By Reinhard Jacobsen
BRUSSELS (IDN) – A new set of European Commissioners has taken office in Brussels. The main migration focus of the previous cabinet of Commissioners was halting migration – which led to deals with third countries on stopping and returning refugees and migrants. People evacuated from Libya, for example, are brought to Niger and Rwanda, where they are processed before those successfully registered as refugees are taken to Europe – often after long processes filled with uncertainty.
The African continent faces a decision – restrict free movement to conform to the EU’s wishes to restrict ‘irregular’ migration, or move towards the aspiration of free movement on the continent. Would free movement on the African continent unleash a more intense movement towards Europe? The European Union seems to believe so. Its policies and funds, such as the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, imply that migration has root causes, which can be tackled. But which are the root causes of forced migration?
Migration is often explained by the words ‘push’ and ‘pull’ – there are factors that drive people to move, and other factors that attract people to new places to settle. The EU’s policy framework is based on this notion.
Two new book that were recently launched present a different view. The books draw from research on the ground in Africa to look at the dominant migration theories and critically assess whether they cover the multifaceted dimensions of people on the move. This mobility has in large and sometimes unexpected ways been shaped by digital innovation. It bridges borders, supports livelihoods, and at the same time, it has led to the rise of new forms of human trafficking through extortion.
Editors Mirjam van Reisen, Munyaradzi Mawere, Mia Stokmans, and Kinfe Abraha Gebre-Egziabher explore the movement of people in Africa with a diverse group of authors, shifting the dominant and often negative lens through which migration is often looked at. The research is based on the reality of different situations for migrants and refugees on the ground. The publications together raise the question: what are the issues, and are we tackling them in the right way?
“This book is about life and death – there is no other way to put it.” With this opening, “Mobile Africa: Human Trafficking and the Digital Divide” sets the tone for the series. The publication explains how a growing infrastructure of digital technology has been fuelling the human trafficking of people in Africa, often in countries like Libya, which remain largely out of the public eye.
It pays attention to human trafficking for ransom, where victims and their family members are extorted under (threat of) death and torture. This form of human trafficking, facilitated by digital technology, relies on catching the eye – through recordings, phone calls and even social media, the family and community is made aware of the situation of the victims. Yet, people keep trying. The victims, people forced on the move, endure traumatising trajectories that have often been fuelled by a need to flee their home.
The trauma causes a lasting damage to the social structure of whole communities of people, which remains largely unaddressed. This presents a story beyond push and pull factors – no person with the chance to think rationally would take a journey that costs, according to the authors, as much as thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars per person.
This raises new questions on the way that migration is addressed through policies in a world that is fuelled by digital technology. Particularly, authors in the book raise questions on the responsibility of the international community and the European Union, which has continued to further externalise its borders.
This happens, for example, in Sudan, where many refugees were able to resettle without problems; however, when migration pushback occurred, the resulting policy shift caused discrimination and mistreatment of refugees, which has led to secondary migration.
In this way, the book demonstrates the often adverse effects of migration policies. It shows that the process of accountability of policies and actions has often excluded the voices of refugees and migrants and has in many cases led to criminalisation. In countries such as Niger. This in turn has made migration routes more dangerous.
The second publication by the same editors focuses on the other side of the medal. “Roaming Africa: Migration, Resilience and Social Protection” assesses mobility as a positive contribution to livelihoods, but which has many different realities and modalities, each with its own particular challenges and potential benefits.
Many artificial borders set in place during the colonial era in Africa have resulted in the separation of communities and the restriction of movement, which has in many cases negatively impacted social resilience.
The book shows the diversity of people on the move, calling for a diversity in approaches – not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Different flows of movement, also those that have existed for a long time, are negatively impacted by the current implementation of blanket migration policies.
The authors caution that ‘container terms’ such as ‘irregular migration’ or ‘mixed migration’ generalise the modes of mobility and frames it as a problem, which can lead to reduced resilience for people on the ground. The book explores ways in which movement of people can be seen as part of strategies for building resilience by strengthening livelihoods in a variety of African places – rather than a security threat.
A more positive approach of seeing migration as an opportunity can lead to a paradigm shift for the policy makers in the European Union and the African Union. How do we ensure that migration is not forced, but constructive? The start is to shift the focus from stopping migration, to ensuring that migration is safe and that legal pathways are strengthened. This means a shift from investment of development funding for projects that involve forced labour to supporting migration as a choice and investing in protection.
Roaming Africa: Migration, Resilience and Social Protection (ISBN 9789956551132) and Mobile Africa: Human Trafficking and the Digital Divide (ISBN 9789956551019) are published by Langaa, Cameroon and are sold by African Books Collective, available through their webshop: www.africanbookscollective.com
Related link > IOM Calls on EU Council Presidency to Support a Comprehensive, Long-Term Vision on Migration [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 January 2020]
Photo: Ola Henrikson, IOM’s Regional Director for the EU, has asked Croatia – which assumed the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) – on 1 January 2020, to encourage any discussion on migration policy as a positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development, including within the EU. Credit: European Union
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