by Elisa Gomez, a second year European Studies (French Pathway) student and the Communications Officer for the European Society here at King’s.
Last Wednesday 11th of November, European Union leaders and their African Union counterparts flocked to Valletta, Malta’s capital, to discuss potential common strategies to deal with the ongoing migration crisis. The main outcome of the conference, which was meant to build upon pre-existing cooperation mechanisms such as the Joint EU-Africa Strategy (1), was the promise made by the European Commission to establish an Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Such a fund would consist of a total of 1.8 billion euros drawn out of the different development schemes included in the EU budget, and its main objective would be – in the words of Donald Tusk- to “address the root causes” of migration, namely the lack of “security and opportunity” in many African countries (2). The conference also touched on the need to take decisive steps to fight human trafficking in the Horn of Africa, as well as the need to promote effective investment strategies in order to boost African business initiatives (3). All in all, the Summit was nothing short of ambitious, and it remains to be seen whether these schemes will lead to actual, concrete developments in the future. Furthermore, the EU’s true motives have been called into question, with some members of civil society and NGO representatives voicing their concerns that the Emergency Trust Fund is simply an appealing way to impose more severe migration regulations (4).
It is no secret that anti-immigration feelings are currently at an all-time high in Europe, with what an approximate 8,000 refugees reaching European shores every day, according to recent UNHCR statistics (5). Throughout the last few months, European citizens have stood by and watched as new barbed wire fences and barriers were (and continue to be) built along Europe’s most ‘vulnerable’ spots (6). Refugees on their way to Germany and the UK have been retained under regrettable conditions in train stations and migrant camps such as the infamous Calais jungle. Some leaders (most prominently Angela Merkel) have reiterated their desire to maintain an ‘open-door policy’ in their countries, but “it is unclear” how long they will be able to carry on with such practices “amid heightening political opposition” (7). Furthermore, given the failure of the proposed quota system to share refugees across the different EU member-states last August, it seems unlikely that the EU will come up with an alternative common strategy in the near future.
In this dark context, it is perhaps not surprising that one of the proposals heard at the Valletta Summit last week was indeed the suggestion that refugees should be divided into two categories (skilled and un-skilled), and that European countries should be allowed to prioritise the former over the latter (8). As for the Emergency Trust Fund, large NGOs such as Oxfam EU have been quick to point out that there’s something inherently wrong in attempting to couple structural aid aimed at eradicating poverty and readmission procedures designed to cap migration flows. In an official statement released shortly after the summit, the highly influential charity expressed their firm view that: “further aid provided in the context of migration must be in alignment with the development needs of the recipient country and its people … not aimed at addressing a perceived problem for Europe” (9). Members of African civil society have also commented on this ‘package deal’ put forward by the EU leadership, arguing that the heads of state might be more interested in coming up with quick, short-term strategies to manage Europe’s share of the migrant crisis, rather than establishing long-term solutions designed to combat systemic poverty in Africa (10).
A further paradox has been highlighted by Jones Nhinson Williams, President and CEO of the New Liberia Foundation. After all, how can “poverty-stricken, unemployed and hopeless young people” crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe be denied entry into the EU when banks throughout the European continent (the Swiss case being particularly outrageous) store “billions of dollars” kept there by corrupt and tyrannical African leaders such as former Congolese (Zaire) President Mobuto Sese Sekou? In fact, according to Mr Nhinson Williams, “European banks keep stolen wealth for an array of corrupt West African leaders and economic criminals from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, Cameroon, Mauritania, Cape Verde, and of course the epicenter of naked corruption, Liberia.” (11) If the European Commission and Mr.Tusk really wish to improve the situation in African countries, and one can assume that their intentions are not completely surreptitious or dishonest, they should perhaps target corruption and bad governance, instead of shifting their focus to “peripheral issues” in the form of “idealistic programs” that will be practically impossible to undertake (12). Then again, those who stand to lose the most from a war against corruption are not defenceless refugees with little or no means to fight back, but huge vested interests that might be inconceivably hard to surmount.
It will be interesting to see if the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa will actually have meaningful outcomes in the long term. Still, it should be clear that no amount of aid will solve the refugee crisis. As long as key regions remain unstable, people will continue to put their lives on the line and those of their children to bring their families to safety. It would be incredibly inhumane to turn our backs on them.