Author: Amanda Bisong
Site of publication: ECDPM
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: September 30, 2019
Migration is a sensitive topic that leads to heated debates and political divisions in almost all countries. While several regional and continental migration agreements exist, states take final decisions on which and how many migrants to admit under the purview of national sovereignty.
But countries need to cooperate to implement their migration policies effectively. For African countries, this cooperation may result in conflicting national and regional interests. They need to push back against outsourced external migration policies by European countries and focus on long-term perspectives that promote African mobility within the continent.
The European Union (EU) has increasingly externalised the implementation of its migration-related policy objectives to third countries through a number of agreements and funding mechanisms. This helps the reduce the number of irregular arrivals in the EU and contributes to the legitimacy and efficacy of the EU’s internal migration system.
EU member states have already used similar strategies when faced with high number of irregular migrants, but this wave of externalisation is more forceful. It combines cooperation agreements and funding instruments, uses aid conditionalities and leverages foreign and security policy dynamics to address migration issues.
Externalisation and duplicity in migration policies
Most African countries agree to externalisation for different reasons, broadly ranging from political motivations based on power dynamics with the EU and European countries to an increasing domestic importance of migration in African states. Economic motivations are largely linked to available funds from development cooperation that are increasingly diverted to migration management.
Diplomacy is equally important, as migration increasingly shapes the foreign policy interests of African countries, which are closely linked to security challenges. African states respond to the European externalisation agenda either through full collaboration, partial cooperation (for example by signalling willingness to cooperate, but being apathetic to implementing agreements) or outright disregard.
The interactions between African and European countries on migration cooperation reveal a duplicity of actions and motives in migration governance, usually with contradictory effects. European states support African continental and regional agendas promoting free movement of persons on the continent. At the same time, they promote policies that weaken these agendas through bilateral cooperation with African states aimed at constraining movement of people.
Most African countries agree to externalisation for different reasons, broadly ranging from political motivations based on power dynamics with the EU and European countries to an increasing domestic importance of migration in African states. Economic motivations are largely linked to available funds from development cooperation that are increasingly diverted to migration management
In West Africa, duplicity and externalisation of migration policies is clearly visible. Trade-offs between internal security and funding for migration-related activities motivate states to act with dual intentions. A case in point is Mali. The Malian government, overwhelmed by internal security challenges, receives support from the European Union and its member states, but is less interested in curtailing the migration of its citizens. Support for security-related projects (such as the CDSP and G5 Sahel) in Mali is now strongly linked to addressing irregular migration.
African governments equally use migration cooperation to promote their legitimacy at the international level. In Niger, restrictive migration practices, such as frequent immigration checks and deportation of ECOWAS citizens, amounts to rebuilding national borders between countries. This undermines the space for free movement, as most deportations contravene ECOWAS’ free movement protocols. In extreme cases, it pitches citizens and local actors against state authorities.
How can African countries respond to externalisation?
Promoting regional free movement of persons through regional and continental frameworks is key to the long-term development and economic growth of African countries. The free movement protocol provides long-term opportunities of regional integration, the benefits of which are likely to be shared by ordinary citizens. This means African states need to prioritise regional commitments with long-term benefits over short-term priorities, that do not contribute to more sustainable change.
African actors – both state and non-state – operating through the African Union (AU) and regional economic communities should present a consolidated front in responding to external interests, with a view to promoting African agendas on free movement.
African states should equally prioritise aligning their interests and speaking with one voice, for example through the Africa-EU migration and mobility dialogue or in any future partnership currently under discussion. This should be strengthened through the increased participation of member states to ensure policy alignment and coherence between European and African countries.
The African Union was prompt in responding to EU member states’ suggestions to create disembarkation platforms or other solutions to forced displacement in African countries. However, there has not been any strong statement by the African Union Commission (AUC) in response to the externalisation of EU migration policies in African states through bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.
Promoting regional free movement of persons through regional and continental frameworks is key to the long-term development and economic growth of African countries. The free movement protocol provides long-term opportunities of regional integration, the benefits of which are likely to be shared by ordinary citizens. This means African states need to prioritise regional commitments with long-term benefits over short-term priorities, that do not contribute to more sustainable change
The AU needs to take this decisive policy direction to reinforce the collective will of African states to promote their political and economic agenda. The AUC and regional organisations should take a firm stance against measures that will restrict free movement of people on the continent.
Externalisation of migration policies will continue to be the norm in international migration, especially as the EU struggles to find a more coherent way to address the realities of migration. This places more urgency on African countries to align their migration policies towards achieving long-term solutions.
Current EU strategies on migration from Africa will have an impact on development on the African continent. African countries and European partners should therefore prioritise long-term migration solutions through regional and continental avenues, as these balance the benefits of migration and promote safe and regular pathways within Africa.
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