Geopolitics on the rocks

K. Campbell

How to drastically reduce irregular migration flow to the E.U.

Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa

Most of the ongoing and planned E.U. efforts to tackle the problem focus on aspects physically closest to home, but to actually stem the flow Europe must prioritize actions closer to the sources of migration

Last year, European officials detected over 511,000 migrants, and 181,000 of them used the Central Mediterranean migrant route.  Because of the economic, political, and human costs of this migration, the European Union and individual countries have tried various mechanisms to reduce this flow. 

Some countries -- Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, Denmark and Norway -- temporarily reintroduced internal border controls (i.e., border controls among Schengen-associated countries and Schengen member states).  And Operation Triton, which Frontex launched in November 2014, is focused on border control and surveillance, and search and rescue operations. 

Most of the ongoing and planned E.U. efforts to tackle the migration problem focus on aspects physically closest to Europe, such as migrants at sea and their departure points in Libya.  It is human nature to myopically concentrate on the closest, most immediate aspects of problems.  U.S. officials fell into the same trap with their initial, disproportionate yet mostly fruitless efforts to detect buried roadside bombs in Iraq instead of the networks that built the deadly devices. 

E.U. efforts on the migration problem, despite statements paying lip service to the “roots” of the migration problem, have not been sufficiently “left of sea”, to appropriate a term from the Americans’ struggle with roadside bombs.

As a result, EU efforts collectively have had limited effects on migration flow to Europe.  In the first seven months of 2017 over 127,000 migrants were detected, according to FRONTEX, the European border and coast guard agency.  Nationals from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast comprised the largest number of arrivals. Ninety percent of these and other migrants use the Central Mediterranean route. 

A more comprehensive, systemic approach can significantly reduce this migrant flow. Which means European leaders face tough decisions on dealing with the migration crisis, including whether to expend considerable resources in critical areas, prioritized in a manner that might seem counterintuitive.  Counterintuitive solutions are often required for complex problems. The alternative is wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations on migration.  

The following, specific recommendations prioritize reducing migrant travel on the Central Mediterranean route. They also prioritize actions closer to the sources of migration -- the further “left of sea” the better -- which might seem counterintuitive to some. The recommendations, which are by no means all-inclusive, provide a sampling of the actions required to markedly stem migration flow to Europe. They are categorized into short to mid-term and long term solutions.

Short- to Mid-Term Solutions

  1. Border Security. Increase border security capability and capacity of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Libya, to include the provision of training and equipment.  The top priorities should be the Guinea-Mali and Ivory Coast-Mali borders, followed by the Mali-Niger and Nigeria-Niger borders.  A third priority should be Libya’s borders with Algeria and Niger. 
    • In Mali, Bamako and Gao serve as the primary hubs through which migrants from Guinea and the Ivory Coast (and other West African countries) flow on the way to Libya. Nationals from these two countries were the most numerous migrants in the first quarter of 2017; over 7,000 were detected at Italy’s borders.  From Gao, most migrants on the Central Mediterranean route travel to Tamanrasset, Algeria and Agadez, Niger.  Border control efforts along the Mali-Algeria border should incorporate Tuareg tribes.  Agadez serves as the most important hub for most migrants on the Central Mediterranean route, regardless of nationality.  From Agadez, migrant cross Libya’s southern border. Toubou tribes along the Niger-Libya border should be included in any border control efforts in Libya’s ungoverned south.
    • The E.U. has a few programs to bolster border control in relevant African countries, under the auspices of the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). However, the E.U. should establish overall priorities among the various programs, and extensively include relevant local tribes.
  2. Human Smugglers. Prioritize and increase support to Malian operations against extremist and criminal groups associated with human smuggling.
    • Several extremist and criminal groups are involved in human smuggling that facilitate migrant travel along various routes in Africa. In Mali, these groups include Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Macina Liberation Front, National Movement for the Liberation of Alzawad, and Ansar al-Dine.  The Malian government and the international community would not be starting from scratch.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the French military, and the CSDP’s E.U. Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) are all engaged with Mali to fight extremism in that country.  However, continued human smuggling (and terrorist attacks) indicate these Malian and international efforts have a long way to go.
  3. Libyan Coast Guard. Increase funding and training to improve the capability and capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard, including patrolling assets, command and control, and search and rescue infrastructure.
    • Libya’s almost 2,000 km shoreline serves as the “jump off” point for migrants attempting to get to Europe on the Central Mediterranean route. Arguably a long-term solution, EU does have efforts to train the Libyan Coast Guard, such as Operation Sophia (since June 2016).  But the continued high numbers of at-sea rescues and deaths in the first half of 2017 highlights the inadequacy of the Libya’s maritime patrolling and rescue capabilities.  Training must also include human rights, international law, and rules of engagement.  The Libyan Coast Guard’s threats and actions towards non-governmental organizations in August 2017 highlight these shortfalls in professionalism.

