Migration brings with it many complex challenges, the first of which pertains to the person on the move. Literature and policies refer to them as “migrants,” while people in West Africa, where 70 percent of intra-Africa emigration emanates from, see themselves as “travelers.” Ask the average West African what he or she would like to do, and for the umpteenth time the answer will be “I want to travel.”
Migration invokes a motive and a sense of permanent unidirectional movement. Where do we place people who just want to travel and return to relate their experiences, and regale in the adulation of listeners, who are awestruck about the sojourn to a faraway land – of the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the so-called greener pasture they just heard about?
It is not surprising that in West Africa, only 5 out of the 15 constituent countries of the Economic Community of West African States have succeeded in drafting national policies on migration. Ironically, thousands of travelers and migrants that stranded in Northern Africa are from the West African countries that do have some form of migration policy.
African Union Creates African Observatory for Migration and Development
To coordinate the national policies on migration, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Nasser Bourita recently announced that African Union (AU) leaders have agreed to set up the African Observatory for Migration and Development, based in Morocco’s capital Rabat. This new body would help coordinate policies, contribute to the harmonization of national strategies of African states, and improve their interaction with partners abroad.
The announcement comes with the backdrop of an ongoing crisis within the E.U. over an influx of migrants taking the perilous trip across the Mediterranean. The once beautiful sea is gradually transitioning into an immense graveyard. Over 3,100 African migrants perished in their attempt to enter Europe by sea in 2017 alone.
EU’s Plan to Process Asylum Outside EU
The week before Bourita’s announcement, E.U. leaders in Brussels mooted the idea of setting up “regional disembarkation platforms,” with the objective of processing migrants’ asylum requests outside the E.U. to discourage them from boarding E.U.-bound smuggler boats.
It is obvious that such centers would most likely be sited in North Africa. Morocco, through Minister Bourita, flatly rejected the proposal, damning it a “counterproductive solution” that would turn the North African transit points into final destinations of travelers and migrants. Migration is at the center of disagreements between the mainly poor sending countries and the richer receiving ones.
The thrust of the Moroccan Minister’s announcement was not only to the European Union. The underlying thought is that processing centers located in Northern Africa will become zones of transit. Such zones will have a social life of their own, not only by connecting origin and destination of travelers but also by producing social realities that will determine the socio-economic and political relations that are shaped in these locations.
Passers-by will have a lasting impact on these relations, as some will eventually inter-marry with locals, decide to settle, make a living, start a business, and raise their children there. Perhaps this is the scenario on the Moroccan Minister’s mind, who clearly wants to protect the oasis of stability in the North African Region that had been seriously troubled by the Arab Spring.
AU’s commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat was a bit more inward-looking to Africa in general, not only because of the tragic fate that awaits African migrants on Europe’s doorstep but of the recurrence of intolerable behaviors against travelers in Africa itself. He claimed that the AU stands to lose credibility on the migration issue, tweeting that “our union cannot condemn obvious human rights violations against African migrants elsewhere and ignore it when similar things happen on the continent.”
Curiously, migration was not on the official agenda of the AU summit that took place at the end of June, which focused on security crises, trade, and corruption. However, the AU’s post-summit announcement to establish a Migration Observatory is a proposal in the right direction to bring into focus the need to harmonize the fragmented migration policy space.
Win-Win for Morocco
How did Morocco get into this and what is the motive? It is a win-win for Morocco. First, agreeing to host the OAMD in the country becomes another strong rung in the diplomatic ladder as Morocco settles in nicely into the AU-fold, taking a more frontal role in the continent, and using the continental platform to achieve its national developmental aims.
Though cloaked in African garb, Morocco will be in a better position to monitor travelers from West Africa, which make up a sizable proportion of persons crossing the Mediterranean into the European Union. By subscribing to the Observatory for Migration and Development (OAMD), governments of African countries become officially accountable for the identification and welfare of their citizens wherever they are in the world.
The Moroccan government that aims to host the new migration body has its work cut out for them. Ever since the country quit the Organisation for African Unity (precursor of the African Union) in 1984 and re-joined in 2017, a raft of bodies had been created in Africa, and African governments have reached a host of agreements.
How Will OAMD be Different?
So, how will OAMD be different and what does this mean for Morocco? With first access to coordinated migration data, Morocco becomes a more useful E.U. neighbor and a reliable buffer for stemming the tide of migrants attempting to enter the European Union.
Morocco will unwittingly, armed with OAMD, be a pseudo-processing center that the E.U. craves; a tag Morocco recently rejected. If OAMD works as designed, travelers to Morocco would have been vetted and documented already in national data systems in countries of origin. The miracle is in getting such countries who have signed up to the OAMD to develop and operationalize continentally standardized migration policies.
Despite the fact that the quality and quantity of data on migration from and into Africa is patchy, estimates of migration flows based on information provided by border control posts are generally inadequate. Border regulations can be circumvented, and Africa’s extensive and porous land borders make effective policing against clandestine cross-border migration very difficult.
Many African countries do not regularly publish data collected by immigration officials at seaports, airports, and border posts. Several states are simultaneously countries of origin, transit, and destination for diverse migratory configurations and there is a general lack of current information on both stock and flow of migrants within and outside African countries.
The UN Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, stated: “I dread to think of the scenes we may be contemplating in, say, 20 years if we do not make a massive consolidated effort to create jobs and opportunities in West Africa.”
The fear that what is happening now is only a tip of the iceberg, compared to what will occur if urgent solutions are not found, is not far-fetched.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.