The 5th African Union – European Union summit held in Abidjan on 29-30 November 2017, has chosen as a central theme: "Migration and mobility." The Libyan tragedy gave this theme even more insight.The meeting was also an opportunity to twist a lot of innuendos, today completely debunked by facts and statistics.
Hence, only the problem of illegal migration, with all its bloody trail of death has been brought to the fore. But reality is quite a different story. In the ECOWAS countries, 90% of migrants remain in the region, and only 10% attempt the European adventure. Côte d'Ivoire hosts more than 2 million migrants. But its nationals account for 6.7% of all the migrants trapped in Libya. Morocco hosts tens of thousands of sub-Saharans who often transit through the Maghreb countries. King Mohammed VI has recalled these facts in his message addressed to the AU-EU summit.
"Our regional groupings could have dealt with the situation more effectively. In fact, one could rightly think that if the Arab Maghreb Union had really existed, we would have been stronger in the face of such a challenge," the King of Morocco said. “Alas, the AMU does not exist! And because of regional conflicts, migratory flows often fall prey to different trafficking networks, ranging from drug trafficking to terrorist networks,” the king added, underlining that “Morocco, suffered from this for a long time, and still does today.”
Entry through the Mediterranean became a major route after access through the Balkans was blocked by means of the agreement between the EU and Turkey. In this context, passage via Libya, since the collapse of that state, is the privileged at present. However, the numbers once again call for second thoughts. More than 60% of the migrants arrested while trying to enter Europe illegally had left from Libya. The Morocco-Spain route, though the shortest, is almost totally sidelined. But within this population of illegal migrants, it is the Syrians and the Eritreans who form a majority, while Sub-Saharans only rank third and they rarely get protected status.
These figures give a lot of food for thought. Clearly, the demographic challenge in sub-Saharan Africa is a critical one. Sixty percent of the population is under 30 years old, and the average fertility rate is 5 children per woman. If development does not follow suit, the migratory phenomena can only speed up. Climate change will induce - actually it already does - population transfers.
In his message to the summit, the King of Morocco called for a new reading of the phenomenon. The current connotation puts forward a very negative duality. It associates migration with drugs and terrorism. Europeans fear the massive influx of people with no training or resources. These fears are not baseless. But a more positive reading is possible.
The 2011-2013 dialogue agenda included topics such as migrant diasporas, brain drain, remittances, legal migration, readmission... But this dialogue did not yield solutions.
On the contrary, counter-truths have been allowed to flourish, impacting the public opinion. With regard to remittances for example, studies show that 85% of migrants' incomes are spent in the host country and only 15% are transferred.
The phenomenon of migration can only be dealt with in relation to co-development issues, which are themselves related to the political situation.
King Mohammed VI has raised the question of debt conditionality. “Western countries expect some African countries - which gained independence less than half a century ago - to perform in politics and the economy as optimally as they themselves do," he said. This is an important path for reflection. It is time for the relationship to become a criss-crossing partnership, freed from the logic of vertical assistance.
Migration flows must be managed. But only a true co-development policy can limit its sources.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is a board director of the Atlantic Council and an International counselor of the Center for a Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Center for the National Interest