96. AU Urged to Put Greater Effort into Tackling Migration

Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: 02 December 2019
Publication: Business Day
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josekube via Twenty20

An estimated 1,400 mostly young Africans died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year. About 1,000 have died so far this year. A recent two-day policy dialogue was hosted by the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) titled “Conflict, Governance, and Human Mobility in Africa/European Union Relations.” The meeting involved 30 African, European, and United Nations (UN) policymakers, civil society actors, and academics, and sought to promote the implementation of the UN Global Compact on Migration signed in Marrakesh last December.

The causes of African migration to Europe are partly a result of conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, and Libya. This has resulted in a lack of opportunities on a continent in which 60% of the population is under the age of 30. Poor governance in the form of human rights abuses, electoral violence, unaccountable governments, and a failure to manage diversity effectively, have also sometimes contributed to migration. Many of the states from which these migrants come are thus often countries in conflict, emerging from war, and/or suffering from poor governance.

This situation is further complicated by the divergent views of African and EU governments towards migration: while African governments often see migration as an opportunity to gain economic remittances (an estimated 20 billion euros annually is contributed by Africans in the EU), many European governments tend to view the phenomenon as a security threat, often scapegoating and criminalising migrants. “Fortress Europe” has thus resulted in governments strengthening border security – in contravention of their own free movement principles of the 1985 Schengen accord – with Spain, Greece, and Hungary having built border fences to keep out migrants, and Slovenia in the process of constructing one. Critics have also noted the penchant of EU states to strike deals with economically vulnerable African states such as Mali and Niger in a bid to keep migrants from reaching Europe. Disembarkation points for African migrants have also been proposed in autocratic Egypt and Morocco.

Brussels has argued that one million migrants enter the EU annually, and that the 28-member bloc has sought to encourage legal circular migration in which migrants can return to their home countries after an agreed period of time. This proposal has, however, often been dismissed as operating mainly in the realm of theory. African governments were criticised for not prioritising migration, and it was noted that EU negotiators tend to be much more prepared at migration summits that their African counterparts. Critics have also noted that African governments often leave the implementation of migration policies largely to UN agencies such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The IOM is currently supporting the African Union and African sub-regional bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to develop migration policies; is backing the Nairobi-based African Institute for Remittances; and has focused on protecting migrants, supporting policy debates, and promoting better understanding of migration issues. The UNHCR – which is leading the implementation of the 2018 UN Global Compact of Refugees – has sought to ease pressure on refugee-hosting countries; extend access to refugees; support country solutions; improve the conditions of refugees; and enhance the self-reliance of refugees.

Despite 70% of African migration occurring on the continent, African governments have often been accused of securitising migration and restricting the free movement of migrants. These governments have also been criticised for not condemning the maltreatment of their citizens left at sea for two weeks by governments like Italy’s.

Five key recommendations emerged from the Johannesburg policy dialogue: first, the AU must urgently implement its 2018 free movement protocol; second, EU governments must stop criminalising search and rescue missions of Africans at sea; third, the AU should allocate substantial resources to tackle migration, and must itself become directly involved in search and rescue missions; fourth, the EU should provide massive investment to labour-intensive economic sectors in Africa, such as agriculture, in order to promote socio-economic development and reduce the incentives for migration; finally, African and EU civil society must be granted a greater role in policymaking on migration issues, which are still often dominated by governments on both continents.

Professor Adebajo is director, Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and editor, Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent