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A profile published by the Migration Policy Institute, co-authored by Marie-Laurence Flahaux, charts the changing patterns of Congolese migration over the last 50 years

In a profile published by the Migration Policy Institute, IMI’s Marie-Laurence Flahaux and co-author Bruno Schoumaker (Université Catholique de Louvain) present the migration history of one of the most populous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Its migration history has undergone enormous change in recent decades, partly in response to political and economic crises in the country and in the region. The last 30 years of Congolese international migration, the profile suggests, have been characterised by large flows of refugees, both to and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as by increasing migration flows to African and Western countries.

The in-depth piece draws on data from the Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE) and Determinants of International Migration (DEMIG) projects to chart the changing patterns of Congolese migration over the last 50 years, both inflows and outflows.

The profile finds that the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was once an attractive destination, in particular for migrants from other countries within Africa, has since the early 1980s been a country of outmigration, driven in part by economic downturn and a number of violent crises. Overall, emigration has increased, particularly toward neighbouring countries, with inflows becoming less significant. The makeup of the migrant population has also changed, with greater outflows of women, those who are less educated, and refugees and asylum seekers, particularly since the 1990s. Furthermore, increasing restrictions on immigration in some destination countries mean Congolese migration trajectories have become more complex, and new destinations have emerged, including the United States and Canada, the former being the second most popular Congolese destination outside Africa. Other countries within Africa, however, host the vast majority of Congolese migrants and refugees, whose numbers have increased significantly over the last four decades, particularly since the wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Addressing the issue of return migration from Western countries, the profile demonstrates that, while prior to the 1990s two-thirds of Congolese migrants in Europe returned within a decade, today, most Congolese migrants in Western countries do not return. Return is not an option in the short term for many migrants and as obtaining a visa for re-entry to Europe has become more difficult, and return jeopardises the chances of departure in the event of new crises or difficulties in reintegrating.

Read more about Marie-Laurence Flahaux’s research on Congolese return migration

The MAFE and DEMIG databases on which this profile is partially based are freely available for access.