[Carlos Lopes’s podium] Africa will not invade Europe

Carlos Lopes: "While Africa's migration to the EU grew by 7% between 2010 and 2015, 19% growth was recorded in the opposite direction over the same period."

The contemporary discourse on migration has become emotional and devoid of rationality. It suggests in aging countries that population movements around the world will have a negative effect on them. The financial cost of receiving migrants and their integration is among the arguments often put forward to justify policies to limit migration flows – including legal migration.

Currently, 3.4% of the world’s population lives in a country other than the country of origin. Between 2000 and 2017, a 49% increase in movements was recorded – and this increase will not slow anytime soon for several reasons. Firstly because half of these movements was recorded in the northern countries. It is a reflection of great mobility facilitated by the treaties that exist between them.

It is true that the so-called southern countries account for the other half but in relation to their demographic weight these are relatively modest figures. It should also be emphasized that migration is mainly intra-regional: in Africa and Asia, 80% of migrants are born in the region where they live, while two thirds of migrants in Europe are born in a European country. This observation raises two quite different questions: the first relates to the management of intra-regional migration and the second to inter-regional migration.

In fact, with regard to intra-regional migration in Africa, apart from North Africa, the other regions of Africa have significant intra-regional migration flows. Citizens of southern African countries prefer to stay in their neighborhood, and so on for almost all African subregions. Often these migrants face difficulties in African host countries. They are considered to occupy places which by right must belong to the nationals. Despite the concern of both sides about the negative impact of migration on the labor market, especially in the context of developing countries, several studies have shown limited or no significant impact on the labor market. employment of local workers.

For example, some regions in Africa have clearly understood the need for cooperation frameworks between host countries and countries of origin in the region to better structure and benefit from the management of migration flows. In West Africa the regional framework of ECOWAS has allowed the citizens of the region to circulate and work freely in the member countries; In East Africa, the EAC countries offer the same benefits to the citizens of the countries of the region in the framework of a regional agreement; and bilateral agreements in southern Africa and North Africa have also facilitated the free movement of citizens in these regions.

In addition, the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to the Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and the Right of Establishment, once implemented, may further strengthen the economic agenda on the continent. facilitating the movement of people to support regional economic integration.

These initiatives and policies are indispensable for Africa’s economic development. Discouraging them – as the European institutions seem to argue – in an attempt to reduce the flow of migrants suspected of wanting to travel to Europe can only slow down the continent – with disastrous economic effects. With regard to inter-regional migration, does the problem find its answer in the closing of borders and the creation of « landing platforms » or transit areas in a framework that facilitates legal and circular migration? This model, already tested in Turkey, has shown that not only is the rate of human loss of refugees and migrants traveling from Turkey to Europe increased from 1.4% in 2016 to 2% in 2017. Turkey itself agreed to do so against the promise of substantial financial compensation. But Europe has difficulties in honoring its commitments of this type with all transit countries.

Indeed, the agreement between Turkey and the EU of 2015 aimed to organize the flow of refugees in Europe in order to quickly process the asylum applications of 72,000 Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey. Since April 2015, only 12,476 Syrians have been resettled in Europe. The relatively slow progress is mainly due to the lack of consensus among European countries on the quota system. This lack of consensus is not likely to be resolved soon; which makes the « landing platforms » a very risky commitment for the countries of North Africa. The other less popular solution would be to launch a circular migration policy.

In this context, a well-designed migration policy can even reduce the risks often associated with circular migration, notably the failure to respect visa validity deadlines. The case of New Zealand is interesting. The circular migration policy put in place allowed the neighbors of the Pacific Islands to obtain visas for the benefit of seasonal workers for a period of 7 months. This policy has created a climate of trust between migrants and host countries. It has been highly effective since it has not only enabled the country to benefit from the productivity of migrants, but has also reduced the number of overstays in the period of authorized residence which have been reduced to an appreciable threshold of 1 %.

Migratory flows are not likely to stop, at least not in the near future. Worse still, the progress made in terms of economic growth and human development in Africa will only accelerate the intra- and extra-muros migratory trend. Going with the current trend that favors closing borders can be more expensive or even inefficient. The choice is therefore simple for the host countries: to go with the flow and limit migratory flows or to counteract and build bridges between the countries of origin and the host countries to draft new solutions that tap into the potential of migration for the benefit of both parties. Europe’s tendency to focus on the illegal migration and repatriation of failed asylum seekers is blurring the picture of the nature of Africa’s migration to Europe.

Of the total number of Africans in Europe, only 6% are asylum seekers whose applications have not been processed. The remaining 94% are legally resident in the EU countries. This is despite an increase in the number of asylum applications from African nationals arriving in the EU in the last five years. Such an increase can be explained by the growing number of Africans arriving on the northern Mediterranean coast who often request asylum as the first recourse allowed to enter the EU. In addition, Africans are not the main asylum seekers in EU countries. In 2017, the top three nationalities were Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. African nationals – from Nigeria, Eritrea and Guinea – accounted for 29 per cent of the top 10 nationalities of origin for asylum applications. Migration is a two-way flow.

While Africa’s migration to the EU increased by 7% between 2010 and 2015, growth of 19% was recorded in the opposite direction during the same period. It is necessary to tackle migration in a more rational way. While it is important to combat illegal migration – especially because of its human cost – a coherent and legally binding framework that reflects legal migration routes and mobility needs to be further developed.


Carlos Lopes is Professor of Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town and High Representative of the African Union for Partnerships with Europe Post 2020.

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