EU’s preemptive move on African migration

While debate rages in Europe over Syrian refugees, the EU starts to build consensus on immigration by offering aid to Africa to prevent migration. All the better to tackle root causes than symptoms.

Spanish rescuers approach a boat with migrants off the coast of Libya Nov. 5.

With Europe and the United States each engaged in sharp debates over migrants – whether from Syria or Mexico – it is worth noting a new political consensus to do something about it. Last week, European and African leaders met in Malta and agreed to address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa.

At the summit, the European Union offered an initial $2 billion for a “trust fund” to help African countries create jobs, curb people smugglers, improve border security, and increase channels for legal migration. Much more money is expected from individual EU states. Ethiopia received special attention as it is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, with more than 733,000 refugees.

While the recent flood of Syrian refugees dominates the immigration debate, the EU’s longer-term worry is the flow of “survival migrants” fleeing drought, conflict, and economic stagnation, from Niger to the Horn of Africa. The wars in Syria and Iraq over Islamic State may eventually subside or end. But Africa’s exodus is growing apace. The EU also faces a moral imperative: More than 3,400 people recently perished while making the sea crossing from Africa to Europe.

Convincing African leaders to cooperate on the EU plan was difficult. Their economies benefit from hefty remittances of African migrants working in Europe. Yet the new EU aid could be money better spent – if it is targeted at attracting investment and building infrastructure. Despite its members’ disputes over what to do with refugees, the EU is united in relieving pressure among Africans to migrate.

Aid alone will hardly be sufficient. Ending Africa’s conflicts, especially terrorist threats by groups like Boko Haram, is necessary. So, too, is help for Africa to adjust to climate change in the dry countries of the Sahel.

Britain, France, and other former imperial powers have much experience in helping their former colonies in Africa. This new aid represents a collective commitment by one of the world’s wealthiest continents to assist one of its poorest. More than that, the “trust fund” shows European nations may yet find common ground on their other immigration issues.

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