Europe has been losing its war on illegal immigration. According to various EU estimates, around half a million illegal immigrants still enter the European Union annually, even after years of measures that have included policing, detention, and repatriation. To achieve widespread and lasting change, the European Union must address the reasons why many illegal immigrants leave their homes in Africa for what they perceive as a better life in Europe. In recent talks with their counterparts from African nations, EU ministers have now offered substantial development aid as part of a package to curb illegal immigration. Though the intention of their plan is fundamentally correct, several aspects of the plan, if not addressed soon, may stand in the way of curbing Europe's illegal immigration problem.
In July 2006, EU Ministers and African leaders met at the Ministerial Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development held in Rabat, Morocco. European ministers adopted an action plan that included development aid, to dissuade illegal migrants who wanted to leave Africa. The European Union pledged 18 billion euros (approximately US$23 billion) to African source and transit countries over a seven-year period. This money will be used to institute development and poverty-alleviation measures. The ministers also discussed creating avenues for legal migration.
Some approaches such as stemming illegal inflow by humane methods of policing, judicial cooperation, and assistance for illegal migrants, were discussed anew with a view toward greater intercontinental cooperation. At the time this article went to press, no recommendation of the conference was yet binding. The 30 participating African countries, among them leading source countries like Senegal and transit countries like Mauritania, must now study the action plan and adopt a common position. Hopefully, African nations will adopt and enforce the bulk of the conference recommendations since they took part in its formulation.
Despite the potential of the conference's action plan to remedy the perennial problem of illegal immigration, three key issues threaten to undermine its success if not they are not resolved. First, the conference did not adequately address the underlying economic factors that drive migration from impoverished source countries. Even though the development package offered by Europe is significant, it pales in comparison to the US$17 billion per annum remittances from Africans working abroad that poured into Africa from 2000 to 2003 alone. For most of these source countries, remittances are the most important supply of income--surpassing foreign direct investments--according to a report released by the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa in 2005. …