In Focus

Local Immigration Units serve as anchors in Cabo Verde migration landscape

08 July 2024

Cabo Verde

In the past year alone, Cabo Verde has seen a steep increase in migrant arrivals on boats, mostly aiming for the Canary Islands — the closest European destination they can try to reach. Dozens arrived on the island of São Vicente; while in 2023, from those who survived the journey, 38 arrived in Sal and 90 in Boa Vista.

For a country of just over half-million, Cabo Verde’s Local Immigration Units (ULIs) have become agents for the safety of these migrants and the integration of those who stay.

Initially set up as centralised hubs to improve migrants' access to information and public services and facilitate their integration, ULIs have transcended their role at the intersection of public and institutional migration actors in the integration sphere, serving as link between public authorities, civil society, and migrant communities in Cabo Verde, in migrant rescue and assistance efforts. 

The ULIs were established in December 2021 under the Strengthening Migrant Integration through Cooperation between Portugal and Cabo Verde (Coop4Int) project, and funded by the EU through ICMPD's Migration Partnership Facility (MPF).

They operate in the towns of Boa Vista, Sal, Santa Catarina de Santiago, and São Vicente; closely collaborating with local councils and the High Authority for Immigration (AAI) - the national institution overseeing the implementation of the integration policies. 

One significant and unintended positive consequence of the ULIs has been their role in supporting migrants arriving by boat. They facilitate rescues and coordinate help for migrants in distress; and work closely with national and local institutions, international organisations, and local and migrant communities.

When sheltering the migrants, we mobilised the leaders of the Malian [migrant] community, who communicated with and provided a sense of comfort and safety to those who just arrived. This was important, as we were dealing with minors and young adolescents
Ivan Rocha, a Local Officer of the São Vincente ULI.

The impacts of the ULIs’ role in the rescue efforts across the islands have provided invaluable lessons in crisis management and emergency response coordination and have underscored the importance of designing institutional structures with foresight. This agility is ingrained in the ULI's institutional DNA necessary to adapt to unpredictable and fast-moving environments — especially in a dynamic and rapidly changing domain such as migration.

Now acknowledged as indispensable by migration actors in the country, ULIs remain essential cogs in both the emergency and non-emergency migration contexts in Cabo Verde. Their ongoing evolution are closely linked to Cabo Verde’s progress in effectively managing migration as a country straddling a strategic crossroads between West Africa and Europe – particularly those making the perilous last-ditch effort to cross the Atlantic.

Read more about the ULIs' handling of boat arrivals through firsthand accounts provided by the local officers in Cabo Verde here.