The EU emphasizes the mainstreaming of migration in development cooperation as a crucial issue to finding lasting solutions to irregular migration. The EU’s approach to the crisis focuses on supporting national and regional migration strategies and a ‘cash-for-cooperation’ conditionality strategy setting financial incentives to increase readmission of African migrants. But a considerable option for better migration management may be the promotion of an effective regional migration within the African continent in a development-friendly way. That would mean to establish or to strengthen migration regimes and institutions, which are capable of protecting migrants and enhancing the positive effects of migration like remittances or knowledge transfer.
The EU’s approach to the refugee and migration crisis
The persistent influx of irregular migrants, in the wake of the refugee crisis in the EU, has seemingly reinvigorated the need for strategic migration-focused policies in development cooperation. The launch of the EU Emergency Trust Fund, during the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration, was indicative of the fact that the clandestine migration of people from sub-Saharan Africa remained a major challenge to both the EU and source countries. More importantly, the European Council reckoned that migration was a shared responsibility and hence the need for partnership and cooperation with African countries in finding lasting solutions to the challenges of mutual interest. During the Valletta Summit political leaders identified five priority areas for cooperation: addressing the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement, promoting effective cooperation on legal migration and mobility, facilitating the protection of migrants and asylum seekers, combating irregular migration, smuggling and human trafficking, and lastly, enhancing cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration of migrants.
Prospects of Intra-Regional Migration in West Africa as a Major Source Area
As a major migrant sending area, West Africa accounts for a significant chunk of irregular migration into the EU. However, available evidence also suggests that a significant majority of migrants remain within the region. Indeed, the estimation is that 84% of movements are directed towards another country. Thus a common feature of mobility patterns within the region is a sustained intra-regional migration of people where countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal have become immigration, emigration and transit countries to other African states and the EU.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has reiterated the need for effective regional migration and economic integration as a means to facilitating poverty reduction and economic development within the sub-region. An important provision as captured in the ECOWAS protocol, emphasises the free movement of persons, goods and services amongst member states.
Despite the legally binding obligations that the 1979 ECOWAS Treaty has created for member states, the protocols are still fraught with daunting challenges of implementation. These challenges as exemplified inter aliaby strict border controls, discrimination, incompatible national migration policies, legal and labour codes, lack of political instability, and corruption have tended to undermine the effective implementation of the protocols.
What then could be the way forward for better migration management within ECOWAS as a major sending area? What policy options or strategies may be explored to effectively tackle the root causes of irregular migration?
Proposals for better migration management within ECOWAS
The EU has identified that an important aspect in addressing the root causes of irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa has to do with mainstreaming migration in development cooperation. This involves supporting African governments, regional bodies and the African Union in developing and strengthening national and regional migration strategies. Correspondingly, the 2017 theme of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (“Towards a Global Social Contract on Migration and Development”) points to not only the need to address and balance the interests of migrants and source countries, but also stresses on safe, regular and orderly migration.
A ‘cash-for-cooperation ’conditionality strategy with African countries mooted by the EU may seem laudable. Yet, a veritable window of opportunity for better migration management and development perhaps, lies in enhancing intra-regional migration and effective cooperation within the sub-region and with the EU. There is the need to focus more on promoting effective cooperation amongst African countries in finding lasting solutions to the factors that continue to sustain irregular migration.
If the underlying challenges affecting people are not tackled, any form of development cooperation or cash assistance may seem like swinging a pendulum only for it to come back to the same spot. Furthermore, the EU should support African countries and sub-regions to better manage regular migration within the African continent in a development-friendly way. That would mean to establish or to strengthen migration regimes and institutions, which are capable of protecting migrants and enhancing the positive effects of migration like remittances or knowledge transfer.
This may not be the answer to the Mediterranean migration crisis but it really could be an essential element.