A journalist asked me a few questions about the migration compact. These notes were written as a response, so they are not a coherent piece but a series of points.
In the long term the focus on Africa is important for Europe. But I am not talking in terms of curbing migration, rather as an opportunity for Europe. By creating safer environments and more stable (and democratic) institutions in Africa, unauthorised migration flows would decrease as people are likely to stay closer to home especially if they can make a decent living and can move relatively freely back and forth. Qaddafi’s Libya used to be the economic powerhouse of North Africa and an immigration hub, a place of destination for many migrants, not just a transit node as portrayed by EU media and imagined by EU policy makers.
Closer ties with African states could also contribute to a more orderly mobility towards Europe – let’s not forget that Europe needs migrants to rejuvenate the workforce and sustain its welfare systems. And it is not only highly skilled workers that are needed. Closer cooperation with Africa doesn’t stop migration altogether (and it shouldn’t aim to!) but can change the nature of flows, especially if legal routes are created as part of the cooperation deals.
The legacy of colonialism, both at the macro (institutional/diplomatic level) and micro (individual preferences and connections) is far from disappeared in the relations between African states and Europe and the current so-called migration crisis is in many ways nothing new. While there has been an increase in unauthorised crossings since the Arab Springs in the early 2010s, boat migration across the Mediterranean is not a new phenomenon. It is associated to restrictions being established on legal routes to migration for low-skilled migrants since 1990s.
The new proposed partnerships with African states are not per se negative, but it is naïve to think that Europe can just replicate the deal it signed with Turkey as we are engaging with very different institutional partners. The widely discussed conditionality of development aid to collaboration in immigration enforcement may seem reasonable on paper but reality is far more complex and how deterrence and development policies will interact is different institutional contexts is hard to anticipate.
Moreover, if conditionality means asking to quasi dictatorships to do immigration control for Europe in exchange of bribes disguised as development aid, it doesn’t seem to me a sustainable strategy in the medium and long term. It also undermines the EU standing in the international arena.
The stabilisation of Libya may be the best tool for the EU for reducing irregular crossings but not because of better border enforcement, but because a safer Libya means that people will in greater number work there rather than trying the journey across the sea.
Intra-African migration is numerically more significant than that towards Europe, but this basic fact is often ignored in current policy debate on how to handle the ‘crisis’ and Eurocentric views tend to prevail producing a distortion in the way European policy makers see migration and set to address it.