Listen up policymakers: Africa is not coming to Europe
Why do people from Africa move and where do they go? The answers – which are as varied, complex and multi-layered as the continent itself – can seem ‘obvious’ to those who live the experience or work in the field. Yet the perception of migration from – and within – Africa remains stubbornly disconnected from reality.
What should be done to change this distorted, often toxic, narrative once and for all? How can policymakers ensure that Europe’s migration policies are based on facts, rather than false, politically-convenient assumptions? After taking a minute’s silence to honour the countless people who have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean in recent years, participants at Friends of Europe’s 5 December Policy Insight ‘African perspectives: holding a mirror up to Europe’s migration policies’ grasped the challenge through an interactive discussion that also included live video links from across Europe.
“As a starting point we need to get away from this idea that Africa is coming to Europe,” said Heaven Crawley, Chair in International Migration at Coventry University, who carried out a major piece of research on the experiences of people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015.
“The vast majority of migration that happens in Africa stays within Africa,” she said.
The disconnect between political rhetoric and people’s real experiences is such that EU policies and the debate around them has “more to do with the symbolism of what migration represents” than the clear evidence before us, she said, adding: “Instead of evidence-based policymaking we now have policy-based evidence-making.”
“[Europe has] got it all wrong, this feeling that all Africa is coming to Europe,” said Issiaka Konaté, Director-General of Ivorians Abroad in Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of African Integration and Ivorians Abroad. “It’s very important that we keep repeating this until it is taken into consideration,” he said.
Mbakeh Camara, Head of University Relations and Innovation at the University of the Gambia and Founder of Be Inspired Internationally, and Natasha Kimani, Head of Programmes at Well Told Story, both emphasised that those Africans who do seek opportunities outside their country of origin were as entitled to do so as anyone else.
To change the narrative, Kimani suggested a bottom-up approach which focuses on behavioural change. “It begins when people are young,” she said. “The best time to begin with behavioural change is between 13 and 24-years-old. We should change the conversations towards agency – that people are migrating for agency. For opportunity.”
“I really think we need to change our perceptions. Think of Africa as an opportunity – a potential – and not a beneficiary of our largesse,” agreed Friends of Europe’s Director of Europe & Geopolitics Shada Islam.
In a follow-up discussion on policy, Kenneth Johannesson, a member of the Access to services for Migrants with Disabilities (AmiD) project’s Community Advisory Board and Councillor in Sweden’s Värmland region, highlighted that much can be achieved at local and regional levels.
Although at the national level, populist leaders and increasingly negative public opinion can make compromise difficult, Johannesson noted that “in the meantime, we have the human rights, we have the legislation, we have the decisions we can work with at a regional level – which means we can improve the way we are doing things.”
Among the recommendations to come from the debate were to: use data and evidence to build policies around the real picture of movement; design interventions aimed at improving lives at journey points other than Europe’s borders; provide more legal routes for migrants; cease collaborating with oppressive regimes to ‘stop migration’; engage with younger people in Europe and Africa to re-set the narrative and tackle xenophobia; and better amplify the growing positive actions being seen at grassroots level.
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While fear-mongering headlines warn of mass African migration to Europe, the reality on the ground tells a different story. In 2017, there were 36.3 million African migrants – around 14% of the global migrant population at the time. But these numbers conceal a more complicated picture. Most Africans move within Africa – less than a quarter travel to Europe and most who do so travel legally. With its aging population, it might be imagined that Europe would embrace this migration from Africa, welcoming these motivated future citizens, employees and neighbours with open arms. Despite this, damaging xenophobic narratives have moved into the mainstream, and European policies continue to centre around strengthening borders and stopping migration. This debate will look to African perspectives on migration, aiming to offer recommendations for overcoming the gap between migration policies and realities.
This Policy Insight is part of Friends of Europe’s Migration Action programme, which aims to examine the imperative of migration in the context of economic sustainability and demographics, as well as its impact on public services, communities and security.
