AU to set up migratory observatory to stem illegal migration

An African migrant drinking water at Agadez, Niger. (PHOTO: AFP)
An African migrant drinking water at Agadez, Niger. (PHOTO: AFP)

The African Union Peace and Security Council on Monday approved a proposal to establish an African Migration Observatory to stem illegal migration.

In a press statement, the AU said the Observatory will be tasked with collecting data, ensuring information exchange and coordination between African countries to understand, anticipate and act on migration issues and support continental initiatives to stem illegal migration.

In particular, the Africa Migration Observatory is expected to work with initiatives like The Regional Operation Centre (ROC) based in Khartoum, Sudan to enhance collaboration and intelligence sharing to combat criminal activity related to migration.

Every year tens of thousands of Africans are thought to be trafficked to Middle Eastern and European destinations where they are exploited in various informal sectors such as prostitution, physical labor and agricultural labor.

In spite of  regional and intra-African countries initiatives to stem illegal migration of Africans and stop their exploitation by criminals, so far there is largely an absence of an effective collaboration mechanism between the AU’s 55 member states to curb illegal migration and crack down on criminal networks.

The prevalence of criminal networks trafficking humans has led to instability of member states and of facilitating links between terror groups and criminal gangs, according to the AU.

The UN in a report said since the 1960s, the main source countries of migration from Africa to Europe have been Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, resulting in large diasporas with origins in these countries by the end of the 20th century.

In the period following the 1973 oil crisis, immigration controls in European states were tightened.

The effect of this was not to reduce migration from North Africa but rather to encourage permanent settlement of previously temporary migrants and associated family migration.

Much of this migration was from the Maghreb to France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. From the second half of the 1980s, the destination countries for migrants from the Maghreb broadened to include Spain and Italy, as a result of increased demand for low-skilled labour in those countries.

Spain and Italy imposed visa requirements on migrants from the Maghreb in the early 1990s, and the result was an increase in irregular migration across the Mediterranean.

According to the report, from 2000 to 2005, an estimated 440,000 people per year emigrated from Africa, most of them to Europe.

According to Hein de Haas, the director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford, public discourse on African migration to Europe portrays the phenomenon as an “exodus,” largely composed of irregular migrants, driven by conflict and poverty.

He criticises this portrayal, arguing that the irregular migrants are often well educated and able to afford the considerable cost of the journey to Europe.

Migration from Africa to Europe, he argues, “is fuelled by a structural demand for cheap migrant labour in informal sectors.”

Most migrate on their own initiative, rather than being the victims of traffickers. Furthermore, he argues that whereas the media and popular perceptions see irregular migrants as mostly arriving by sea, most actually arrive on tourist visas or with false documentation, or enter via the Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla.

He states that “the majority of irregular African migrants enter Europe legally and subsequently overstay their visas.”

Similarly, migration expert Stephen Castles argues that “in spite of the media hysteria on the growth of African migration to Europe, actual numbers seem quite small — although there is a surprising lack of precision in the data.”[10]

The BBC reported in 2007 that the International Organization for Migration estimates that around 4.6 million African migrants live in Europe, but that the Migration Policy Institute estimates that between seven and eight million irregular migrants from Africa live in the EU