SIHMA | Scalabrini Institute For Human Mobility In Africa

Youth and Migration

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Young people around the world continue to move internally and internationally because of a myriad of factors that either push them out of their country/place of origin or pull factors that attract them to the destination area. Some of these factors include employment, education, marriage, and to escape from poverty, violence, conflict, and environmental change (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), 2016; International Labour Organization (ILO), 2023). Youth are heavily represented in migration for humanitarian reasons, including as refugees, asylum-seekers, and as unaccompanied minors (UNDESA, 2016). The search for work continues to be significant driver of youth migration in both developed and developing countries (UNDESA, 2016).

Young people consist of the bulk annual movements and the propensity to migrate tends to be highest among this age group (IOM, 2020; ILO, 2023). An estimated 10% of people migrating are young people (International Labour Organization (ILO), 2023). In 2013 youth migrants constituted of 10.2 per cent of migrants in developed countries, 14.9 per cent in developing countries, and 20.9 per cent of those in least-developed countries (UNDESA, 2016). Although migration is one of the avenues to boost economic and social development (ILO, 2023; IOM, 2016), young people are migrating in the context of high unemployment rate globally (Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2021), an estimated 73 million young people are unemployed globally (ILO, 2023).  Such subjects them to exploitative situations and they often become scapegoats for the short comings of the economic and social systems (ILO, 2023; Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2022).  

To ensure that young migrants are integrated into the society, become active citizens and contribute to the development of the host nation, investments in their social, economic and physical well-being is essential (IOM, 2016). Migration if managed well is a resource to improve the livelihoods of young people, on the other hand if not managed well, it can diminish the life chance of these young people. One key element in ensuring the development and integration of young migrants is to involve them in discussions (global, national and local levels) that affect their own lives. They need to play a key role in policy discussions, decision-making processes and in engagements that affect their well-being (IOM, 2020). This is linked to the objective of the United Nations Youth Strategy which is  “to facilitate increased impact and expanded global, regional and country-level action to address the needs, build the agency and advance the rights of young people in all their diversity around the world, and to ensure their engagement and participation in the implementation, review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as other relevant global agendas and frameworks” (IOM, 2020). Therefore, young people including migrants need to actively participate in initiatives that enhance their health and well-being, this builds on to the agenda of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, UNDESA (2016) highlighted that strengthening meaningful youth participation in the migration policy debate and programmes will be critical to managing migration to harness the development potential of youth migration while mitigating associated risks (UNDESA, 2016).  As South Africa celebrates youth month, it is essential to be cognizant of the needs and voice of young migrants that are living in the country in order to harness the benefits of immigration and at the same time ensure that their rights are upheld.  


Africa Center for Strategic Studies. (2021). African Migration Trends to Watch in 2022. Available online:

IOM. (2020). YOUTH AND MIGRATION: Engaging youth as key partners in migration governance. Geneva: IOM

IOM. (2016). Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Available online:

IOL. (2023). Youth and Migration. Available online:

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). (2016). YOUTH AND MIGRATION: Youth Issue Briefs. Available online:




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