- “Europe’s migration challenge: from integration to inclusion” by Shada Islam, Amanda Rohde and Gerard Huerta
- “Europe’s shame: criminalising Mediterranean search and rescue missions” by Inma Vazquez
- Friends of Europe event report “Africa transforming”
PHOTO CREDIT: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet
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Unravelling Europe’s ‘migration crisis’: journeys over land and sea draws on the first-hand accounts of 500 people who arrived to Europe’s shores in 2015, challenging policymakers to rethink their understanding of migration from Africa and the EU’s policy response. Four years after Europe’s so-called ‘migration crisis’, has anything really changed? This scene-setter provides a state of play and reflects on how the situation has evolved since the research was undertaken.
Chair in International Migration at Coventry University
Africans are on the move. While fear-mongering headlines warn of mass African migration to Europe, the reality on the ground tells a different story. In 2017, there were 36.3 million African migrants – around 14% of the global migrant population at the time. But these numbers conceal a more complicated picture. Most Africans move within Africa: less than a quarter travel to Europe and most who do so travel legally. African migrants are not all poor young men: many are young and educated with a roughly even split between men and women. They move in response to war and conflict but also for economic and educational reasons – seeking better livelihoods and the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and economic hardship. This session unpacks the reasons why people move and why, in the absence of legal routes, many feel that they have no alternative other than to risk their lives crossing the Sahara and Mediterranean to Europe.
- Why do people feel that they have no choice but to migrate ‘the back way’ to Europe – particularly when others are dying in the process?
- How is information about migration being shared among those who are considering migration to Europe?
- What would a new narrative on African migration look like?
Head of University Relations and Innovation at the University of the Gambia
Academy Fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, and Head of Partnerships and Programmes at Shujaaz.inc
Koffi de Lome Nyonator
Founder of African Lives Matter
Director of the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ICERAS)
Human Rights Lawyer at Wilson Solicitors
Managing Director at New Horizons Project
With its aging population, it might be imagined that Europe would embrace migration from Africa, welcoming these motivated future citizens, employees and neighbours with open arms. Newcomers contribute to the local economy, revitalise areas with declining populations, fill labour gaps and contribute to public finances. But despite the reality, damaging xenophobic narratives – formerly limited to populist and Far Right political parties – have moved into the mainstream. Meanwhile, European policies continue to centre around strengthening borders and stopping migration. This session examines the policy responses to migration from Africa focusing in particular on the importance of efforts to create educational and employment opportunities for young Africans in their countries of origin, reducing inequalities and creating safe and legal pathways for those who wish to take advantage of the opportunities offered through international migration.
- What kinds of policies (e.g. labour, education, trade) would be effective in supporting the education and employment aspirations of young Africans?
- How might migration policies better reflect the economic and social realities of migration rather than the political priorities of EU Member States?
- How can African and EU countries and institutions work together more effectively to ensure that the potential benefits of migration are realised?
Member of the Access to services for Migrants with Disabilities (AmiD) project’s Community Advisory Board and Councillor from the Region Värmland, Sweden
Head of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM)’s Migration Programme
Director-General of Ivorians Abroad at the Ministry of African Integration and Ivorians Abroad, Côte d'Ivoire
Managing Director at New Horizons Project
Before taking up his new role at the University of the Gambia, Mbakeh Camara built up experience in social enterprise across a variety of sectors. Prior to moving to the UK for postgraduate study, he set up ‘Be Inspired Internationally’ – a youth empowerment initiative aimed at discouraging young people from undertaking the dangerous passage to Europe through Libya and the Mediterranean Sea by creating opportunities at home in the Gambia. More recently, he founded Wisdom Superfoods. Wisdom’s business model revolves around selling organic, fair trade, healthy food, sourced from low income communities in the Gambia, and returning the added value to those communities through the work of the Be Inspired Internationally charity.
