EU migration policy: What it means for Africa

The European Union (EU) has been struggling to find solutions to the high numbers of irregular migrants arriving on the continent. This can be seen in the number of new national policies that have been rolled out as well as a notable rise in the election of political parties claiming to take a tougher stance on immigration. Understandably, Africa plays a central role in this trend.

Over the past three years, irregular migration has dominated concerns in Europe, both from Africa, and as a result of people fleeing war in Syria. At the height of the influx, in 2015, over one million migrants reached Europe by sea with almost 4,000 feared drowned. In 2016, more than 360,000 migrants also made their way by sea with more lives lost. In 2017 half the number of arrivals of the previous year was recorded.

At the heart of the migration flow is Africa, where tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Nigeria, Libya, Niger, Tunisia, and The Gambia, seek economic opportunities in Europe, but also Burundians, Eritreans and Sudanese seeking asylum in Europe due to social and political persecution or war in their countries of origin. However, these two categories of migrants have two things in common – a European destination and the use of dangerous routes.

Predictably, the influx of irregular migrants into Europe has become a major political, diplomatic, social and economic issue for both the governments and citizens of European countries and of African countries. This led to a two-day summit of the 28 leaders of European Union (EU) countries in June.

During the summit, EU leaders discussed measures to curb irregular migration including the possibility of “disembarkation platforms” in transit countries to distinguish between refugees in need of protection and economic migrants who should be returned to their home countries before they reach the EU.

For Africa, this means the EU is proposing to set up screening centres in several North African countries that have become transit countries for African migrants heading to Europe via the Mediterranean.

If implemented, the plan would reduce the number of deaths by drowning in the Mediterranean and also serve as a demotivator for traffickers, smugglers and potential irregular migrants.

However,  Euractiv reports that several North African leaders rejected the EU’s plan to set up processing centres in Africa. The AU did, however, announce a proposal for the creation of an African Observatory for Migration and Development (OAMD), a new tool to promote the management of migration flows  in Africa.

Another resolution at the EU summit was the need for member states to voluntarily establish “control centres” across the EU for the “rapid and secure processing” of refugees and migrants.

The issue of how to deal with migration flows from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has caused deep divisions within the EU and the June summit may not be enough to heal Europe’s political divides over migration.

Whatever the future holds, it is clear that the EU is poised to take action to reduce the rate of irregular migrants arriving on the continent.

TMP – 27/07/2018

Photo Credit: Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron after the EU agreed a deal to ease the migration crisis in June