Will addressing root causes of displacement stem irregular migration from Africa?

Will addressing root causes of displacement stem irregular migration from Africa?

European Commission recently launched a much publicized fund aimed at addressing root causes of irregular migration in Africa. The Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa is meant to be the magic that will hopefully keep desperate would-be migrants from taking the dangerous journey to Europe.

On the face of it, the fund is definitely a worthy cause as six out of the top ten refugee producing countries in the world in 2014 were from the African continent. However, it is clear that the fund is also a self-serving tool for the European Commission. It is stipulated that the range of countries to benefit encompass the major migration routes to Europe. On the contrary, I think the fund should aim at assisting all states that are likely to become producers of forced migrants.

For example, two countries namely Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are currently experiencing conflict and yet they are not in the list. There are of course fewer migrants from the said countries (Burundi and DRC) making their way to Europe than from say Eritrea, which is on that list. However, for as long as there are conditions that lead to forced displacement in any one country, irregular migration will always occur, and new routes out will be devised.

The Commission has chosen strategies that will address a whole range of issues considered internal root causes of displacement in selected countries such as poor governance, unemployment, poverty and conflict. Curiously, there is no mention of external causes of displacement and more specifically arms trade, as is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More emphasis is also put on migration control and regulation, which is more like dealing with the consequences rather than the root causes. However, in order address migration issues properly, those charged with strategy implementation need to make a distinction between refugee flows and irregular migration as more often than not, the two are mixed up due to the common routes used by both to get to their destination.  The two groups need to be distinguished in order to protect the right to claim asylum for conventional refugees as defined under international law.

Significant results are likely to be realized if the identified strategies are implemented in a certain order and incrementally, one building on the success of the other. For instance, in the Horn of Africa, the first priority should be the promotion of good governance and rule of law.  These will determine the success of the poverty reduction and employment creation strategies in the different countries.

For purposes of illustration, autocracy, forced military conscription and lack of rule of law are the main drivers of mass migration from Eritrea, a country that has ranked second to Syria in refugee numbers. In June 2015, it was reported that there were about 444,091 Eritrean refugees in Europe. If rule of law and democracy are not enforced in the country, Eritreans will continue leaving the country in droves heading for the Mediterranean and Europe.

Similarly, transit countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan pose a different set of challenges, as they also have large numbers of their own nationals migrating irregularly, more or less for reasons similar to Eritrea’s. As a result, secondary migration has become common creating a ready market for traffickers and human smugglers.

It is important that the Commission has planned to address terrorism and radicalization. The phenomenon of terror groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab has contributed a lot to the mess that is forced displacement in West Africa and Somalia. Statistics from UNHCR show that over 220,000 people have fled North East Nigeria to neighbouring countries since 2013 due to attacks from the Boko Haram terror group, with another 2.2 million becoming internally displaced.

It is clear that terrorism is directly linked to the increase in the number of refugees both in the African continent and Europe. And according to the Institute of Economics and Peace, 88% of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries that were experiencing or involved in violent conflicts. This holds true for most African countries that are now hardest hit by terrorism.

Therefore, commitment to the ideals of good governance, rule of law, and human rights from countries set to benefit from the Emergency Trust Fund should be the goal of the Commission as it starts the implementation process. It is a tall order indeed, but this is what would hold the greatest promise in checking large-scale migration out of the continent.

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