Heaven Crawley leads Coventry University’s UKRI GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub (MIDEQ), a global consortium aiming to transform knowledge and understanding of the relationships between migration, inequality and development in the context of the Global South. Crawley has published extensively on a wide range of asylum and immigration issues including the drivers of migration and migrant decision-making, gender issues in forced migration, refugee and migrant rights, the experiences of children and young people on the move, attitudes towards migration and migrants, and the politics of migration policymaking. From 2015-18 her work focused primarily on the experiences of those crossing the Mediterranean during Europe’s so-called ‘migration crisis’ and the failures of politicians, policymakers and the media to accurately reflect and respond to evidence on its causes and consequences.
Koffi de Lome Nyonator founded African Lives Matter to highlight the issues faced by Africans that frequently go ignored in Europe, as well as to promote the empowerment of Africans around the globe. His current focus is on the slave trade practiced in parts of Libya, and he has organised demonstrations across the United Kingdom to bring attention to this issue. Nyonator advises a number of African governments, and is a passionate believer in a Pan-African approach to anti-imperialism.
During Swedish politician Kenneth Johannesson’s time as a regional representative to the Assembly of European Regions (AER), he has served as a Member of the Committee on Social Policy and Public Health, as well as of the Community Advisory Board of the Access to services for Migrants with Disabilities (AMiD) project. The latter aims to develop a Needs Assessment Tool to empower local actors to assess and support migrants and refugees with disabilities, potentially serving as the basis for a common EU approach to the issue. Prior to entering political life, Johannesson worked as a schoolteacher and headmaster.
Natasha Kimani is a lawyer with extensive experience in constitution implementation, devolution and public policy and governance in East Africa. She has developed and reviewed national and regional policies and legislation relating to security, devolution and public finance. Kimani is also an Academy Fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where she focuses on gender-responsive devolution in Kenya and East African affairs
Anna Knoll coordinates and leads ECDPM’s work on migration and has responsibility for developing analytical content relating to migration and development, EU migration policies, Europe-Africa cooperation, and African migration strategies. Her current research focuses on African narratives, policies and migration processes, as well as the interaction between the EU’s migration, displacement and development policies. Prior to joining ECDPM, Knoll worked as the German Fellow at the UN World Food Programme and at the European Commission.
Formerly serving as Chief of Cabinet in Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Communications, Issiaka Konaté is now responsible for the Ivorian diaspora, a demographic of which he himself was once a part, having lived and worked for eighteen years in London. Prior to joining the government, he opened and managed the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung’s Abidjan office, where his work focused on the development and training of young leaders, as well as encouraging human rights and the rule of law. Konaté has been Côte d’Ivoire’s focal point for the Rabat Process on migration and development, and chairs the Migration Dialogue for West Africa’s group on return and reintegration.
Lul Seyoum is an activist and facilitator promoting the human rights of women. She is particularly focused on the Horn of Africa, where she was born and spent her formative years. In partnership with Initiatives of Change, she hosts training sessions on leadership and capacity building programmes for women and emerging leaders. Although her professional experience lies in trade, her work has more recently focused on the plights of refugees throughout their journeys. She works with a range of NGOs and institutions to raise awareness of the causes of forced mass migration. In addition to her work with ICERAS, Seyoum supports United Against Inhumanity in its mission to give a voice to those who have suffered the inhumanity of war and forced migration.
Giulia Tranchina is a solicitor in the immigration department at Wilson Solicitors, specialising in asylum and human rights law. She has in-depth experience in a wide range of complex asylum claims, including for unaccompanied minors and detained clients. She has as well represented a number of clients in judicial review claims involving the Dublin Regulations, particularly in relation to Italy. With special expertise in African politics, Tranchina has played a central role in exposing the human rights violations and inhumane conditions under which refugees are suffering in Libyan detention centres. Aside from her casework, she works closely with the South London Refugee Association helping unaccompanied minors from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan and provides regular training at the Santé Refugee Mental Health Project charity.
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