‘Increased aid does not reduce migration’

Lisa Åkesson is an associate Professor in Social Anthropology at Gothenburg University
Photo: Susana Dukaric

The European Union (EU) wants to increase aid to African countries, but on condition that they take action to prevent migration to Europe.

This approach is cynical and does not reduce migration, according to Lisa Åkesson, a researcher at Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), who participated in a recent seminar in Stockholm, Sweden, linked to last month’s EU-African Union summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The seminar held was hosted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (sida), the Migration Studies Delegation (Delmi) and Mistra Geopolitics research program. The main speaker was Rainer Münz, senior advisor to President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

Åkesson is an associate Professor in Social Anthropology at the University of Gothenburg and an expert on North-South migration.

According to her, Münz “painted an extremely dark picture of the future of Africa, foreseeing a very large population increase and an agricultural crisis. Africa was perceived as a threat to Europe.

“At the same time he mentioned that the influx of migrants from Africa is stable over time. The number of migrants in total is not increasing.”

What has changed is that the number of irregular migrants has increased, at the same time as the number or regular migrants has decreased. This has happened because Europe has closed channels for legal migration. Migration from Africa to Europe is actually no higher than that between other regions.

Münz also said that the EU wants to increase its support for economic and social development in Africa, on condition that African countries prevent migration to Europe.

“The problem about this is that the view that development decreases migration is not supported by research. On the contrary, it usually has the opposite effect. When people get better conditions, they see new opportunities, such as migration. This is well known to the European Commission, but it chooses to disregard the knowledge. This approach is both ambiguous and cynical”, Åkesson says.

The relationship between migration and development is not simple: remittances – money sent back to the country of origin by migrants – provide resources, but they also create dependence. Migration can lead to a ‘brain drain’ and loss of knowledge in migrants’ home countries.

“But it can also lead to added knowledge, as migrants return to their countries of origin. There is no simple answer to the question of whether migration leads to development. But the current political climate very much influences the view. Today, the trend is strongly negative towards migration.”

The Stockholm seminar did not deal directly with the summit in Abidjan, but Åkesson followed the discussions through the media.

“Many express anger and astonishment about what is happening in Libya. But this should not come as a surprise. It has been known for a long time that the conditions for migrants are completely horrible there. The migration policy of the EU has contributed to making the situation worse.”

Mats Hellmark