authorities and the police on the population inside the country, and should be a responsibility of the DGM. However, following the series of conflicts starting in 1998, the national administration was unable to implement regular controls. In a country where not all nationals have identity documents, controlling the identity of foreigners is, of course, an even greater challenge.