14 October 2019

Africa and Europe – A difficult, but necessary dialogue about migrants

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

As the warm season returned, the problem of migration has also come back to the attention of politicians in southern EU member states, but also the EU’s leadership structures. Receiving and distributing immigrants between member states continues to be a serious problem, as besides the fight for convening on a common stance, EU states will have to find new and more efficient means to communicate about these processes, to inform the population better and faster and, not least, counter fake or alarmist news more forcefully. In the meantime, after they supported the UN’s “Global Pact for Migration and Refugees”, nine European states withdrew from this agreement.

Image source: Mediafax

The EU supported the pact… and then abandoned it

While in Africa the 2018 political year ended in an optimistic pitch dominated by the finished draft of the Global Draft for Migration and Refugees, a document which regulates the process of migration at a global level, the end of the calendar year was rather somber in Europe. In the second part of 2018, nine European states withdrew their support for the document, whose text was negotiated between April 2017 and July 2018 and finalized in July 2018.

This “strategy” adopted by some EU member states had a negative impact both on them and the entire EU space, mostly regarding credibility in the international structures. More than that, this attitude proved that the EU’s current negotiation procedures of such agreements – technical coordination, negotiation rounds, political debates, the agreement’s signing – is not feasible anymore. This need for change is generated, firstly, by the desire for some rapid political gains which can greatly influence, even at the last second, some long-term negotiations which required numerous mediation rounds to find a common denominator between the sides. As summer is only halfway through, and the migrant wave is placing a growing a pressure on states at the EU’s southern border, we will continue to witness some political processes in Europe where, inevitable, the divergent stances of member states will continue to manifest.

Fake news stirs up panic among the population…

“All the African migrants want to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe”. A report which was “thrown away” in the informational flux and massively redistributed through mass-media channels and social networks. Accordingly, a large number of European citizens consider this report to be true. But is this actually the reality?

The “liberalization” of human trafficking in Libya allowed the members of these networks, but also of armed groups in the country to become international, facilitating illegal movement across borders not only on the African continent, but beyond its borders. An xchange.org report shows that Libya is one of the main hubs for the African migrants’ courses to Europe, with the cities of Sabratha, Zawiya and the capital Tripoli serving as starting points in the journey towards the European continent. Other starting points are situated in some cities on the coasts of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. Another continental hub is Niger, more specifically the city of Agadez, from where the migrants are led towards Libya.

A different report from the same organization, published this year, points out that, before their journeys started, 44% of interviewed migrants expressed their intent to stay in Africa (Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Niger), 43% intended to go to a European country, 11% stated that they would go anywhere that could offer them safety and 1% wanted to reach the US. One of four migrants (24%) tried to cross the Mediterranean at least once, but failed. Of these, only 29.9% are willing to make a second attempt at a new journey towards a “better world”.

The same report mentions that most respondents stated that they left their countries of origin in order to escape poverty, war and terrorist attacks, as well as due to the impossibility of finding a job or an educational opportunity. Another 8% stated that they “wanted to achieve their dreams”, such as becoming football players. Another 5% said that they “wanted to try the journey”, while 1% said that they want to join families who have already immigrated or due to political persecution.

As a conclusion, we can state that the rumor according to which “all African migrants want to cross the Mediterranean and join Europe” is false.

… while the migrant wave is decreasing

According to the World Migration Organization, between January and July, the number of immigrants in Europe dropped by 35% when compared to the similar period last year. Therefore, since the beginning of 2019 and up to July 23, 47,563 migrants arrived in Europe, of which 39,540 on sea and 8,023 on land.

The most affected states are Greece (22,032 migrants) and Spain (15,457), followed by Italy (3,552) and Malta (1,474). The difference up to 47,563 is split between Bulgaria, Romania and states in the Western Balkans.

At the same time, during the same period of reference, the number of migrants deceased on the sea has decreased by approximately 55% (from 1,517 to 686) compared with the similar period of last year. Out of these, 426 lost their lives on the central Mediterranean rout, 206 on the western one and 54 on the eastern one.

At the end of May, approximately 13,300 migrants and refugees were residents of refugee centers in Western Balkans countries, while more than 68,700 immigrants were hosted in Greece, and another 112,906 in Italy.

Returning to politics … the priorities also remain … divergent

The frequently contradictory dynamic between EU policy and that of its member states continues to affect the lives of migrants who want to reach union space, but also of the fragile states in the Western Balkans. Political divergencies, a rise in nationalist and populist sentiment, the ad-hoc solution to receive and distribute migrants and refugees arriving via the Mediterranean also continue this year. The attempts in 2018 to find acceptable compromises to reform the Dublin II principle (which assigns responsibilities, appreciated as being unjust, to the EU member states at its foreign borders) have failed. It seems that there is no clear solution on the strategy to follow and this will probably not change soon. Finding an operational and fair system to distribute the responsibility for migrants and refugees will remain one of the most difficult priorities for the EU in 2019.

On July 19, 2019, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini stated on his Facebook page that “the decisions (regarding measures on how to manage the migrant problem, ed.) are not taken only in Paris or Berlin. Enough! Italy is not willing to accept all the immigrants coming to Europe anymore”. The Italian deputy prime minister’s message was issued as EU interior ministers, who met in Helsinki in mid-July, did not manage to reach a consensus on the “solidarity mechanism” regarding the distribution of asylum seekers who arrive on the shores of the EU. Salvini, who is also the country’s interior minister, refused to attend the meeting.

One week later, at the request of the Italian PM, an Italian Coast Guard ship transporting 135 migrants saved in the Mediterranean was allowed entry into a Sicilian port, but without unloading the saved individuals until the EU will decide on their distribution among member states. On July 29, Salvini decided to allow the unloading of minors from the ship.


Despite the continuous European debates on migration, we consider that talks should also be oriented towards means of “encouraging” real and equal partnerships with African countries. More specifically, improving the dialogue with African partners on long-term development and increasing opportunities for the youth. Some EU member states seem to have already adopted this strategy. The ministerial 5+5 format meeting in Malta at the beginning of this year, Salvini’s current ideas to draft a development plan for (or with?) Africa beyond migration and relief systems are some of the examples which can be provided in this regard.

Despite all this, the accent placed on developing Africa, while also offering a series of opportunities, is not altruistic. The deeper involvement of the EU in Africa could ensure increased security for its member states, as a result of a decrease in migration and putting out the hot spots of instability, as well as an opportunity for investments (although China and Russia are … again … potential competitors) and recruiting the local workforce.

This type of approach is winning over more and more adepts and is in consensus with the idea of the European project’s founders, that “Europe’s destiny is tied closely with that of Africa”.

Translated by Ionut Preda