Europe’s emphasis on borders control leaves root causes of forced migration unaddressed


There is a general agreement among migration and development experts that (forced) migration needs to be treated from a holistic perspective. You can’t just close borders and send people back, you need to look at what is causing migration and address these root causes. When it comes to the migration flow from African countries to Europe, one needs to look at the wide range of problems that are plaguing these countries and forcing people to leave. These include conflicts, violence, poor governance, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, famines, natural disasters, corruption, forced recruitment into armed groups, etc. Yes, the list is nearly endless.

A EU migratory policy born out of the 2013 Lampedusa disaster

Following the 2013 Lampedusa disaster, in which more than 350 migrants and refugees were killed when their ship sunk off the Italian island, the European Union decided a new strategy was needed to prevent such disasters from occurring again.

In 2014, the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) initiated discussions on (forced) migration issues within the framework of the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, also known as the Khartoum Process. This framework for enhanced cooperation on migration and mobility between EU Member States and 9 African countries in the Horn of Africa was strengthened at the Valletta Summit in 2015 by an action plan focusing on five priority areas:

  • combating the causes of irregular migration
  • protection and asylum
  • legal migration
  • combating trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants
  • return and reintegration

A year later, the EU went a step further in making development aid conditional on migration control indicators, through the establishment of so-called « Migration Compacts« . Only countries agreeing to help Europe curb migration and willing to cooperate on admission and returns would benefit from development aid.

Except for NGOs and the European Parliament, this clear instrumentalisation of development aid for migration management purposes does not seem to bother European countries, many of which pride themselves of being the most generous and principled donors when it comes to ensuring development aid’s effectiveness and sustainability.

A clear focus on restricting migration flows to Europe

In a report released in early 2018, CONCORD and CINI, two important coalitions of European NGOs, pointed out that instead of addressing all aspects of (forced) migration, projects funded by the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), the main financial instrument supporting the EU’s political commitment to its African migration partners, increasingly tended to focus on the security aspects as well as improving cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration.

As one of the interlocutors interviewed pointed out « For the last six to eight months, we can observe a shift towards migratory flow management. At the beginning the EUTF dealt with all aspects of migration but now there is a change in the EUTF strategy ». The report also noted the absence of impact studies of these projects, which also « (…) keep on focusing on “quick fixes” (border controls and returns) and this is the main reason for their failure. Projects deviate migration flows towards alternative dangerous routes and indirectly contribute to inhumane conditions and endangering human rights. »

Europe contributing to human rights violations

In recent years, the Khartoum process has been regularly criticised for the fact that European states cooperate closely with governments with poor human rights records, including Libya, Sudan and Eritrea and in fact rely on these countries to control Europe’s external borders. The EU is providing financial and technical assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean, despite concerns raised by human rights groups that the coast guards are routinely committing human rights violations.

Although the fight against the root causes of forced migration and the protection of migrants and refugees are announced as 2 key priorities, the Khartoum process seems to essentially focus on the migration-security nexus with the key aim to reduce the influx of African migrants into Europe and to encourage them to remain in their countries of origin.

What we are seeing is that development aid, intended to address the root causes of forced migration, is instead increasingly being used to serve European donors’ national interests, in particular to strengthen security measures to curb migration. In addition, in the absence of explicit guarantees for the protection of migrants and refugees, and especially of monitoring mechanisms, the financial or technical assistance provided to these countries is in fact clearly contributing to human rights violations.