Anthropologist and author of "Illegality, Inc." Ruben Andersson of the London School of Economics warns that European Union initiatives to collaborate with African states may fuel irregular migration rather than stem it.
In 2010, on the eve of the Arab spring, the time had come for the big
yearly gathering at Europe’s borders as police, Navy officers and
border guards congregated in a swish hotel in Las Palmas de Gran
Canaria. Eighty-nine security chiefs from 25 countries mingled in the
fifth Euro-African policing conference
on irregular migration. In the breaks, African marines sipped tea with
Spanish civil guards on the hotel terrace while Algerian and Greek
officers snapped pictures of each other as souvenirs. As journalists and
border guards streamed back into the halls, the director of Spain’s
security forces assured his audience that the fight against the
“scourge” of irregular migration was proceeding apace thanks to “the
collaboration between all the institutions represented here”. His speech
was strident; the battle for Europe’s borders was being won.
Memories of the triumphalism of 2010 came back to me amid the past
months’ drip-drip of news on Europe’s scramble to deal with the latest
“migration crisis” in the Med. Instead of investing in more rescues
and establishing legal routes into Europe, politicians are now calling
for more “collaboration” with African states to halt flows at source or
in transit. Refugee reception centres on African soil, naval patrols by
North African states and political deals to curtail human smuggling are some of the options on the table as the Union builds towards the May launch of its “agenda on migration”.
Yet there is one fundamental problem with these varied bids for more
African cooperation: they have been tried numerous times already. Worse,
they have repeatedly failed, despite the bright and shiny view from
migration policing HQ during those distant days of springtime 2010.
Regardless of which of the rumoured African cooperation initiatives come to fruition – and going by earlier failures,
few will – they all share some common traits. The idea is to outsource
tough policing while heaping risks and responsibilities onto African
countries, all under the guise of a humanitarian concern for the
wellbeing of migrants. The experts on such outsourcing have long been
the Spaniards, hosts of the Canaries border guard bonanza. As one
Spanish civil guard told me in those heady days of 2010, explaining the
logic behind patrols along West African coasts: “You have to prevent
them leaving, you can’t wait for them to arrive… That way you save many
“Collaborations” of the kind touted in Las Palmas have so far simply
exported the idea of migration as a security problem to Europe’s
neighbouring states, from Senegal in the west to Turkey in the east.
This export has come with a hefty pile of gifts
for those willing to play their part in the “fight against irregular
migration” from policing equipment and top-up pay to repurposed
development aid and diplomatic concessions.
As European politicians sign secretive deals with African
governments, a border business has grown in Europe’s backyards – and the
perverse incentives generated by this business have in turn helped
contribute to precisely the type of crisis we now see in the Med.
Well aware of Europe’s anxieties over the statistically small flows
of sub-Saharan migrants and refugees into the Union, North African
states in particular have in the past decade squeezed substantial
political capital out of deepening border cooperation. Morocco has
perfected the art of using its newfound status as “transit state” to
extract concessions in fields as varied as fishing rights, aid,
acquiescence over occupied Western Sahara and even some selective mobility
for its own citizens. In Libya, long an important destination for
African workers, Gaddafi used migrants as a bargaining chip even as NATO
bombs started to fall. That legacy has been continued by militias and
security forces, which have increasingly treated African migrants as fair game for extortions, beatings and arbitrary detentions. Further south, in similarly migration-dependent Mauritania,
cooperation with Spain has brought arbitrary raids, detentions and
deportations. And in Algeria, migrants have been serially expelled and
robbed at gunpoint: deportees I met in Mali and Morocco alike told me
how Algerian soldiers had stolen their cash and mobiles, leaving only
their SIM cards as they were bundled into cattle carriages rumbling
through the Sahara.
The rare “success stories” – especially Spanish operations along West
African coasts – come not just at the cost of migrants’ rights, but
also simply displace routes into more dangerous areas. Meanwhile,
migrants arriving in North Africa are becoming a valuable commodity not
just to smugglers preying on a captive client base, but also to police
and politicians. All this makes life increasingly impossible for black
foreigners, who desperately start scrambling for an exit. It is a
vicious cycle that has to be broken.
Instead of fuelling this trade in human misery, European politicians
should be doing the opposite – minimising rather than inflating gains
from the border business. This would mean encouraging the normalisation
of mobility, for instance via more legal pathways into Europe and via
of irregular migration in North Africa. It would mean offering more
substantial support to the world’s top refugee-hosting nations –
countries such as Turkey and Lebanon
– as well as grappling seriously with the chaos in Libya and Syria. And
it would mean reframing migration not as a security problem in need of
more policing cooperation but as an inevitable socio-economic force that
can yield substantial benefits to Europe as well as its neighbours.
Plenty of political courage is needed to dismantle the policies and
collaborations that have so far contributed to making the migration
crisis a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimists may take heart that there
seems to be some political will for such a change among “partner”
states, not least Morocco.
Yet the border amnesia in European political circles – not to mention
the onward march of the far right – means there is sadly little chance
of a rethink as leaders gear up to meet this May on the EU migration
agenda. Rather, expect more warm words on deepening policing
collaboration with African states, in a faint echo of the Spanish
security chief’s strident assurances during those seemingly distant days
on Las Palmas.
Migration by humans has been a fact of life throughout their evolution. At this stage of humanity we should be informed enough to look at the cause of this particular era's happenings - both the reasons for such numbers of would-be migrants and the attempts to stop them by the destination countries. Conventional politics represents the capitalist system. 'Political courage', if that means having the will to 'dismantle the policies and collaborations' currently being employed, is unlikely to show itself in any meaningful way to those individuals desperate to move abroad. Each individual nation is struggling with the effects of the failures of capitalism for large percentages of their population and by necessity spend time and energy spinning information to their citizens feeding them fuel to keep the various factions divided and antagonistic towards the perceived economic invaders.
World socialism is a vision of the 'one world' principle - we have one world and that is to be shared between us all. A world of common ownership with free movement for all. The underlying problem to be eliminated is not migration but capitalism.
Commentary and analysis to persuade people to become socialist and to act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about a world of common ownership and free access. We are solely concerned with building a movement of socialists for socialism. We are not reformists with a programme of policies to patch up capitalism.
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
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- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Migration: The Problem Is Capitalism
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