Africa and the implications of clandestine immigration

Clandestine immigration remains a phenomenon that continues to attract the attention of public opinion.  According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 150.000 African immigrants stepped foot on European soil in 2017.   For Europe, reducing the migratory flux at all costs is what matters.  But, the brave act of a Malian migrant, Mamoudou Gassama, has put a new light on things, relaunching the debate on migration issues. 

Reacting to the Gassama affair, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, wrote on his Facebook page:  “With M. Gassama who scaled 4 floors with his bare hands on Saturday to save a child’s life.  I told him that in recognition of this heroic act we shall be regularising his legal status as soon as possible and that the Paris Fire Brigade was prepared to welcome him [into their ranks].  I also invited him to apply for French citizenship.  For France represents determination, and M. GASSAMA has shown by his act that he has it!”. 

If we follow this reasoning, should not all the men and women who continue to brave death, whilst others drown on sinking ships on the high seas, also be considered to have that same “determination”?  Several Togolese stakeholders accepted to participate in our game of 3 questions to an African: 

Interview with Sami Abi, Permanent Secretary of the West African Observatory on Migrations. 

Africa Top Success: When it comes down to it, who stands to lose and who stands to win from this phenomenon, Africa or Europe?   

Samir ABI: Humanity.  Our humanity is the great loser in this tragedy that is taking place in the Mediterranean sea, but also in the countries of North Africa and the deserts of Mauritania to Sudan, through Mali, Niger and Chad.  Every man, woman and child who loses their life during their migratory journey is a human being endowed with intelligence, physical strengths and value, all of which are lost to humanity.  Imagine if Mamoudou Gassama had died in the desert or at sea.  Where would the French child hanging from that balcony be now?  And let’s not forget that every undocumented or documented migrant, every refugee, contributes to the economic life of his or her recipient country throughout the integration process.  And they also help their families in their country of origin by sending remittances and giving advice.  Consequently, a migrant that dies is an economic loss for the country of departure and for the country of destination. 

But the human tragedy of these immigration-related deaths cannot simply be reduced to an economic issue.   The money, the riches, the GDP of a country are not everything in life.  A country is not built on the riches found on its soil or under its land but on the value of the men and women, motivated by faith, solidarity and justice, that inhabit it.  The great losers of this tragic migration-related situation are, therefore, those politicians and citizens who watch powerlessly as thousands of human beings die in the deserts and seas.  And the winners are those who, through their tireless efforts, save lives at sea, in the Italian and French Alps, in the deserts, at the borders and in towns all over the world where migrants are struggling to find somewhere to live or to work.

Finally, I would like to highlight the fact that by focusing on migration between Africa and Europe, we forget that it is not only in the Mediterranean Sea that African migrants are dying.  African migrants are dying too in the Gulf of Guinea trying to reach Gabon or Equatorial Guinea in boats from Nigeria.  African migrants are dying in the Red Sea trying to reach the countries of the Middle East.  And African migrants are dying too in the Sinai Peninsula.  But you don’t hear anything about those deaths because Europe wants to make its own particular problem, a world problem.     

Africa Top Success; What are the reasons for clandestine immigration? 

Samir ABI:Before answering, I’d like to point out that we shouldn’t confuse immigration and clandestine immigration.  Immigration, just like emigration, is a universal phenomenon and a natural human fact.  In every country in the world, there are people who one day decide to leave their home country to go and live somewhere else.  That is what is known as emigration. 

Several reasons can lead to someone leaving their home country.  It could be to flee a critical situation associated with climate change (drought, land degradation, loss of harvests, death of cattle, etc.) or due to a socio-economic context or a political conflict.  It could be to go and study in another country, to learn a trade or profession, or simply to discover a world that belongs to all of us.  Finally, someone might decide to emigrate because they have fallen in love with a person that lives in another country.   It’s normal and it’s human.  Thus, there are millions of Europeans living in countries other than their country of origin.  And every year, there are thousands of people that leave Europe to settle in Africa, America or Asia. 

