One year after the EU-Africa summit on migration, disappointment and frustration are predominant among the priority countries of the euro-african partnership.
The EU-Africa Valetta summit of November 2015 had two main objectives: the creation of jobs in Africa to provide alternatives to migration and the strengthening of the repression against illegal migration. One year after the summit and a few months ahead of a high level meeting next February which is supposed to pave the way for the EU-Africa summit, scheduled during the fall 2017, an EU Commission report to the European Council, considers that Ethiopia, one of the five target countries – alongside with Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali- has made progress, providing job opportunities to some of the 730,000 refugees on its territory. In the document, the Commission mentions as an example the announcement by Ethiopia that it would provide 30 000 jobs to refugees through the creation of two industrial parks aiming at a total 100,000 jobs. Such program is a key element of a strategy that envisages job creation as an alternative to migration for Africans.
At the same time, the report admits that lots of challenges remain. The return rate of Ethiopian migrants is considered as very low (12.2% in 2015). Similar low percentages are recorded in Mali and Senegal. There were 2,700 irregular border crossings of Ethiopians into the EU in 2015, including a number who claim they are Eritreans because they think this gives them a better chance to get asylum rights, say EU sources. One of the challenges remains the adoption by both the EU and Ethiopia, of a common procedure to implement repatriation decisions taken by the 28 EU member states and the strengthening of the civil registration and the appointment of EU liaison officers on migration issues in the priority countries. Overall, out of the total EUR 1.881 billion committed in Valetta for the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa , near half has been already allocated and EUR 400 million of contracts have already been signed, claims the EU Commission, which also announced that an additional EUR 500 million will come on top of those amounts. In the long run, accordingly EUR 3.35 billion should be also allocated to Africa and to other EU’s neighbourhood countries such as Jordan, to finance a European External Investment Plan, to address the root causes of migration, by providing guarantees for hypothetic private investments up to EUR 44 billion.
Yet, Arnaud Zacharie, the secretary general of Belgium’s development NGOs coalition, Conseil national pour la coopération au développement (CNCD), says that so far in reality the figures spent under the Trust Fund are negligible. I average, the EU Trust Fund will only spend EUR 80 m. per country in Africa, to contain immigration, which is very little if one compares them with the EUR 3 billion promised to Turkey by the EU. Moreover, three quarters of the Trust Fund amount have been already allocated under the European Development Fund. They are in fact a substitute not an addition to the EDF money.
Ethiopian officials interviewed by SouthWorld, consider as well that the money allocated so far to their country under the EU Trust Fund, is far below the needs, with only EUR 67 million, including 20 millions for a programme called Stemming Irregular Migration in Northern and Central Ethiopia (SINCE) and two other programmes of EUR 23.5 m. each for Resilience building and for the readmission of migrants expelled from Europe. Ethiopia which asked the EU to finance the creation of 9 industrial parks up to EUR 200 million which could generate each 40,000 jobs is still waiting for the disbursement of these amounts. More generally, the Addis authorities consider that EU’s financial support is not enough to meet the challenge posed by the arrival of 2 million job seekers every year on its domestic market.
In Niger, frustrations are also being reported. EU-funded agricultural or vocational training projects, are taking too much time to materialise and at the same time these programs are supposed to be implemented and completed before 2020, says Zacharie. According to the Belgian NGO leader, the main measures which can be seen on the ground concern the repression of illegal migration in Niger, which is the main transit country to Libya and beyond Europe. It is estimated that 90% of West-African migrants take the road.
Following the visits of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini and of the EU development Commissioner, Neven Mimica, in the second half of 2015, the Niger authorities have set up with the support of the EU an agency to combat human trafficking and a plan to fight smuggling, reduce irregular migration and provide alternative economic opportunities to the communities involved in smuggling operations. Since August 2016, 47 smugglers were arrested and 63 vehicles seized. Several hundreds migrants have been returned to Agadez and have been released to IOM transit centre for voluntary return, says the EU Commission.
Besides, the EUCAP Sahel Niger mission has set up a permanent field office in Agadez which will be fully operational by the end of 2016. Ten staff are being deployed to provide training of Niger security forces and prosecutors on document forgery, trafficking in human beings and criminal investigative methods. The task remains considerable. Last September, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) still registered a total of more than 6,000 outgoing migrants from Agadez.
The Niger parliament also voted legislation against irregular migration several months ago. But the problem is that illegal migration is the only option since there isn’t anymore any legal alternative to it for West-Africans to access the EU territory, analyses Zacharie. As a result he points out, old migration flows from Senegal, Mali, Gambia or Côte d’Ivoire to Libya and Algeria to a lesser extent, which have been transiting through Agadez for decades, will continue to do so. Tougher controls at the border with Libya or Algeria do not mean necessarily that migrants abandon their plans to move to Europe. In fact, they take more dangerous roads, pay more money to the smugglers and increase the turnover of the traffickers of human beings who raise their fees because border crossing into Libya or Algeria has become gets more risky, explains Arnaud Zacharie. At the same time, the Niger authorities find themselves in an uncomfortable position: on the one hand, they try to accommodate the EU’s demand to block the passage of migrants towards North Africa and Europe but on the other hand, their task is almost impossible, since Niger is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which guarantees the free movement of peoples between its 15 member states. Nearly half of the people are migrants in Agadez and tourism collapsed after the increase of terrorism since 2009, the presence of migrants in town, has become the main driver of the local economy, including restaurants, hotels, guest houses and transporters, often in a parallel form. Even, if migrants expelled from Libya tell about sexual abuses, extortion and sometimes tortures, the flow continues.
The issue is even more delicate in Sudan. According to the Paris-based Indian Ocean Newsletter (ION), the EU is financing a EUR 100 million programme to address the causes of irregular migration which transits through this huge country. But its implementation is problematic. Indeed, according to ION, several hundreds of illegal migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea were arrested last summer in the Al Shevelite area, in the Northern State at the border between Sudan and Libya, by the Rapid Support Forces under the command of general Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, aka “Hemeti”, a former leader of the dreaded Janjaweed militias which were involved in massive human rights violations in Darfur between 2003 and 2013.
Despite these frustrations, it is likely that migration will remain on top of the priorities of the agenda of the relationship between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The future cooperation deal between the EU and the ACP, after the expiration in 2020 of the current Cotonou agreement is likely to link development aid with the signature of readmission of migrants expelled from the EU, anticipates the Hungarian member of the European Parliament, György Hölvényi.