African Athletes’ Protection and Well-being in Focus at Mission 89, IOM and UNNM’s Policy Discussion on Promoting Regular Migration Pathways

African Athletes’ Protection and Well-being in Focus at Mission 89, IOM and UNNM’s Policy Discussion on Promoting Regular Migration Pathways

The recent policy discussion on “Creating a Level Playing Field: Building Sustainable and Regular Migration Pathways for African Athletes”, which was organised by Mission 89 and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as part of the UN Network on Migration (UNNM) witnessed impactful statements and recommendations from key stakeholders and delegates, as experts and athletes emphasised the urgent need to strengthen safe and regular pathways for migration to mitigate the risk of exploitation, trafficking and other protection risks faced by young athletes in Africa migrating within the continent and beyond, in pursuit of their dreams.

The forum is built on the sideline of the CAF African Cup of Nations organized in Côte d’Ivoire, with a wide range of sport and migration stakeholders including African football icons Ghana’s Kwame Ayew, and Côte d’Ivoire’s Arouna Koné; Ambassador Jessica Davis Ba, US Embassy in Côte d’Ivoire; Hon. Melrose Karminty, Minister of Social Welfare in the Republic of Sierra Leone; Hon. Jared Okelo, Member of Parliament in the Republic of Kenya; Philippe Poinsot, UN Resident Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire; Garba Baba Umar, Vice President, INTERPOL Africa; Jean François Basse, UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire; Cheikh Toure, UN Office of Drugs and Crime Head of the subregional office in Côte d’Ivoire; Lerina Bright, Executive Director, Mission89; David Preux, IOM Chief of Mission in Côte d’Ivoire.

In her keynote address, Ambassador Jessica Davis Ba emphasised the role of sports as a catalyst for social transformation and commended the partners for their efforts in addressing sustainable migration and the socio-economic issues that have left young athletes vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. In addition, she also highlighted the achievements of the Africa Regional Migration Program (ARMP) funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), which aims to support countries to promote safe, orderly and dignified migration and reduce migrant vulnerability along key migration routes.

“The United States is dedicated to working with African countries to deepen diplomatic ties, promote peace, prosperity and protection of young people, and sport is a tool to get there,” she stated. “In its commitment to support regular and safe migration pathways, including for youth who are determined to further their sporting careers beyond their borders, the United States is supporting IOM through the ARMP working in more than 25 countries in Africa to improve migration governance.”

In his capacity as the president of the UNNM in Côte d’Ivoire, Philippe Poinsot, UN Resident coordinator, set the stage for the discussions by emphasising the dynamic links between athletic prowess and the mobility of persons across borders and how sports can contribute to the development of a country of origin and destination, hence furthering the objectives of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Compact for Migration (GCM).

While the President of the Ivorian Football Federation, Idriss Diallo, released a statement where he acknowledged the important role sport federations can play in ensuring a protective environment for athletes and in strengthening regular pathways, Lerina Bright, Executive Director, Mission 89, highlighted the importance of defining trafficking in and through sports and promote an evidence-based approach in order to improve regulations on trafficking in sport.

Clara Perez Lopez, an IOM expert, further presented extensive data on migration trends, which reflected upward patterns within African countries rather than other continents and called for a multi-stakeholder approach to promote regular pathways for sport migration and combat trafficking in the sports industry. A panel discussion featuring former African footballers, Kwame Ayew and Arouna Koné, underscored the important role of parents and guardians in protecting their children and recommended to continue to raise awareness amongst parents and their children on this critical issue.

The forum concluded with insightful presentations and roundtable sessions, where experts deliberated on policy-led solutions and stakeholder engagement strategies to safeguard athletes from exploitation. The discussions also addressed the impact of policies on professional sports careers and advocated for data evidence to strengthen the fight against trafficking in sports. Innocentia Apovo, a senior official at the Police of the Republic of Benin, shared insights on the need for strengthened coordination between law enforcements authorities across countries to improve the prosecution of criminals involved in trafficking.

In his closing remarks, IOM Chief of Mission, David Preux, emphasized that sport and migration can be positive for development, both for the host country and the athletes’ country of origin.

“In order to maximize the benefits of migration in the field of sport, it is important to strengthen regular pathways offered to athletes, hence allowing young people who desire to pursue their dreams to do so in accordance with state laws, international and regional conventions. This requires implementing a set of measures to protect them before, during and after their movement, engaging athletes, their communities, sport federations and national authorities.”

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