Migration as a force for development in the AU-EU partnership: A Civil Society Perspective

Migration is a multifaceted phenomenon and an expected part of human behaviour. In her article, Lucy Esipila, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Caritas Africa, describes the development potential of migration in economic development and partnerships and explains how a people-centred approach in migration management can be implemented.

The decision by an individual to migrate can be inforced by push factors such as war, or climate disasters. For instance, a BBC report highlighted that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia caused 5.2 million people to flee to neighbouring countries. Pull factors in migration include the search for employment or education opportunities. Despite its potential contribution to development, policy discussions tend to problematise migration between Africa and Europe. This is the reason migrants are seen as a burden or threat to the country of destination. The arrival of immigrants and asylum seekers is perceived to threaten order and predictability; and the resultant narrative of fear has led to the increased securitisation of migration.

To address this challenge, the heads of state and government of the African Union and European Union have underscored, as part of a  a new joint strategy, that migration governance should be balanced, reciprocal, coherent and comprehensive. For reciprocity to occur, there is a need to harmonise EU Migration Policies and African’s aspiration on migration.

Migration and Trade Interface

In his address to the European Parliament in 2021, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana asked European leaders to stop investing in initiatives that discourage movement from Africa to Europe. He instead called for strengthening African economies in order for Africans to benefit from economic opportunities in their home countries.

In an effort to drive economic growth and development, African leaders have identified regional economic integration as an important driver. The recently adopted Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is keen to follow a linear model of integration through the setting up of a customs union, creating a single market, adopting a monetary union to facilitate freedom of cross border payments and lastly establishing a political union. This model has arguably been very successful in the European Union. Therefore, the African Union, aims to replicate what has worked well in Europe, making use of its Regional Economic Communities as building blocks.

In its Regional Integration Report, the African Union proposes that the realisation of free movement of Goods, Services, Capital and People will lead to the attainment of the aspirations of the African Economic community. In Europe for instance, citizens by and large enjoy rights to free movement of labour, goods and services in the Schengen area and through the Euro zone. This is not the case in Africa. Despite efforts to integrate the continent, travelling within the continent remains a challenge. The policies already in place to achieve this are further challenged by the European migration policy. Niger, for instance, which borders Libya, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, is a recipient of EU funds to strengthen stricter border management and as a resultcurtail irregular migration to Europe. Yet, Article 12 of the Abuja treaty aims to promote free movement within the continent. It may be argued that EU migration policies have unintended consequences such as restricting movement of people in border communities, especially within the Sahelian countries. Free movement of persons is a prerequisite for the realisation of the benefits of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and other regional integration initiatives.  Additionally, to facilitate effective trade between Africa and Europe the free movement of goods, labour and services in both continents must be ensured.

Africa and Europe Diaspora Engagement

In 2021, the Central Bank of Kenya conducted a diaspora remittance survey revealing that Kenyans in the diaspora had sent home 3,718 million USD. In relation to this, a World Bank Report disputed claims that diaspora remittances are only used to finance subsistence needs. Contrary to these claims, it was established by the World Bank that once subsistence needs have been met, migrants channel funds towards investments in agriculture, real estate, education and other small-scale enterprises. This claim is supported by the UN Secretary General report (A/76/642) that highlighted the successes of the MeetAfrica Initiative which encourages Africans in France and Germany to invest in their countries of nationality. These examples are illustrative of the development potential of migration in economic development and partnerships.

Contributions by Civil Society

Research evidence reveals that people living in poverty are more often than not forced to migrate to a nearby neighbouring country, or remain in their countries of nationality because they lack the financial capacities to cross over to other continents via regular or irregular channels. Besides shaping policy debates on migration, civil societies play an important role in working with Local Authorities to support forcibly displaced persons. For example, to address the effects of unemployment among refugees, Caritas Zambia as a local charity organisation supports forcibly displaced children and youth at the Mantapala Refugee Settlement through training the refugees on alternative income generating activities. They are further encouraged to participate in Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) to generate interest from savings and to access short-term loans for their businesses.

Civil Society organisations call for a people-centred approach in migration management. This will be achieved through paying increased attention to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and the war in Ukraine. These recent challenges demonstrate that individuals and change makers should not be fixated on race, religion, ethnicity, nationalism and other identity-based concerns when linking migration and security. They should instead focus on tapping into the development potential of migration. This may be drawn from: international trade, the diversity of skills that migrants bring to the countries of destination, brain gain and diaspora engagement. Now more than ever, actors need to engage in deliberate efforts to organise migration in the international political economy.