Migration and its dilemmas

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Willy-nilly, migration is a trending topic part of the relations between the African and European continents. It is on the table at all the high-level meetings between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU). Discussing the future framing strategy of AU-EU cooperation or the future of the Cotonou Agreement cannot avoid the issue.

Migration: a true obsession for the EU

This could be interpreted as an imposition or conditionality by the European partners, or as a necessity, but, basically, the issue is out there. We can clarify that migration involves a small part of the world population, but yet, migration has become not just a priority but also something of an obsession for the EU.

For instance, in the Final Declaration of the 5th AU-EU meeting that took place in late November 2017 in Abidjan, the word migration is used 19 times in 13 pages. Similarly, migration was among the main issues discussed at the High Level meeting on the Sahel in late February 2018.

Having said that, it could be useful to clarify the main false myths that can be considered as common ground for future meetings and partnerships without reinventing the wheel every time.

Migration and mobility are a resource to be supported

Migration has acquired negative connotations and some scholars suggest using only the terms mobilityand movement. Beyond this (unproductive?) discussion on terminology, it is crucial that migration be addressed not only as a challenge, but also as a potential way to boost development in Africa and elsewhere. This perspective could change the approach to a series of policies, such as those discussed below.

Migration between Africa and Europe is not an emergency

Data show that irregular flows – regular ones are very small! – between Africa and Europe have been similar in recent years. There were some peaks, but the trends cannot justify alarmist rhetoric. Migratory flows from Africa to Europe represent a long-standing phenomenon with deep historical roots and rapidly changing patterns. Doubts remain on the EU’s overall strategy, which appears too determined by a short-term focus on migration and lacking in a deep understanding of local social and economic dynamics, such as regional mobility.

Development does not halt migration

Supporting development and growth does not tackle migration on its own – at least, in the short run. In fact, economic development has a “U-curve effect” on migration, that starts decreasing only after a long period of sustained economic growth. It seems silly to repeat it, but, unfortunately, the migration–development nexus seems still to be more mentioned than explored in EU documents and by the Sahel strategy. It is therefore paramount to restore the link between the allocation of development funds and long-term development goals.

Securitisation of the migration agenda is short-sighted

Securitisation of the migration agenda and divergences over human rights and international criminal justice have reinforced the African perception of a one-way dialogue. Efforts towards enhanced policy dialogue are jeopardised by insufficient communication and coordination. The EU’s approach to development and migration has the merit both of connecting the two fields and of recognizing that the migration challenge can be addressed only through cooperation with African countries. However, aid flows seem to be largely allocated in favour of areas with enhanced border controls and other security measures. Securitizing migration may also, therefore, have negative effects on African mobility and migration by affecting the continent’s development.

Peace processes, not exactly the same as security

The relations between the two continents are relatively little focused on peace processes. The EU integrated approach includes them, and for the AU, peacebuilding and conflict prevention are priorities. However, never-ending wars and the arms trade are rarely part of the root-causes discussion on migration. In addition, security risks to be a narrow concept, relegated to borders and institutional reforms. However, migration as a consequence of systematic violence and wars deserves more space in debate about the future of the partnerships. Migration in some cases represents an alternative for youth to taking up arms, and can contribute to regional and global security. Finally, in recent years, the EU has been improving its capacities on mediation and peacebuilding. Now it is time to keep a context-sensitive approach on the table.

Climate change does have an effect on human mobility

Environmental factors have had an impact on migration, as it is expected to rise as a result of accelerated climate change. In fact, as a recent report by UNPD and ODI shows, the ten largest displacement events in 2016 were climate-related. However, as presented in the report, which areas could become more habitable or less is not crystal clear. Certainly, while there is a weak correlation between climate change and population growth, there is a strong correlation between climate change and consumption related to wealth. This challenge has no borders and will affect both Africa and Europe. Connecting climate change and human mobility could therefore represent a priority and a common challenge for future partnerships between the two continents.

Author: Bernardo Venturi, IAI

Photos courtesy of UNMISS, via flickr

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