Author: Irene Schöfberger
Affiliated organization: International Cooperation and Global Partnerships
Type of publication: Article
Free movement and borders in regional migration governance
Historically grounded studies in the region have also shown that a space delimitation based on fixed territorial structures was introduced only by colonial administrations (Walther and Retaillé, 2008). Before that, space was for a long time organized according to social affiliations, through a “fluid and constantly moving territoriality” (Lima, 2013). Locations that were geographically distant could be controlled by a single authority (see Mbembé, 2005). At the same time, lifestyles and practices based on mobility – such as nomadism, semi-nomadism and shifting cultivations – were frequent, allowing communities and households to adapt to a resource-poor environment. Whereas in recent decades national laws have progressively hindered nomadism (see FAO and IUCN, 2018), cross-border movements remain frequent in the region (Fedorova and Shupert, Chapter 4 of this volume) and entail practices as different as seasonal or more permanent migration, migration for education and trade, and family visits. While its forms have adapted to a changing world, this mobility continues to contribute to development and resilience in the region (Quartey, Addoquaye Tagoe and Boatemaa Setrana, Chapter 21 of this volume). This is increasingly also recognized by national governments through free movement policies, as well as diaspora policies.
The promotion of free movement is one of the eight thematic priorities of the Migration Dialogue in West Africa, established in 2000, as well as one of the main focuses of the ECOWAS Common Approach to Migration, adopted in 2008. The Common Approach also marked a transition towards a more integrated regional migration management. Rather than only focusing on the implementation of free movement within the region, the Approach drafted a structure of how to deal with migration within, from and to the region, through a stronger coordination of national approaches. In addition to free movement, the Approach also contemplated policy harmonization, management of regular and irregular migration, fight against human trafficking, and promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees (ECOWAS, 2008). At the time of writing, the Approach is undergoing a revision.
While free movement policies remain a priority for ECOWAS Member States, national divergences have challenged their full implementation. In fact, the implementation of phase three of the 1979 Protocol – on the right of establishment of ECOWAS citizens in the whole territory of the Community – has yet to be completed. In addition, ECOWAS approaches have not yet been mainstreamed in migration-relevant national policies. For example, Adepoju has noted that national laws and employment codes often continue to restrict the access of foreigners, including ECOWAS citizens, to specific economic sectors, and that in some cases expulsions have also taken place (Adepoju, 2015).
Additional national divergences have emerged following an increasing engagement on migration management of the Community and its Member States with European counterparts
The implementation of the 1979 Protocol is also challenged by political difficulties, institutional and administrative barriers, and practical hindrances. First, political support has sometimes been weak or unstable, funding insufficient and political mandates unclear. Inter-State border disputes have also been challenging. Additional concerns have been linked to disparities in the economic and labour market situations and population sizes of the various Member States. In particular, Nigeria has a higher gross domestic product (GDP) and a significantly larger population than other Member States. Political instability, as well as domestic politics and changing attitudes towards migrants, has also had an impact on the willingness of national governments to engage more in regional approaches and to renounce some national migration policy competencies. In addition, practical and administrative challenges have been related to border controls, sharing of information with citizens and increasing insecurity in the region, among others (Adepoju, 2015; Castillejo, 2019).
Additional national divergences have emerged following an increasing engagement on migration management of the Community and its Member States with European counterparts. According to some authors, this engagement has led some West African governments to dedicate greater policy attention to irregular migration at the national level (Castillejo, 2019; Jegen, 2020). Further national differences may be explained by the presence of bilateral agreements between European Union counterparts and specific ECOWAS Member States, which may not necessarily be aligned with regional priorities.
Continental efforts towards free movement policies and the role of regional economic communities
After OAU’s transformation into the African Union in 2002, the African Union continued to support the idea of free movement policies on different occasions, such as at the Sirte Council in 2005, where it called for the introduction of an African passport, and where the establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area was decided upon in 2012. The need for free movement of persons as linked to the idea of pan-Africanism and an integrated and united continent was reaffirmed in 2015 in the African Union Agenda 2063 (African Union, 2015:article 73). Agenda 2063 assigned to RECs an important role for the implementation of free movement policies by 2023, and called on States to waive requirements for entry visas for African citizens moving within the continent. In 2018, the African Union finally adopted a Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Establishment, which foresaw a progressive implementation of free movement policies, starting from the REC level. The revised Migration Policy Framework for Africa, adopted the same year, also recommended that States “enhance cooperation and coordination amongst States in subregions and regions with a view to facilitating free movement at bilateral, subregional and regional levels”, and to “harmonise and strengthen implementation of REC free movement provisions related to residence and establishment, in order to aid labour mobility” (African Union, 2018:article 2.2).
