Authors: Ottilia Anna Maunganidze and Tsion Tadesse Abebe
Affiliated organization: Istituto Affari Internazionali
Type of population: Report
Date of publication: December 2020
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Understanding Africa’s stance on migration Migration is a development issue in Africa. Poverty, lack of employment opportunities and food insecurity, together with conflict caused by political instability, are the leading push factors of migration. The nexus between migration and development is articulated accordingly by the AU’s policy documents, including the African Common Position on Migration and Development, Agenda 2063, the Migration Policy Framework for Africa and the Joint Labour Migration Programme. Africa’s efforts to stimulate trade are also part of the continent’s overall development agenda and are connected with aspirations to advance regional integration and facilitate freedom of movement. It is for this purpose that the AU adopted two complementary instruments on trade and free movement in 2018. These are the Agreement on Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment.
Specific to migration’s nexus with development, the African Common Position on Migration and Development states that “well-managed migration may have a substantial positive impact for the development of countries of origin and yield significant benefits to destination States”. Migrants contribute to the economy of their country of origin through remittances, investment, and transfer of skills and knowledge. At the same time, they spend 85 per cent of their income in their destination country in addition to paying taxes and responding to labour market needs.
Existing frameworks on migration between Africa and Europe
The Africa–EU Strategic Partnership is the formal channel through which African countries and the EU work together. The relationship between Africa and the EU on mobility and migration is largely framed within the scope of the Joint Africa– Europe Strategy adopted at the second EU–Africa Summit in Lisbon in December 2007. Migration, mobility and employment is one of eight areas for the strategic partnership. The main focus is on better managing migration flows and creating opportunities in Africa as a means towards sustainable development. Among key international agreements and declarations between the EU and Africa are the Tripoli Declaration on Migration and Development, the Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children and the Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action for Promotion of Employment and Poverty Alleviation. Working together, the AU Commission (AUC) and the European Commission consult on a flexible thematic and geographic basis and craft joint policies and interventions.
In March 2020 the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy issued a joint communication proposing five key areas for consideration as part of the new partnership between Africa and Europe. Migration and mobility is one of the priority areas, together with the green transition and energy access, digital transformation, sustainable growth and jobs, and peace and governance. These proposals were officially adopted in June 2020 by the Council of the EU in their council conclusions on the Africa–EU Strategy.
The relationship between Africa and the EU on mobility and migration is largely framed within the scope of the Joint Africa– Europe Strategy adopted at the second EU–Africa Summit in Lisbon in December 2007. Migration, mobility and employment is one of eight areas for the strategic partnership. The main focus is on better managing migration flows and creating opportunities in Africa as a means towards sustainable development
For the most part, for the EU migration and mobility is discussed from a security perspective as manifested by two of its four critical areas of focus: fighting irregular migration through enhancing border controls and improving return and readmission. This is further supplemented by the proposed New Pact on Migration and Asylum released on 23 September 2020 by the European Commission. The New Pact aims to address the imbalances in EU member states’ burdens related to migrant arrivals and streamline the asylum process. However, the proposal focuses primarily on technical aspects and does not deal substantively with values and broader migration trends. Further, it delays some tough decisions on regular migration and permanent relocation. The New Pact also did not benefit from consultations with and reflections of African policymakers and practitioners. The result is that the New Pact is technical and process-focused, and does not address the human toll inflicted by the current system.
The New Pact also proposes an accelerated approach to asylum decisions. This includes the proposed “one stop asylum” system that requires mandatory pre-entry identity, health and security screening within five days of arrival. Those considered likely to receive asylum would then follow the normal asylum-seeking procedure. This would take place either in the country of first arrival in line with the Dublin III Regulation or in a designated EU country in the case of relocated applicants. Those considered unlikely to receive asylum would be placed into a “fast track” application process in border facilities. If rejected, they would be directed to the “return border procedure”, to be returned (from the EU external borders) to their country of origin.
Taking stock of key issues in Africa-EU relations on migration
Securitisation of migration
The securitised perspective on migration is evident in the EU’s priority areas on fighting irregular migration and improving return and readmission. Enhancing border management from the perspective of building effective migration management is also an EU priority. On fighting irregular migration, the European Commission emphasises efforts against the smuggling of migrants and strengthening border control. These speak to the priorities of Africa, but from the perspective of facilitating the movement of people. For the African continent, enhancing border control that facilitates the movement of people and controls the smuggling of people and goods, for instance, is a prerequisite for successful implementation of the agenda on free movement of people. Border management and fighting smuggling of migrants are among priorities of the AU’s Migration policy framework for Africa and its Plan of Action (2018–30). Further, for African states there is an economic imperative to control illicit flows (lost state revenue, trafficking, criminal networks, etc.), while for Europe there is a political imperative in controlling people arriving on their shores.
The European reiteration of securitised approaches to deal with African migration, the strong emphasis on returns and the rejigging of the asylum process threaten the relationship between Europe and Africa. Whether in response to irregular migration or as part of returns policies, Africa and Europe should prioritise alternative policies that promote safe and legal migration pathways. This may help as an indirect response to reducing the need to use smugglers.
Legal labour migration pathways
For both Africa and Europe, legal pathways connected to labour migration are the preferred avenue for migration. However, the limitations of access mean that this is an avenue not always open to migrants. Expanding cooperation on the facilitation of legal migration within Africa and from Africa to Europe is key. This speaks directly to the developmental benefits of migration in Africa.
