89. Root Causes of Migration

Publication: The Star
Author: Anthony Kaziboni
Date: 4 November 2019

On 5 and 6 October 2019 the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) hosted a two-day policy dialogue on “Implementation of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration: Conflict, Governance, and Human Mobility in Africa/European Union (EU) Relations” in Johannesburg.

The policy dialogue explored areas of convergence between Africa and the European Union (EU) in the area of migration. About 30 senior officials from the African Union (AU); the European Union; the International Organisation for Migration (IOM); the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); policy experts; and civil society actors, made presentations at the dialogue.

A key issue that came out was the importance of a nuanced appreciation of migration. The “root causes” perspective of migration has generally focused on material conditions and life circumstances, and from this, migration debates have centred largely around: conflict and violence on the Horn of Africa; poor governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia; political instability in Burkina Faso; and socio-economic inequalities and a lack of solid economic opportunities in countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi. Challenges of climate change – manifest in the drought and famine on the Horn of Africa – further exacerbate conflict and violence.

While there are different views on the root causes of migration, one school of thought argues that the root causes of migration are far removed from actual migration. It is thus increasingly important to move away from conventional and neo-classical approaches to migration that prioritise push and pull factors.

Emerging evidence reveals that Africa/EU migration has also been a result of greater economic opportunities and the pursuit of a better life by African migrants. This implies that motivations to migrate have a voluntary aspect. Socio-economic development in poor countries tends to increase migration rather than reduce it, and this challenges the dominant “root causes” argument.

Alternative approaches to migration discourse view the phenomenon as the outcome of two linear processes: first, the development of aspirations to migrate; and second, the ability to realise these aspirations. Migration is, therefore, not only determined by personal aspirations, but also by the capacity to pursue these desires. Irregular migration – human mobility in violation of immigration laws – is thus an outcome of a combination of national and international policies, economic circumstances, and political situations that prevent migrants from employing prescribed channels.

There are essentially three possible outcomes from migration aspirations: first, successful migration, where migrants are able physically to move; second, failed migration, in which migrants find themselves in detention centres, for example the Zintan in Libya, and Lindela in South Africa. Third, migration aspirations are frustrated at the outset, and people fail to leave, and thus find themselves involuntarily immobile. In order to manage migration more effectively, it is critical to focus not only on the root causes, but also on the factors that compel people to consider migrating through irregular channels.

In the European Union, Africa/Europe migration has taken a very prominent location in both domestic and foreign policies. In some EU member states such as Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Sweden, nationalist parties have progressively done better at the polls. There are manifestations of new racism, anti-Semitism, growing religious intolerance, and xenophobia, as well as new semi-military militias and nationalistic groupings. A reductionist and scare-mongering approach to migration is, however, unhelpful in understanding migration flows. Policies which do not recognise the complexity and changing nature of migration will, therefore, be unlikely to effectively address the challenges that confront both migrants and receiving countries, and other manifestations of intolerance will appear.

Brussels spends close to $2 billion on border control and border management in what has been dubbed the “Anti-Migration” Fund. EU efforts to restrict human mobility are manifest in the securitisation of frontiers like the Moroccan border with the Spanish enclave of Melilla. In Europe itself, Greece built a 6.5 mile-long fence on its border with Turkey in 2012.

The Mediterranean Sea is being patrolled by private security companies such as Europe’s Coastguard Agency and Frontex with state-of-the-art technologies. The combined budget for the two companies has increased exponentially from €6 million in 2005 to €320 million in 2018.

Furthermore, the EU has border control agreements with at least 35 countries to control migration – some of which have autocratic leaders like Chad, Egypt, and Niger. “Partners” cooperate in the deportation of migrants from Europe, and help in the implementation of technologies and infrastructure to restrict human mobility, such as the erection of detention centres.

Migrants who have utilised the services of smugglers have also been left to perish in the Sahara desert, while others who have used boats to cross the Mediterranean have perished at sea. However, despite widespread media coverage of African migration to Europe, about 70 percent of African migration occurs within the continent.

In three instances, South Africa is no different from EU member states in addressing migration: first, on the African continent, the country is one of the preferred destinations by African migrants; second; South African political leaders have made xenophobic statements and utterances which have fanned the flames of attacks; and, finally, African migrants have experienced xenophobia. From 2008 to date, over 350 African migrants, mostly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and Somalia, have been killed in such attacks. Xenophobia goes beyond physical violence, it also involves anti-immigrant sentiments, attitudes, and perceptions. Other manifestations can include the denial of access to basic social services and laws that discriminate against migrants.

Some of the policy recommendations that emerged from the Johannesburg policy dialogue include: evidence-based research and policies must guide migration debates; labour mobility must occur through free movement accords, visa liberalisation regimes, and labour mobility cooperation – there must be a clear legal pathway to the regularisation of the status of migrants; and the 2018 AU Protocol on Free Movements of Persons in Africa must be urgently ratified.

Mr. Anthony Kaziboni is a Research Coordinator at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg.