The EU needs to look at offering African states a new regime of organised legal migration routes, alongside cooperation between both sides on security and border control management, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday (27 January).
The new ‘legal pathways’ could include provisions in the recently launched EU Talent Partnerships, as well as training and student exchange programmes.
Bilateral migration agreements of the sort Spain and Italy have with Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal for seasonal workers could also be expanded.
Mitsotakis also noted that closer cooperation is needed between African countries and Europe for the return of migrants who are not eligible for asylum status, adding that African countries need to cooperate more when it comes to the readmission of people who do not have the right to reside in Europe.
“We must be clear, both European and African countries, that we must condemn in the strictest terms any attempt to use migrants for geopolitical purposes,” he added.
The debate on Thursday comes three weeks before a crucial EU–Africa Union summit where leaders are hoping to finalise the outline of a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two blocs.
While the vast majority of migratory flows in Africa are intra–African migration, the number of migrants attempting to cross into Europe increased again in 2021 after falling during the first year of the Covid pandemic, primarily because of lockdown restrictions on movement.
Migration policy has been a long-running point of discord between EU and African leaders. The European Commission has opened talks with several North African countries with a view to them preventing would–be migrants from attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and potentially setting up EU–funded detention centres.
Meanwhile, several EU member states, including Denmark, have sought to broker agreements to outsource migration and asylum claims to African states such as Rwanda.
Within the EU, progress between member states towards agreeing on a common immigration and asylum system has been painfully slow for more than half a decade, although last autumn European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told EURACTIV that he expected an agreement among governments shortly after the French presidential elections in May.
Although most African states have return and readmission agreements with the EU, only one such treaty, between the EU and Cape Verde, has been implemented.
Speaking at the same event, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, called for a reset on the migration debate.
“The terms of the debate are broken,” said Kagame, adding that “to make progress we must rediagnose the root causes of migration. It is the imbalance in human capital opportunities between Europe and Africa.”
He added that “every African should be able to live a dignified life in their country or in any country in Africa,” and conceded that “settling in another country is not an automatic entitlement”.
The Rwandan President also said that EU and African policy makers needed to have systems that “better distinguish between refugee status and economic migrants.”
“The policy of restrainment will not work,” he concluded.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]