YPFP at EurActiv

Two 20-foot tall fences topped with barbed wire and 1,100 police separate the city of Ceuta, Spain and Morocco, but instead of deterring migration from sub-Saharan Africa, the wall has become an increasingly popular crossing point into Europe. Spain’s wall should be a lesson to European Union (EU) leaders: raising barriers to reduce immigration won’t work. However, EU immigration policies are attempting to do just that, paying little attention to the economic conditions that force millions of young Africans to leave in the first place.


The EU can’t isolate African countries through policy or physical barriers. Instead, the conversation around reducing migration needs a fundamental shift away from establishing barriers and towards creating opportunities for the future. The first step is to put African markets and economies at the center of policy debates around migration.


The burden of illegal immigration from Africa may fall predominately on European countries such as Italy and Spain, but the political and economic dynamics currently playing out across the Mediterranean have global impact. Europe must pay attention to these issues because it will not be immune to the governance and development challenges facing many African countries. We have already seen evidence of this with the rise of extremist groups linked to the Islamic State in the Sahel and the recent outbreaks of Ebola across the region. Attempting to seal away the political and economic problems that drive illegal immigration is not a viable solution.


Migration is a symptom of the need for a better life while having no options at hand and no hope for change. Nigeria now has the largest population living in extreme poverty in the world, driven in part by an economy that struggles to keep pace with the needs of a booming youth population and rapid urbanization, and the story is similar for many countries across the continent. When young people turn to cities seeking relief from poverty, they are frequently met with high costs of living and unemployment instead of the hope for opportunities. Unless this situation is improved, Europe will remain the locus of hope for many young Africans, and illegal immigration will continue.


The EU’s haphazard search for solutions to the threat of migration does little to look beyond establishing policy barriers. Suggested proposals include paying North African countries to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, similar to the $3 billion deal made with Turkey in 2016 which led to a spike in migration along more dangerous routes, and returning migrants to Africa. The current longer-term approach is the €4.1 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. While billed as a way to address the root causes of migration, the fund has not provided aid proportionally to countries with the greatest outflow of migrants and is increasingly focused on boarder security. In 2018, funding for internal security increased to equal to funding for asylum, migration, and integration.


Additionally, the burden of implementing EU policies around immigration often falls to African countries that have fewer resources to address the problem. This dynamic played out over the summer when the European Commission suggested African countries host migrant reception centers ‒ a proposal Tunisia strongly rejected, citing a lack of resources, and that no other country has accepted.


Programs and policies like these may help mitigate the current crisis, but they do little to improve the environment for business or create the widespread economic opportunity needed to encourage young people to commit to building their lives at home instead of looking abroad.


There is a need for long-term, investment and economic reform that can help finance a future for Africans in Africa. One bright spot in this respect is the EU’s plan to revamp its partnership with African countries through trade. The Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs aims to incentivize European businesses to invest in Africa. Despite the lack of funding, and the lack of a guarantee that European companies will take advantage of the opportunity, it’s a promising change in the EU’s attitude towards Africa that emphasizes opportunities for both regions to benefit.


If the new Alliance is to have an impact on reducing immigration, investors and African governments must pay attention to how communities can benefit. Investment does not directly translate to improved livelihoods. There must be an emphasis on how small businesses in Africa can participate in international supply chains. A market-based approach to job creation sustainably creates jobs for people who might otherwise choose to migrate, without relying upon funding from the EU for support.


It is not possible to ignore African economies and solve the migration crisis. The pressure to reduce the influx of migrants from Africa to Europe requires immediate action, but when debating these short-term choices it is essential to not forget the bigger picture. Many of the people attempting to enter Europe are hoping to have better opportunities, and they are willing to risk the security of their families and friends to pursue them. When this is the case, it is hard to imagine that tightening border security or providing additional warnings will make a difference. To work towards a sustainable solution, the EU and African governments must keep livelihoods, and policies that improve them, in focus.


Hanna Wetters is YPFP’s Africa Fellow. She also a Program Coordinator at the Center for International Private Enterprise, where she specializes in business advocacy and entrepreneurship and works with business membership organizations across sub-Saharan Africa. She received her B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Michigan.


Photo Caption: Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne (P31) rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton. (Irish Defense Forces via Flickr).

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