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THINK AGAIN: EU's carrot-and-stick stance on migration
30 June 2016

The European Union (EU) is desperately seeking a sustainable solution to the migration crisis. It thinks it has found one; but has it really?

‘We propose to use a mix of positive and negative incentives to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us; and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not,’ said Frans Timmermans, Deputy Head of the European Commission. The carrot and the stick, in other words.

Timmermans was addressing the European Parliament in early June, where he outlined the EU’s new proposal to deal with migrants from Africa. The carrot is a massive package of aid and trade deals for African governments – including Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Ethiopia – worth an estimated €8 billion. The stick is that the deals would be conditional on these governments stemming the flow of migrants from and through their countries.

As of 21 June 2016, about 222 151 migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have crossed into Europe by sea this year alone. But 2 861 didn’t make it, and are considered either dead or missing. In Europe, the migration crisis continues to dominate headlines, with governments under extreme pressure to reduce the influx of migrants.

The EU risks rewarding the same poor governance from which many migrants are fleeing
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Although these numbers seem high, they represent a decline from 2015, when over 1 million new arrivals were recorded in Europe. (It should be noted that by this time last year, however, approximately 137 000 had crossed over into Europe – with the bulk of last year’s migrants having travelled to Europe between August and December.) A major factor in the decline from January to June 2016 is likely the signing of a controversial deal that the EU reached with Turkey to stop migrants from crossing into Europe via Turkey.

This deal permits the EU to deport irregular migrants in Europe back to Turkey, in return for resettling documented Syrian refugees from Turkish refugee camps to Europe. That was the stick. Turkey also got its carrot: €6 billion worth of aid to improve living conditions in its refugee camps.

The deal was criticised by rights groups, however, who argued that depicting Turkey as a safe haven for migrants was misleading given Turkey’s poor human rights record. ‘In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day. The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law,’ said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

This criticism could apply equally to the EU’s proposed deal with African countries. As a strong Bloomberg editorial put it: ‘What’s the problem with this? Simply that many of the would-be partner governments are much less competent than Turkey’s [think Mali or Niger], or corrupt and unjust [think Eritrea or Sudan]. Without close oversight and effective accountability, they can’t be trusted to properly discharge their partnership responsibilities – and they shouldn’t be encouraged, in effect, to stop migration by any means necessary.’

People’s desire to migrate is underpinned by development issues
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To be even more blunt: Europe’s proposed carrot will inevitably involve pay-offs to some incompetent and authoritarian governments. By doing so, the EU risks rewarding the same poor governance from which many African migrants are fleeing. The EU intends to work particularly closely with Libya, which is now the springboard into Europe for most migrants coming via North Africa. But Libya is far from being a stable state, and there are three different administrations claiming to be in charge. Migrants’ experiences in Libya often involve extortion, unlawful detention and sexual abuse.

‘The idea that some European politicians want to collaborate with the Libyan government to prevent people who are fleeing from the Libyan coast is gruesome and inhumane, and will only create more suffering,’ said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) fieldworker Sebastian Stein, speaking to the Guardian. ‘It is completely the wrong way to look at the challenge. What fleeing people need is the possibility of seeking protection without going through this journey in the first place.’

Another criticism is that it gives African governments significant leverage against the EU to demand more money – a kind of diplomatic blackmail. Already, Niger has told Europe that it needs €1 billion to fight migration, while Kenya has repeatedly threatened to close down Dadaab refugee camp – one of the largest in the world – because it has not received enough international assistance. Could we see some African governments threatening to relax migrant controls unless they are paid even more?

Withdrawing long-term assistance for short-term benefit would be a strategic mistake
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As much as there are criticisms with Europe’s financial ‘carrot’, its proposed ‘stick’ – to withdraw financial assistance from uncooperative governments – is equally problematic. Tuesday Reitano, a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies and migration specialist, said that it would be very difficult to enforce.

‘The EU may threaten to make aid conditional, but realistically they are not going to do that. There are wider interests for the EU in engaging in development assistance in Africa that go beyond migration. And even if the EU did walk away, the migrants would still come and probably in greater numbers, so it wouldn’t solve anything.’

For Reitano, long-term development assistance is the only sustainable solution that Europe has. ‘The EU would do far more harm than good to do anything other than support long-term development; because ultimately, underpinning people’s desire to migrate are development issues, and withdrawing long-term assistance for short-term benefit would be a strategic mistake,’ she said.

Unfortunately, the EU’s new proposal to deal with migration from Africa is largely designed as a short-term fix to this long-term problem. Unless Europe starts thinking more strategically, no number of carrots or sticks will fix this problem.

Simon Allison, ISS Consultant

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