Making Migration Work Again: Instead of Investing in Ineffective Deterrents, Can Policymakers Focus on Creating a Conducive Environment for Both Refugees and Economic Migrants to Travel across Borders Safely?

By Dzimwasha, Taku | African Business, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Making Migration Work Again: Instead of Investing in Ineffective Deterrents, Can Policymakers Focus on Creating a Conducive Environment for Both Refugees and Economic Migrants to Travel across Borders Safely?


Dzimwasha, Taku, African Business


At the end of May 2017, leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialised countries met in Taormina, Italy to discuss the globe's most pressing issues. The location of a Sicilian town whose rugged hilltops overlook the vast expanse of the Mediterranean Sea was significant since Italy, which will hold the G7S presidency until the end of the year, hoped to find consensus on preventing migrants, especially those from Africa, from risking their lives to reach Europe's shores.

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, who played host to G7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as European Union (EU) observers, proposed that the summit focus on discussing facilitating more regular and legal pathways for migration and curbing economic migration by investing in Africa.

A few African leaders, including Nigeria's Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, were also invited to the G7 summit.

But Gentiloni's proposition fell on deaf ears--literally in the case of US President Donald Trump, who did not bother to wear headphones to listen to the prime minister's translated comments--due to the UK, the US and Japan being unwilling to commit to any major new immigration initiatives.

Together, these three industrialised nations hosted about 1.5% of the total number of forcibly displaced people globally in 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In comparison, Uganda hosted 1.7% of the world's displaced people last year.

Instead of adopting Gentiloni's proposals, the G7 nations agreed to unspecific aims to support African economies, the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices and good governance in African countries.

The discord within the G7 about how to tackle the issue is also mirrored in the EU, where some members want to find more legal pathways for migrants to travel and others want a complete halt to migration.

The lack of a coherent strategy to provide more legal avenues for migration continues to push those seeking refuge to travel irregularly, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and injury, according to Hannah Postei, research associate at Washington-based Center for Global Development.

"There really haven't been any new legal channels for migrants to travel and some European countries, such as Hungary, are turning away asylum seekers, which has led to people travelling on the black market and hiring smugglers and facing difficult conditions to arrive at their final destination," she says. "So we see it more as a migration policy crisis rather than a migration crisis per se because when you look at the EU migrant population now, then the numbers are quite small in terms of migrants per capita."

Europe's inability to accommodate the current influx of people fleeing violence is because of a failure of policies and institutions, not because of unprecedented numbers, Postei adds.

According to data from the UN's migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 73,189 migrants and refugees arrived on European shores via the sea in the first six months of 2017, down from 211,433 people over the same period last year. While the number of people arriving via sea has declined significantly, deaths over the same period still remain relatively high.

Most of the migrants travelling via the sea are from Africa, with the main countries of origin being Nigeria, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia and Senegal.

The surge of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea, which peaked last year, is the result of a complex mix of reasons including the security vacuum left by the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, poverty, human rights abuses and deteriorating security, according to William Lacy Swing, director general of the IOM. …

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