61. UN’s Plan should be adopted to end migrant deaths

Business Day
15 October 2018
Prof Adekeye Adebajo

The University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation held a meeting in Brussels last week on African migration to Europe with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific Group. In December the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is due to be agreed in Marrakech.

My presentation in Brussels focused on issues regarding Africa’s “boat people” crossing the Mediterranean to try to reach “Fortress Europe”, one of the world’s most underreported tragedies. An estimated 3,200 Africans drowned in 2017 and 1,730 have already perished in 2018.

This issue must be seen in the broader context of the politicisation of migration issues. Many of the EU’s 28 governments view migration largely through a security prism. Large sections of their citizenry have shown often irrational hostility to migrants and asylum seekers.

The UN has consistently urged EU governments to live up to their legal obligations, while Amnesty International blamed the deaths of 721 migrants in June and July directly on the blocking by Italy and Malta of rescue ships from ports, and allowing the Libyan coastguard to return migrants to the anarchic country. EU governments have proposed more draconian responses such as the forced returns of migrants and establishing “disembarkation platforms” in autocratic North African countries such as Egypt and Morocco. This is despite the ghastly, atavistic slave trade of black African migrants in Nato destroyed Libya, with 10,000 migrants still stuck in detention camps. About 30,000 migrants were repatriated from Libya to their home countries in 2017.

Structural issues such as the EU’s grotesque Common Agricultural Policy, which provides wasteful subsidies to European farmers while 70% of Africa’s populations are employed in agriculture with minimal support, must also be urgently addressed.
African civil society has argued that migration can be a developmental opportunity; noted that most African migrants remain on this continent; observed that only 20% move to Europe; and highlighted that remittances from diaspora communities were three times larger than development aid in 2017.

Several African governments, including Eritrea, Nigeria and Senegal, have shown scant regard for the plight of their citizens embarking on perilous voyages across the Mediterranean. Many have also failed to address the conditions of poor governance and enormous youth unemployment that have spurred the exodus.

Among the 23 key goals in the UN’s draft compact on migration to be agreed in December are the following sensible ideas for moving this “dialogue of the deaf” between Africa and Europe forward. Implementation at the domestic level will be particularly important.

EU governments must ensure that evidence-based research and policies, rather than scare-mongering stereotypes and short-term populism, guide migration debates. African governments should address the factors that push their citizens to leave their home countries at such great personal risk.

Labour mobility must be facilitated through free movement accords, visa liberalisation regimes and labour mobility co-operation; there must be a clear legal pathway to the regularisation of the status of migrants. It proposes that migrant deaths must be urgently prevented, and search and rescue operations should not be criminalised.

Only through implementing some of these ideas can the deaths of thousands of Africans be stemmed.

Adebajo is the director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.