It becomes an issue, however, when an African who wants to emigrate finds it more difficult to do so than a European.  Human beings are not equal where migration is concerned.  And because of this injustice, an African finds it more difficult to migrate legally and to travel safely to his or her chosen country of destination.  To obtain a work permit or residence card, an African will find it more difficult than a European.  That is the real reason for clandestine immigration whether it is in Europe, the United States or in African countries that are reluctant to accept migrants.  Restrictive immigration policies and complications that prevent people from easily obtaining the necessary documents and visas to migrate legally incite people to migrate clandestinely, with the risk to their lives that this entails. 

Africa Top Success: Will migratory flows continue to increase in the coming years? 

Samir ABI: As it has been continually repeated and as the statistics prove, Africans migrate primarily to other African countries.  According to data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa based in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, 80% of African migrants remain on the African continent.  Only the remaining 20% migrate to other continents.   And this remaining 20% are found, not only in Europe, but also in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China, India, and Australia.  Europe hasn’t got the monopoly on African emigration although it is the continent that welcomes African international migrants the most. 

In an era of globalisation, where various means of transport bring countries much closer together, where rapid information and communication technologies are available, in a world where money circulates freely between countries, where animals migrate freely too, migratory flows are only set to increase, both from Africa to Europe and from Europe to Africa.  Yes, Africans do migrate to Europe but it should also be noted that retired and young Europeans settle in African countries too, either to enjoy the sun, to flee the European way of life, or to find employment.  So, migration is not only in one direction. 

Even if it is very probable that migratory flows will increase around the planet, it is difficult to presume that Africans are going to invade Europe due to a number of factors.  Firstly, the clear willingness of African states to move towards further integration.  The adoption of the African Continental Free Trade  Agreement, and in particular the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa, is a relatively important step towards enabling Africans to settle in other African countries more.  A great number of Africans believe in their continent and are convinced that they can prosper in Africa thanks to their entrepreneurial capacities and ability to innovate.  And with the immense resources the continent possesses, the trend to set up in Africa will continue to increase.   

Secondly, conflict resolution on the continent and adaptation to climate change.  Political conflicts and civil wars are the cause of many population displacements.  Often these conflicts begin with European countries supporting corrupt and oppressive governments that apply economic policies in favour of transnational banks and businesses, against the interests of their populations.  The arms-selling countries benefit from these conflicts, profiting from the situation by showcasing their production to all the other groups in conflict.  So, until these conflicts are resolved, we can expect population movements to continue, both within Africa and to other continents.  The same applies to the disasters caused by climate change which lead to a great number of population displacements from rural areas to towns, and could be prevented by taking predictive and mitigation measures. 

And lastly, the automation of European societies.  Replacing the human workforce with machines in all aspects of daily life in Europe is creating an increase in unemployment with a large majority of Europeans becoming poorer in favour of a handful of industrialists, speculators and corporate executives.  As the precarious situation in Europe intensifies, depopulation will increase which, combined with an ageing population, is leading researchers to warn of an impending demographic crisis on the old continent.  At the same time, the African population is expected to double by 2050 to reach 2.5 billion, mainly young, people.  It is difficult, however, to surmise from this data that there will be an invasion of Africans into Europe in the next few decades. 

For, although nature abhors a vacuum, in Europe, as in all countries in the world, the arrival of migrants provokes fear, divisive debates and acts of discrimination.  Certain European citizens fear that with the integration of migrants from Muslim countries or the African continent, Europe will lose its white, Christian identity.  That explains the success of a number of extreme-right parties on the old continent.  And that it why we have to call upon politicians, whichever country they are from, to have the courage to propose projects for society that encourage people to live together peacefully rather than gaining power by fanning the flames of inter-racial, inter-religious or inter-ethnic conflict. 

(Interview published by Africa Top Success:

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