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Anti-migration policy

European countries use various strategies to curb migration from Africa. However, they are being criticised by African governments including Uganda’s, which takes in a large share of refugees worldwide. Simone Schlindwein and Christian Jakob describe these developments in their recently published book.
Erute refugee camp in Lira, Uganda. The tents were donated by Uganda Red Cross Society . Ton Koene/Lineair Erute refugee camp in Lira, Uganda. The tents were donated by Uganda Red Cross Society .

The authors stress that, contrary to media reports, migration from Africa to Europe is relatively small in numbers. In 2016, only 181,000 Africans made the dangerous attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. However, since the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, European politicians have been stoking fears that their number may rise rapidly in the next years and decades. The journalists Schlindwein and Jakob are highly critical of the current Africa policy of European countries.

According to the authors, Europe and especially Germany are still trying to shape the continent according to their interests – decades after giving up the last colonies. The two journalists contend that the policies are anti-migration and implemented using questionable means, often in the disguise of development cooperation. To curb migration, the EU cooperates with authoritarian regimes of countries like Eritrea or Sudan and demands increased “border security” between African countries. The latter is supposed to hinder migrants from making their way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Schlindwein and Jakob use the example of West Africa to show how EU support has helped to form increasingly sophisticated border posts between countries that hamper intra-African travel. African states cooperate with the EU either out of economic dependency or because of mounting fears of terrorism Which result in calls for increased security and better border control in African societies.

However, the journalists assert that migration in Africa is nothing new. Different reasons ranging from destitution to a thirst for adventure to have always made people leave their homes, temporarily or permanently, in order to live and work elsewhere. Usually, they will try their luck in neighbouring countries. The greatest number of migrants in Africa currently move from Burkina Faso to the neighbouring Ivory Coast.

The co-authors point out, moreover, that the African Union is planning visa exemption within Africa until 2018. Especially considering the long tradition of migration, African leaders have little understanding for the “Fortress Europe”. Despite their economic dependency, many African countries draw “red lines”, as Schlindwein and Jakob show.

The EU-Laissez-Passers are one measure that has universally been rejected by African governments so far. The EU wants to issue such documents when people do not carry valid passports. This would make deportations easier for the EU, since they are not possible without some kind of ID. For African countries, however, such measures would infringe on their sovereignty.

Additionally, many countries are critical of readmission agreements with the EU, according to the authors. With the exception of Cape Verde, no country in Africa has signed an agreement. Readmission agreements are supposed to ensure that rejected asylum seekers can be sent back to their home country without complications. However, African states demand visa facilitation so that at least a few migrant workers may be able to enter Europe legally, according to Schlindwein and Jakob. The EU has so far rejected that demand.

Uganda is a positive example, according to the authors. Its government refuses to close its borders to refugees. The East African country has taken in 1.3 million refugees. Many members of the ruling elite, including President Yoweri Museveni, have grown up in refugee camps themselves. Museveni criticises EU refugee policy and proves himself as a stalwart of social inclusion; in Uganda, refugees are allowed to settle permanently and to start working right away.

Jakob, C., and Schlindwein, S., 2017: Diktatoren als Türsteher Europas. Wie die EU ihre Grenzen nach Afrika verlagert. Berlin, Ch. Links Verlag. (only available in German)

Taz project: Migration control.

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