EU’s Flawed Sahel Strategy: Roadmap for Sustainable Migration Management

Written by | Friday, January 12th, 2018

The current European Union migration policies are strongly focused on border externalization through securitized approaches. This in reality means concluding agreements that reduce irregular migration to Europe by setting up virtual walls or physical barriers in countries of origin or transit. The EU’s most recent deals in this area – Khartoum Process (November 2014) and the Valetta Agreement (November 2015) – are both examples of this strategy. They are based on an understanding that partner countries cooperate to prevent irregular migration through the construction of border walls, the refurbishing of detention centers and readmission agreements for the acceptance of failed asylum seekers. In return, origin and transit countries receive benefits such as funding and liberalization.

Border externalization has a major impact on Sahel desert towns such as Gao in Mali, Agadez in Niger, Tamanrasset in Algeria and Sebha in Libya. They are all important transit hubs, which makes them more likely targets of EU policy makers wishing to regulate migration. However, beyond the EU regulation, these transit cities also need economic boost and opportunities for their populations. Many Sahel towns have been revitalized by this fashion, only to be subsequently targeted by EU policies to stop irregular migration. To date, the European agenda has ignored the links that had been created over centuries between migration and local economies, governance and security, with major implications for regional stability and development.

To effectively tackle migration, it is important to look at the matter holistically, which mostly means taking into account the broader context for which these policies have been envisaged. The migration policies are often unsustainable in the long run because of their failure to address existing practices of police corruption and low state legitimacy coupled with economic struggle across sectors and the fact that agreements are made with elites who are linked to the cross-border smuggling trade. Albeit convenient as short-term solutions, more sustainable policies should be drafted with a long-term horizon in mind. Thanks to their cooperation with the EU migration agenda, not only the regional politicians but also local populations should be better off.

EU migration rules will also need to go beyond the main goal of bringing migration down to zero today in order to keep it sustainable in the long run. More sustainable migration management should originate in the transit region and thus depart from an analysis of the positive and negative consequences, which would mean focusing on those areas where the migration business shows signs of getting collusive and abusive. In this sense, the failure to connect EU-funded police training to a larger reform of the security sector aimed at addressing police corruption and insecurity in the region is a exemplar case of a missed opportunity.

Ultimately, sustainable migration management should thus also include zooming in on those locations where migration has clear benefits for host, transit and origin countries alike but this would require a paradigm shift, which will see EU stops perceiving migration as a 100% negative phenomenon but rather as a process that has values and merits in it as well. Therefore, the EU needs to adopt more sustainable migration policies driven by a holistic and long-term development agenda that works towards inclusive development and stability for the crises-stricken Sahel region.

‘Roadmap for Sustainable Migration Management in the Sahel: Lessons from Agadez’ – Policy Brief by Fransje Molenaar – Clingendael / Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)


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