Africa: Post-pandemic cooperation between Africa and Europe – Five ways to improve partnership on migration and mobility
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare the glaring double standard in the European response to refugees fleeing wars. Refugees and migrants from non-European countries, especially those from the South (Africa, Asia, Middle East), face racial discrimination and xenophobic attacks when fleeing wars to neighboring European countries. The large difference in response can in part be attributed to the asylum seekers’ country of origin. The African Union and African leaders have strongly condemned the discriminatory treatment of African migrants and asylum seekers by European countries.
Such a discriminatory approach in European migration governance does not bode well with the Common Vision 2030 that the recent Sixth African Union-European Union Summit in Brussels on 17-18 February 2022 presents. The shared vision promises a renewed and deepened AU-EU partnership, including migration and mobility.
However, with the recent discriminatory response of European states to African migrants, the promises of the common vision seem more distant. The need for a paradigm shift from promises to implementation is becoming urgent. As attention is diverted to the situation in Ukraine, making these changes requires new thinking, resources and political will on the part of Europe.
How do you turn warm words into action? One way is to reflect on how the AU-EU agenda illustrates the tensions and some opportunities in the Africa-Europe partnership. But, above all, realizing these opportunities requires new thinking and political will to elevate the agenda as leadership attention and resources are diverted to the situation in Ukraine.
The first and most immediate challenge is overcoming vaccine inequities and travel restrictions. Vaccine solidarity should be high on the Summit agenda, as rapid deployment will accelerate economic recovery. Vaccination rates in Africa are woefully low, at less than 12%, which is a significant barrier to mobility. The World Bank estimates the cost to African economies of every month of delay in vaccine deployment at $14 billion. If things continue as they are, African countries stand to lose half of their GDP due to slow rollout of vaccines.
Travel restrictions imposed on people to and from Africa are not always linked to vaccination and infection rates. Whether vaccinated or not, travelers from Africa to Europe are subject to quarantine requirements. The restrictive measures ostensibly introduced to contain the spread of Covid-19 risk becoming a permanent feature to reinforce Europe’s pre-pandemic “containment strategy” for potential African migrants.
The second challenge is the thorny issue of legal pathways for migrants from Africa to Europe. For African policymakers, European destination countries are only interested in legalizing migration routes and rarely make it a priority. Visa facilitation, faster family reunification and increased labor migration have yet to materialize.
The creation of employment information centers along migration routes has not had a significant impact on people intending to travel to Europe through irregular routes. Only a limited number of people with the skills needed in European labor markets are likely to benefit from current legal migration pathways, as skills development and matching are not priorities for both implementation and development. funding. More than a decade after its declaration in the 2007 AU-EU Partnership, for many African policy makers and would-be African migrants, waiting for meaningful legal avenues sounds like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot That Never Happens.
In the Kigali Declaration, AU and EU leaders recognized the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on migration and mobility and pledged to work together to address its adverse effects on migration and mobility in general.
The Declaration affirms that migrant workers suffer the negative effects of layoffs or the loss of their business, particularly in the informal economy, while recognizing the essential role that migrants play in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, in particularly in essential services such as health care and agriculture/food supply.
The Kigali meeting also encouraged “better use of existing legal channels for migration with more tangible benefits for countries of origin, transit and destination”. In this regard, they identified common priorities, including the protection of migrants, exchange programs (for students, researchers, scholars and entrepreneurs), remittances and investments from the diaspora, and capacity building for research on migration governance.
Pathways for legal migration to Europe in the form of easier visas, faster family reunification and increased labor migration have yet to materialize, despite repeated promises from the EU.
For example, efforts by some EU Member States to establish employment information centers on migration routes to the EU have not had a significant impact on potential ‘irregular migrants’ who intend to travel to Europe through irregular routes. Strengthening the capacity to train the skilled African labor force that EU countries need means building training centres, which, in turn, requires significant resources.
The third challenge is that the EU continues to put all its eggs in one basket: border controls, return and readmission. There is a stark contrast between the huge and growing political and financial commitment of the EU to tackle irregular migration and return and the funding of reintegration and legal pathways.
By focusing on return and readmission, the AU-EU partnership has somehow undermined the feasibility of long-term return agreements with African countries. Insufficient reintegration assistance (mainly financial) is a factor in reluctance to return on the part of both migrants and the government.
Because migrants and their families have invested in migration and their families’ livelihoods depend on foreign remittances, African governments face intense opposition to the return of affected families.
If there are a large number of returnees and the resources available to integrate them into national society are insufficient, resistance is not limited to the public but also emanates from certain branches of government, especially those in charge of employment. and social protection. There have sometimes been protests from those who have called for more resources or even the need to cancel the agreement in question.
A more workable migration policy?
It can be easy to fall into pessimism, but there are five paths forward for AU-EU relations on migration and mobility.
First, the AU and EU must reset their current partnership on migration and mobility to avoid the arguably self-defeating urge of the EU to put all their migration eggs in one basket: return, readmission and reintegration. This diplomatic posture quickly makes the partnership controversial, counterproductive, ineffective and divisive in Africa and even in Europe. The AU and EU should have a frank dialogue on whether the current infrastructure to incentivize return, readmission and reintegration is adequate for migrants and governments to accept political and socio-economic risks. -economics associated with it.
Second, the Summit must generate the political will to respond to the long-standing demands of Africans for more opportunities for legal mobility and less burdensome visa regimes. The effective, widened and accelerated implementation of mobility schemes in the EU’s new pact on migration and asylum and its revised directive on the “blue card” for highly qualified workers requires political will from the from the EU.
Third, the Summit should insist on frank dialogue and mutual understanding, adequate funding and the implementation of overlapping priorities. Dialogue can help countries articulate their aspirations and concerns, as well as their limited capacities. In light of the complex challenges facing Africa, including the pandemic, waves of coups and civil wars in some countries, realistic expectations about the ability of African governments to deliver on their promises must be taken into account. account.
Fourth, the Summit should unequivocally reiterate that the principle of non-refoulement and the protection of the human rights of migrants remain the pillars of the partnership.
And last but not least, the Summit should mobilize all necessary resources to accelerate vaccination rates in Africa to eradicate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and facilitate the resumption and cancellation of travel restrictions.
Mehari Taddele Maru is currently a part-time professor at the Migration Policy Center and Academic Coordinator of the Young African Leaders Program at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Professor Mehari is also Senior Expert at the Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration and Fellow at the United Nations University Institute for Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), Bruges, Belgium. @DrMehari Professor Andrew Geddes is Professor of Migration Studies and Director of the Migration Policy Centre. @AndrewPGeddes