Long Term Solutions

  1. Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Fulani Herdsmen. Provide the African Union’s Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) with US$700 million to fund logistics, manpower, and equipment in order to strengthen its capability against Boko Haram/ISWAP.  Additionally, provide MJTF and its member countries (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Benin) with increased training, technical assistance, and intelligence to strengthen national counterterrorism, countering violent extremism, and de-radicalization programs.  Also assist the Nigerian government in resolving pastoral violence related to Fulani herdsmen. 
    • The MJTF, originally established in 1998 to fight cross-border crime and banditry, was tasked in 2014 to take on Boko Haram/ISWAP. Slow march to operational status -- which seems to have finally occurred in 2016 -- is an indicator of its organizational lethargy.  MJTF needs as estimated US$700 million.  The fight against Boko Haram/ISWAP should be considered a long-term endeavor due to the historical delays in securing sufficient funding, and also the length of time it usually takes to sufficiently degrade, neutralize, or destroy an insurgent/terrorist group.
    • Fulani herdsmen wreak more havoc than Boko Haram/ISWAP. Mistakenly labeled by many outside of Nigeria as a terrorist group, the herdsmen have killed more people last year than Boko Haram/ISWAP.  This pastoral conflict -- it is mostly related to cattle -- has strangely not garnered a sense of urgency from the Nigerian government.  Terrorism and pastoral conflict directly and indirectly contribute to Nigerians’ decision to flee their country.
  2. Nigeria Humanitarian Assistance. Provide the United Nations with the US$650 million required for its Nigeria humanitarian response plan.
    • Over 5 million Nigerians are food insecure, and over 8 million need humanitarian assistance. The U.N. says it requires over US$650 million for its humanitarian efforts in the country.  This emergency, concentrated in the northeast, is mostly a result of the Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency.
  3. Nigeria Economic Diversification. Provide assistance and incentives to Nigeria to diversify its economy.
    • Many Nigerians depart their country for economic reasons. It is widely accepted that Nigeria must diversify its economy -- at least in terms of exports -- which is dominated by the oil and gas sector (over 90% of export earnings).  The country is currently in a recession and is plagued by double-digit unemployment (including a 25% unemployment rate for 15-25 year olds), budget deficits, and an oil and gas sector vulnerable to criminal/insurgent disruption.  However, the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2021 smacks of unachievable goals and extreme risk aversion, lacking bold steps required to truly diversify the economy. 
  4. Eritrean Conscription and Conflict. Influence Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to ease or eliminate his military conscription policy.  Facilitate a peace treaty between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
    • Eritrea’s mandatory conscription policy has been largely responsible for the wave of migration from the country over the past several years. Tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia serve as Asmara’s rational for its conscription policy, and there have been occasional skirmishes since its 1998 to 2000 conflict that killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people. Another war or major clash could significantly increase the already substantial Eritrean migration flow to Europe.
  5. Guinea’s Public Health System. Provide assistance to greatly improve Guinea’s public health system, with a prioritization on reliable infectious disease surveillance, rapid detection and diagnosis, monitoring, and case management/tracking.
    • The ability of a country to quickly isolate dangerously infectious diseases is linked to the capability of its public health system, which in several West African countries require significant improvements. Southeastern Guinea was ground zero/epicenter of the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak, which resulted in over 28,000 suspected, probable, and confirmed Ebola cases, including over 11,300 deaths.  The disease spread the fastest in Guinea, and it was also the last of the three West African countries (the others were Sierra Leone and Liberia) worst hit by the outbreak to be declared free of the virus.  By comparison Nigeria’s more robust, resilient health system isolated the outbreak in that country after 20 cases and 8 deaths.  Another disease outbreak might spur another increase in migration, using the aforementioned, well-facilitated routes.