Wednesday, January 20, 2010

North Africa a Transit Region for International Migration

Copyright (C) Hein de Haas (2007), The Myth of Invasion

In the year 2009 the European continent saw a decrease of 17 percent in irregular border crossings from the Southern Mediterranean rim. This sharp drop of the immigration flow heading to the "privileged" shores of the European Union is caused by the EU's border control and externalisation policy against irregular immigration. In the consequence, the northern African states and Turkey are confronted with an increasing migration pressure which their authorities are unable to cope efficiently and according to international human rights rules.
The drop in the number of irregular migrants trying to enter the bloc in 2009 is partly caused by the global recession which had an effect on the motivation why people leave their country in order to start a better life elsewhere. Due to the economic downturn many migrants were less confident to find a job in the potential destination country and the costly crossing was further discouraging the emigration.

However, the main reason for the decreasing irregular immigration to Europe lies in the more repressive EU’s migration policy. Although the Member States’ economies are increasingly depended on migrant labor, the EU is today applying a strict policy on border and external relations. Immigration controls, measures for the detection and expulsion of irregular migrants, and other common procedures under both EU rules and the Schengen Treaty were implemented more comprehensibly in the last year. The external border security agency Frontex, which is operating since October 2005, contributed to the reduction of the number of would-be migrants in Europe by strengthening the sea patrols.

The key tools of the European externalisation policy are bilateral cooperation with non-EU countries of origin and transit which progressed over the last years to curb illegal migration in coastal areas and along land borders. The EU Member States demand in the bilateral and regional agreements with their neighbouring countries that restrictive immigration measures should be already implemented in the concerned transit countries before the migrants could reach EU mainland. The externalisation in the field of migration includes basically stronger border controls of coastal areas and land borders and the signing of readmission agreements to regulate the involuntary return of unauthorized migrants and refugees. Bilateral cooperation agreements are today the predominant strategy with the Southern Mediterranean states in the management of countering irregular immigration. Morocco and Spain have already joint naval patrols to catch boat migrants and there is a readmission treaty in place between the two counties that accepts the return of sub-Saharan boat migrants to Morocco. Italy signed a friendship Treaty with Libya in February 2009 which allows the Italian authorities to send migrant and potential asylum seekers back to the Libyan territorial waters. While these measures have some short-term effect for Europe there are crucial consequences for migrants and transit countries and the long-term effects of these policies are alarming.

Due to the increased border controls many migrants and refugees who fail to enter the European continent get stuck in transit countries in the EU’s neighbourhood. The numbers of sub-Saharan migrants have already overtaken North Africans as the largest category of irregular migrants intercepted by European border controls and in the North Africa states and Turkey the immigrant trend have lead to an emerging sub-Saharan community. According to Hein de Haas there are in Mauritania and Algeria more than 100,000 sub-Saharan migrants, l, 1 to 1.5 million in Libya, between 2.2 and 4 million Sudanese migrants in Egypt, and in Tunisia and Morocco several tens of thousands but this number is growing rapidly. Next to the growing numbers of immigrants who stay in the Southern Mediterranean Region in transition on their way to Europe or those who consider the North African countries as primary destination the region is facing with a huge number of mixed migration movements. The migration flow is diverse and composed of various sub-Sahara regions such as West Africa, the Horn of Africa or other countries affected by economic decline or civil wars such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Sudan. These migration flows are not only mixed in terms of diverse origin countries but also in terms of their migration type (e.g. labor migrants, asylum seekers and refugees). The North African states have been transforming during the 90s to mayor transit countries for migrants and refugees from other African countries and this new pattern of globalized migration is overtaking the traditional regional migration which has deep historical roots within the Mediterranean. (cf. Hein de Haas)

About 120,000 refugees from Africa are estimated who try to reach Europe via the Mediterranean each year. The North African States are not prepared to deal with this huge immigration inflow and they can not provide any suitable mechanism to deal with the composition of new immigrant populations. Therefore, all migrants are lumped together anyhow whether labor migrants, refugees or asylum seekers and considered as illegal. The conditions in the reception centres and detention centres are unfavorable. There are not policies in place which could facilitate their integration into the labor market and society but migrants are rather forced to leave the country and driven to other states in the region. There are not stable mechanism according to international human rights standards to deal with legal asylum claims and fair hearings and assessments of legal claims are often denied.