However, national divergences regarding free movement policies exist as related to these continental processes as well, and in addition to those at the regional level mentioned above. These include sociopolitical challenges, such as different sizes of national economies and populations, inter-State conflicts and tensions, varying inflows and outflows of migrants and remittances, different labour market needs, changing public attitudes towards migration and challenges related to national sovereignty and competencies. A low degree of implementation of African Union agreements also hinders more rapid progress towards free movement. Further challenges are related to national capacity and resources – for example, due to national differences in travel and personal documents standards and border management systems. National security and public order concerns, such as transborder crimes and terrorist activities, also need to be mentioned. Finally, there are public health concerns, due to limited transnational health monitoring systems, hampering the implementation of free movement policies and frameworks (see African Union and IOM, 2018).
Transregional migration governance: interactions between African and European policies
As the external dimension was intended to be supportive of the internal dimension, negotiations between European Union member States have always had a strong influence on their engagement with African counterparts. This influence has changed over time. At first, policies such as the 2005 European Union Global Approach to Migration and the 2006 Joint Africa–European Union Declaration on Migration and Development had diverse objectives. Some of these were related to a stronger control of the European Union external border, and included cooperation with countries of origin and transit on irregular migration and return. Others were related to migration as an opportunity for development in Africa and Europe, and included better integration of migrants and a facilitation of diaspora investment.
However, in the following years, the focus of the internal dimension has changed. A combination of processes and factors, including the 2007/2008 financial crisis and increased migrant arrivals to the European Union in 2015, led to greater political divergencies between European Union member States. As a result, agreeing on a common migration and asylum system on the internal dimension has become increasingly difficult. Common concerns about securing the external European Union border have meant it has been relatively easier for the European Union and its member States to agree on strengthening efforts to control immigration into the Union – although national approaches to this have differed.
This has led to a stronger focus on border control in European Union member States’ cooperation with African States. Policies such as the revised 2011 European Union Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, the 2015 European Agenda on Migration and the 2015 Valletta Political Declaration and Action Plan, as well as the related allocation of funds, placed a stronger emphasis on border security, on combatting irregular migration and on migrant return. Measures referring to migration as an opportunity for development in countries of origin and destination have decreased. At the same time, policies addressing migration as the result of development failures have gained momentum. They have been accompanied by an increased use of European Union development funds to address irregular migration, for example through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa, launched at the Valletta Summit in 2015. The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is largely based on the assumption that supporting development in African countries would reduce irregular emigration and displacement (European Commission, 2015). This has been challenged by theoretical and empirical research arguing that a positive income shock in lower-income countries would initially lead to an increase in emigration rates (see Clemens, 2014; Clemens and Gough, 2019). This strengthening policy linkage between development aid and migration management has also been in line with the increased conditionality of European Union external policies, including development policies, to cooperation in European Union migration management, which was introduced by the 2002 Seville Council Conclusions (European Council, 2002).
An increased focus of the European Union on border controls has been challenging in its policy negotiations with African counterparts. To begin with, ECOWAS member States are increasingly aware of the importance of the diaspora to support development and resilience, and are enhancing efforts to engage with it (Schöfberger, Chapter 33 of this volume). Remittances, which were more resilient than foreign aid and direct investment during the 2008 economic downturn (Gagnon, 2020), and have since been increasing, represent a consistent share of GDP in many countries in the region. In many West and North African countries, public attitudes towards migration tend to be very positive (Borgnäs and Acostamadiedo, Chapter 35 of this volume). Therefore, some governments may be reluctant to engage in measures that could limit the emigration possibilities of their citizens. For this reason, and due to the salience of return and readmission in domestic debates in some West African States, cooperation on forced return and readmission has been challenging (Adam et al., 2020). On the contrary, many West and North African States would like to see more regular migration possibilities for their citizens included in the debate. Issues related to State sovereignty and national competencies on migration, development and security are also intervening in negotiations. At the same time, some authors (ibid.) have suggested that African governments operate a mediation between such domestically and internationally driven policy preferences linked to donor support.
The effects of the European Union’s increased attention to border controls on regional free movement policies in West Africa are still unclear. As mentioned above, some authors have argued that the European Union’s engagement with African States has led some of them to strengthen border controls. However, as illustrated in the previous paragraph, West and North African governments are also, to different extents, reluctant to mainstream the European Union’s increasing focus on border controls in their policies. These opposing trends may increase intraregional divergences between African States with different migration-related interests and with different relations with European Union member States. Such divergences may, in turn, hinder advancement on regional free movement agendas.
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