The European Union And The African Migrants: Dilemma Of Balancing Security And Human Rights

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

The European Union And The African Migrants: Dilemma Of Balancing Security And Human Rights


With objective of examines the response of the EU toward the rising number of African migrants in the light of human rights principles, this study assess whether the policy as well as practical measures of the EU is parallel with the international obligation under human rights law in the protection of African migrants. The paper also assesses how the economic, social and political condition in Africa has forced Africans to be immigrants. Also examines the EU‟s migration-security concern and how it has increasingly connected with the African migrants. To study these issues, the study has used qualitative research methodology. Data have been collected both from primary and secondary sources. Available literatures were highly reviewed to study the recent intertwined themes of migration, security and human rights trends in Europe with the particular emphasis of the African migrants. Furthermore, key informant interviews were conducted with various scholars and officials in the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Union and with various personnel in the institutions such as Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Centre for Human Rights Studies and Institute for Security Studies.

Due to quite number of reasons, Africans have been migrating to Europe. Their reasons range from economic impasse in their countries to political persecutions, human rights abuses and intra and interstate conflicts.
Recently the issue of migration in Europe is progressively viewed more from „a security-based approach‟ and
EU governments increasingly have chosen a “more restrictive approach” in policy and practice towards third country nationals. The actual challenge and dilemma that the EU faces currently is the politics of migration with relation to the protection of the migrants‟ human rights. Finding from this study show the responses of the EU towards the African migrants is contradict with internationally accepted human rights standards. EU‟s border control patrols respond in denying the migrants to enter the Union without any inspection of migrants‟ case and the treatment during transfer to „third states‟ and condition of the detention centers all appears in contradiction with the fundamental international norms vis-a-vis migrants‟ human rights. Also the policy of externalization and the approach of FRONTEX often contradict with “movement-related rights” according to article 13 (1) of the UDHR and article 12(2) of the ICCPR.

Chapter One


Background of the Study

Migration has been part of human from antiquity to the present days. It is logical to accept that when our earliest ancestors became fully human they were already migratory, ―moving about in pursuit of big game‖. The velocity with which hunting groups occupied the entire continents, ―(except Antarctica) in about 50,000 years attests this propensity‖.1

Migration has constantly been a part of human history, but never did it play a prominent role as it did in the last half-century, when more humans decide or were forced to migrate than before.2

Currently we live in the age of ―unprecedented human mobility‖ within the boundaries of countries and beyond that. This large sacale human mobility seems to be continuing and to be a ‗megatrend‘ in the twenty-first century.3

Due to different reasons, the geography of migration has been changing. For example, Europe altered from a land of emigrants to a land of immigrants. Between 1500 and the mid-twentieth century Europeans were major emigrant populations and millions of them immigrated to of the America, Australia, New Zealand, and part of Africa. Conversely, in the late twentieth century, this steadily flow nearly stopped and Europe has turned into a destination for migrants from the Middle East, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Several factors are attributed to these changes such as growing economic inequalities between the rich and poor nations; demographic patterns like slow-growing, aging populations in developed states and younger, fast-growing populations in Africa, Latin American, and South Asia; ethnic hostility and political unrests in many parts of the world; cheaper and faster means of transportation; new technologies that make possible to instant communication between immigrants and family and friends at home and other factors has reshaped the societies.

Approximately 1 billion people out of the world‘s 7 billion people are migrants. Some 214 million are international migrants and 740 million are internal migrants. North-to-South migration is a growing phenomenon.5 Such movement has increased recently globally. For example, according to UN report, globally, the number of international migrants, legal and illegal, was 54.2 million in 1990, 117.45 million in 2000, 220.7 million in 2010, and 231.5 million in 2013. In 2013 somewhat more than three in every one hundred human beings were international migrants. The share of African migrants worldwide reached 18.6 million in 2013 from 17.1 million in the year 2010.6 In addition, according to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, since the beginning of 2015, more than 35,000 African refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Due to quite number of reasons, Africans have been migrating to Europe, America and Arab counties. Their reason ranges from economic impasse in their countries to political persecutions and intra and interstate conflicts. Such movements have been at the center of international discussions and particularly attracted and became a security concern for western countries.

The rising numbers of African migrants and asylum seekers escaping the political, economic and other difficulties in their homeland poses challenges for European policy makers who are these daysstruggling with weak economic growth and ―fractured national politics.

