What European Governments Get Wrong About Migration

In his comments for valdaiclub.com, Patrick Taran, President of the Global Migration Policy Associates, explains why the recent summit of European and African leaders on migration will hardly deliver the expected results in terms of curbing migration flows. 

The outcome of the so called “migration summit”, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, has very dubious prospects for succeeding. Certainly, not in anything more than impeding human mobility by imposing more migration control measures on “migration routes.” In doing so, the outcome measures seem likely to succeed only in undermining human freedoms and human rights. 

The African countries participating – namely Chad, Niger, and Libya – were not those from which most of the refugees and migrants seeking safe haven originate. Attempting to stop or impede movement of people does not work, certainly not for long, when the situations elsewhere driving people to move are not resolved. Many of those migrating flee situations where autocratic regimes rule by force and generalized violence and where decent work and decent living conditions are but fantasy dreams for the majority of populations. Remember, employment rates in formal work in a considerable number of sub-Saharan African countries hover around 20%. Twenty percent, meaning the vast majority of the working population seeks to survive with no hope of regular employment or any employment at all. 

People are fleeing the absence of functional economies and denial of decent living conditions as well as repressive regimes, violent insurgencies and civil warfare. These multiple factors are usually interrelated. And they affect to a great degree many countries in the African region. 

Financing job growth is laudable, indeed essential. But if it does not go along with democratization, protection of human rights, ending military conflict and serious support for development of productive economies and regional integration, throwing money at jobs while enhancing police and military movement control is not going to win the day. 

I note that the meeting is said to have produced an “EU plan.” To the extent it is such, it is by definition not one jointly defined – equitably – with the three African countries participating. Much less is it one that in any way represents a mutual African-European approach. Plans imposed by one powerful side on another in inequitable relations rarely, if ever, succeed, except in imposing the dominant side’s interests, often enforceable by militarily means. Such arrangements inevitably do not last long. 

The emphasis on border control and “humane care” in that context approach the absurd. How can you practically and legitimately expect to get away with stopping people from moving in their own region, indeed in their own communities and across traditional lands (that European colonial imposed borders divided)? 

The reference to “humane care” in Libya stuns me. Different factions in Libya have become notorious for tolerating, indeed fomenting aggression – even killing people – because they are black. Many migrants from many origins who have been through that country tell of being rounded up and placed in what can only be characterized as concentration camps. 

The essence of such migration control plans is creating walls and barriers guarded by armed forces. It is ironic. The West that so adamantly condemned building walls and using guns to prevent people from crossing the iron curtain between east and west of Europe are now building walls and projecting armed force even beyond their borders to prevent people from moving... While so many of those persons seek the same freedom from oppression and safety from violence that millions of Europeans did in decades past. 

Much of the surge in irregular migration towards Europe –and to the USA and in Southeast Asia – in the last two years is the direct result of warfare and repression. And in most cases, that warfare and repression is aided, abetted and fuelled by military support, arms sales and direct military intervention, overt or covert, exacerbating conflicts – not in resolving them. 

I should note however, that the reality of migration into European countries is very different than portrayed. While the press talked of a “crisis” of 1 million refugee and migrant arrivals to Europe in 2015 and large numbers in 2016, the reality is that 4.8 million people entered EU member states in 2015 for purposes of residence. A number is five times larger, albeit a very large proportion in “regular” circumstances. While the surge in irregular arrivals was indeed significant, it represented only a fifth of the total and a number that was not so much greater than previous surges in arrivals of refugees in 1990-91 following collapse of the Soviet Union and communist regimes across Eastern Europe, and a few years later hundreds of thousands arriving from brutal warfare across the lands of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

Germany loses 6 million members of its workforce over next 15 years. The 1 million total arrivals to that country in 2015 – not only of asylum seekers – is merely the equivalent of two years’ worth of decline in working population. 

The question of resolving migration challenges – and opportunities – is threefold. 

First and perhaps foremost: stop warfare and end repression/repressive regimes. That means ending arms sales and exports, particularly towards countries and regions in conflict; it means disengaging in military interventions, whether by coalitions of states or individual countries; and it certainly means stopping overt or covert engagement with and support of belligerent actors in any and all countries in conflict. 

Secondly, spur economic and social development – by both investment and support for labour intensive development – in conjunction with free circulation and regional integration in Regional Economic Communities (RECs) 

Expanding regularization of mobility by fully implementing and widening regional free movement regimes is one of the key factors. In fact, already 80% of migration originating in West Africa goes to and stays in other member countries of the Economic Community of West African States. Free circulation was and remains a pillar to building and maintaining the viability and sustainability of a productive and competitive European Union.

The imperative of engaging in larger, integrated economic, social and political spaces for survival of smaller and larger countries is similarly driving the negotiation of freer movement of people in the emerging Eurasian Economic Union. Only regional integration into large, economically viable spaces of economies of scale and breadth and diversity of human and natural resources allows individual countries to remain viable. Free circulation of labour, skills is as essential as unimpeded if regulated circulation of capital, goods, services and technology. 

Equally important is to recognize that European economies and populations – just as those of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, need migration – indeed depend on it for future economic viability, for skills and knowledge development, and for demographic stability. The skills, labour power, social security system support, and labour force demographics of nearly all developed countries today depend on increasing options for mobility –and for immigration. 

What is needed is the opposite of what some political forces are driving at. But if governments do not get it right now, on mobility, immigration, inclusion and integration, it may be too late to remain viable, competitive and sustainable as economies, societies and cohesive communities.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.