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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Your African migration questions answered
You sent your questions on African migration to BBC News Online's Joseph Winter in response to his series 'A Migrant's Trail' in which he retraced the journey of Mamadou Saliou "Billy" Diallo, a migrant from Guinea, across the Sahara to Italy.

He answers a selection of them below. You can read the full series on the right.

Q. Michael Bach, Cadiz, Spain:
I understand Billy's motives. But as someone who often comes across the dead bodies of immigrants in my region, I wish that immigrants like Billy - who clearly have a lot of faith and energy - would stay in their homeland and use their will and strength to build a society where they and their family can live with dignity. A lot of good and strong people's lives are wasted, people that Africa needs if the continent wants to progress. How can this be done?

A. Joseph Winter:
That is a very big question! If living standards were higher in Africa, then certainly fewer people would risk their lives trying to leave.

How to help Africa progress? Most African countries could be better governed, with more attention paid to economic growth, rather than arguing over how to divide the economic cake. More democratic and accountable government should also lead to fewer ethnic and communal conflicts, which stop people earning a living and fuels migration.

But Africans also point out that Western countries pour huge subsidies into their agricultural sectors, which makes it more difficult for farmers - the majority of Africans - to export their goods. For example, African producers of cotton and sugar must compete with heavily subsidised Europeans.

Q. Mark TB, London, England:
Why was Billy not able to take these skills to the West? With the NHS here in England crying out for nurses and medical staff, Billy and thousands like him should be able to apply for work permits to come and work in hospitals in Britain.

A. Joseph Winter:
The NHS usually recruits staff from former British colonies, such as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Jamaica, who do make up a large percentage of its nurses and doctors. They also send out recruiting teams to look for the people they want. I am sure that if Billy had turned up at the British embassy in Dakar and asked for a visa to work as a nurse in the UK, he would have been refused.

Q. King Muzo, Lusaka, Zambia:
This is a common problem faced by Africans! The failure to realise that we live on goldmines but would rather migrate to Europe and do menial work is sad. If Africans cannot develop their own homelands with abundant natural resources - who else will do it for them?

A. Joseph Winter:
I agree. Improving the lot of Africans must start at home. But one of the things African governments could do is to lobby for greater access for their goods to Western markets.

Q. Mohamed Sigat, Northampton, UK:
Africa is as rich as many countries in the West and as poor as many other countries but what is making it more marginalised and why is it stereotyped as the cursed or starving continent? Is it because of mismanagement and a lack of accountability from its governments?

A. Joseph Winter:
Mismanagement and a lack of accountability are certainly among the reasons for Africa's lack of progress. This is recognised by some African leaders, who launched the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad). This promises better African governance in return for more aid from the West. However, one of the key men behind this, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, refuses to criticise Zimbabwe's government, which is among the foremost current examples of how the quest for political power can ruin an economy, leading to a mass exodus of its people.

Q. Anthony Foli, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA:
A greater portion of government spending in some of these West African countries goes into the education and training of potential migrants. Is this not a loss to the country? Should policies that restrict migration of qualified people be implemented by West African governments? Would these policies, if carried out, be accepted by the international community, since their implementation may lead to improved economic growth?

A. Joseph Winter:
Yes, the loss of some of Africa's most qualified people is indeed a huge loss. Health and education departments in some countries complain that the money they spend training people is wasted when they go to work abroad. The World Bank estimates that Africa spends $4bn each year to replace the 70,000 skilled Africans who emigrate annually.

But it is hard to see how African governments could stop people leaving - many of these who leave already do so illegally.

South Africa has tried to manage the exodus by allowing doctors to work abroad for a fixed period of time. That way, people can leave to earn hard currency and gain new experience but they are not completely lost to the country and so their training is not a waste of money.

Q. J W Wanjiku, Germany:
When the topic is about immigrants, it seems only to be directed towards Africans. Fine, but did immigration start with Africans? When Africans move to these nations, they don't have ill motives and integrate well. So why do Africans get such bad press on migration?

A. Joseph Winter:
I am not sure that Africans do get a bad press over migration. Those who oppose migration often mention Asians, East Europeans or South Americans, as well as Africans.

Q. Kenneth Kariuki, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA:
Why is it that most Africans who have moved to the United States and Britain don't want to go back to their homeland? Are there no incentives for them to return?

A. Joseph Winter:
Most of the Senegalese immigrants I met in Italy said they only wanted to work for a few years and they would then return home once they had enough money to set themselves up in business back home.

Many may stay longer, especially if they never manage to save up enough money or if they do very well and find a good standard of living in the West.

Of course many will stay for the same reasons they left in the first place - lack of jobs, poor public services, political instability, and so on.

The International Organisation for Migration does indeed have a scheme to encourage skilled migrants to return back home. However, they are now concentrating on encouraging migrants to transfer their skills back home - for example a computer engineer might set up a business in Africa but continue working in the West, where their salary will be much higher.

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