For Africa, under the broad umbrella of Agenda 2063 and the AU Migration Policy Framework (MPFA), together with its 2018–30 Plan of Action, issues of labour migration are intrinsically linked with aspirations for regional integration and intra-African trade. Further, at least on paper, there is a drive to develop policies aimed at the progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of capital, labour, goods and services among AU member states. The MPFA highlights the potential of the Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP) in this regard. The JLMP was adopted in 2015 by the AU, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the International Labour Organisation to further the provisions of Article 71(e) of the Abuja Treaty aiming at establishing and strengthening labour exchanges to facilitate the employment of available skilled workers across member states. The JLMP seeks to facilitate the movement of workers and to harness labour migration for development. Its critical objective is to enhance the capacity of Africa to put in place free movement of people for the purposes of labour through building harmonised national migration policies.
Migration and economic development The AU’s MPFA extensively discusses the link between migration and development, covering issues such as remittances, the diaspora and brain drain. The substantial developmental contribution of migration towards enhancing Africa’s integration agenda is also articulated by Agenda 2063. In this respect, aspiration 2 envisions creating “an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance”. Linked with this is the expansion of the free movement of people and capital as one of the critical issues examined, together with fast-tracking the continent’s economic integration through the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). To achieve this, in 2018 the AU adopted the Protocol Relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment (Africa Union Free Movement Protocol), and the AfCFTA agreement.
Remittances are central to the migration–development discussion in Africa since they serve as a significant and dependable source of foreign exchange to African countries. In 2018 Nigeria received 22.3 billion US dollars more in remittances than Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) combined. Similarly, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Zimbabwe received 1.8 billion US dollars, 1 billion, 1.5 billion and 1.1 billion, respectively, more in remittances than ODA and FDI. In 2019 Sub-Saharan Africa received a total of 48 billion US dollars in remittances.
COVID-19 has already heavily impacted remittances. The World Bank estimates that the amount of money migrant workers send home is projected to decline by 14 per cent by 2021. Though they forecast a modest recovery thereafter, the decline in remittances is likely to continue the longer the pandemic persists and the higher the potential for unemployment rises. Notably, despite this decline, the relative importance of remittances as a source of external financing for low to middle income countries is expected to increase as economies contract and opportunities diminish.
COVID-19 and related restrictions have had an impact on humanitarian assistance and aid delivery. This is particularly concerning for over 26 million refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa, especially those in camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Further, temporary bans on travel have resulted in asylum seekers and refugees not having access even to countries with usually welcoming refugee reception policies. With the suspension of refugee resettlements, emergency transit mechanisms in Niger and Rwanda for asylum seekers and refugees in Libya were gravely impacted. The seven-month suspension ended on 15 October and saw the resumption of resettlements. However, thousands of migrants remain at risk and it remains uncertain what the long-term plan is to facilitate an inclusive protection approach.
Finding durable solutions to refugee management will be key for the partnership between Europe and Africa. For African states that already host large numbers of refugees, technical and financial support is critical. There is mutual recognition that African countries host one-third of the world refugees. Already, seven of the 15 Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) pilot countries are in Africa. The EU’s willingness to resettle persons in need of international protection in Europe will contribute to fairer responsibility sharing between the two sides. In 2017 the EU pledged to resettle 50,000 refugees by October 2019 in a two-year programme. However, by the deadline of October 2019, the EU had resettled 37,520 refugees and, to date, there has not been a follow-up action of the same kind.
Returns, readmission and reintegration
Return and readmission is the other primary focus of the EU when it comes to its relations on migration with Africa. Return and integration of irregular migrants were critical objectives of the EU’s 2016 Partnership Framework as per the objectives of the European Agenda on Migration.53 The EU’s New Pact calls for strengthening cooperation to enhance voluntary returns, with sustainable reintegration in countries of origin as well as improving cooperation with third countries in cases of deportation and forced returns – including by using positive and negative conditionalities linking cooperation on return to visa facilitation or restriction. This stance is a slight departure from that agreed by the AU and EU following their joint summit in 2017 in Abidjan where emphasis was placed on preference for voluntary returns and commitment to the protection of fundamental rights. Furthermore, in 2017, the AU and EU included the principle of “non-refoulement” in the joint declaration. This is absent from the European Commission’s Communication, as well as the New Pact.
Finding durable solutions to refugee management will be key for the partnership between Europe and Africa. For African states that already host large numbers of refugees, technical and financial support is critical. There is mutual recognition that African countries host one-third of the world refugees. Already, seven of the 15 Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) pilot countries are in Africa
Returns remain politically sensitive in Africa since migration is considered a coping mechanism to address poverty and the associated lack of socio-economic opportunities. African governments have therefore resisted the EU’s intensified returns policies. Due to this, the EU’s previous efforts to conclude formal return and readmission agreements with African countries failed, except for Cabo Verde, with which an agreement was signed in 2014. This provided the basis for the informal agreements entered into by the EU with African countries, such as those with Ethiopia, Guinea, The Gambia and Côte d’Ivoire. The AU and most African countries maintain that returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified and in line with international human rights and humanitarian norms.
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