Europe strengthens the control of its external borders with the help of the European border control agency and the vulnerability of migrants is worsening by the security-based policies aimed at strengthening controls on migrants coming from Africa. Such pushing of the African migrants, increasingly forced them to cross dangerous routes through the Mediterranean Sea, which is transformed into a ‗gigantic cemetery‘. European countries put the liability for controlling migration on countries of departure and transit, using economic incentives to push southern Mediterranean countries to sign ―mobility partnerships‖. Such agreements provide the possibility of controls on migration and readmission of migrants expelled from the EU.

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Summary and Concluding Remarks

Despite the African migrants flows is higher and their life has always been at risk for a long period, it is only recently getting the attention of the media and politicians. This implies the life of the African migrants for long been neglected and it is only as a result of the current magnitude becomes one of the international concerns.

The dynamics of African migration have changed after the Arab spring. Particularly the dismantle of the Libyan government gave a way for the increasing number or mass migration of the African migrants, which sometimes described as ‗exodus of the African migrants‘. Before that it was difficult even to reach Libya through crossing the Sahara desert. However the downfall of the Gaddafi regime transformed Libya into a stronghold of factional groups and become an easy passage for human traffickers and smugglers to transport mass of African migrants into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. And most of the fishing boats immediately changed their tasks in transporting people. Due to the growing number of the African migrants from the region as well the emergence of North African states as a security threat, the issue becomes the security agenda of the EU.

What makes the current migration flow to EU different from the previous is the simultaneous growing of economic as well as political migrant from and across Africa and higher refugees from the Middle East. After the eruption of the Arab Spring various groups have involved so the EU is highly concerned with the issue and linked the migration influx with security threat. Also, if we look at the entire Africa, despite there is some economic success registered in the continent, states never been able to provide jobs, and equal opportunities for millions. With such limited resources, migration would be thealternative.

Recently, members of the EU have been creating a dichotomy between the African migrants and migrants from worn torn regions such as from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. While EU member states swiftly willing to grant asylum and refugee status for those coming from the war torn region, they are reluctant to grant for the African migrants and asylum seekers with the exception of Eritreans and for limited Africans asylum seekers from the continent since they accept migration from Africa is driven by economicfactors.

Although there are number of factors has contributed for the growing number of African migration to Europe, I can argue these causes are deeply rooted from the legacy of colonialism. Colonialism has its own factor for African migration to Europe.

Currently there is a European perception toward the African migrants categorizing all as if economic migrants and pose a threat to the EU‘s security. From the international law perspective it is not viable to generalize all migrants as economic migrants without examining their cause of migration and without justifying their cases through various mechanisms. Currently, members of the EU are highly concerned with their political as well as economic security and they associated the problem with the migrants‘ flows particularly from the Africa region.

Although migration provides security for those escaping from political persecution, human rights abuses, chaos and dreadful economic conditions, the recently the trend to perceive the issue has changed. Currently the issue of migration is presented before the public eyes often with its adverse effects, especially in the European countries and they are trying to frame the issue only with its negative effects.

Also, there is a growing tendency to frame migration as a security threat. In this sense the securitization theory correctly reflect the scenario in EU countries. As has been said, this theoretical perspective describes a process whereby urgent ‗security threats‘ are identified or ‗constructed‘ in order to mobilize the public opinion and construct legitimacy for the means of dealing with the ‗threat‘.

African migrants, particularly North Africans in EU are being accused of increased in fundamentalism and terrorist activities after attacks on Madrid and London earlier and in Paris and Brussels recently. Such attacks have become an urgent security concern for EU, forcing the EU to make migration a security concern.

Labeling immigration as a security threat has significant implications in term of laws, norms, policies and procedures. Labeling the issue has been used to justify harsh and restrictive policies and the act of securitizing immigration is more threatening than immigration itself, as it frequently consequences in racism, marginalization and xenophobia, eventually leading to social disintegration.

Restrictive European immigration policies have a direct impact on migrants‘ rights and emerged as an obstacle for asylum seekers to access safe countries, contribute for smuggling and trafficking humans easily, forced migrant to search unsafe passages and contributing to a growing anti-migrants tendencies.

The instruments that the EU has carried out to tackle the migration influx is now directly associated with security concerns and focused on a military-based approach. In this sense, the militarization of border controls and putting barriers across the vast part of EU boundaries has increasingly manifested.

Throughout this research, I do observe that, whether the African migrants are pose security threat for the EU‘s is very contesting issue. However by taking consideration what most scholars agreed on the issue, it is easy to deduce that there is no significant security threat for EU which is basically originated from the African migrants. Yet, as we have discussed in the above, it is logical to admit that, although it is a rare case, African migrants possibly pose security threats for EU especially with the recent magnitude.

As Europe is facing a serious refugee influx and as the Middle East continues to be tumultuous, the fate of African migrants will worsen. They will not be treated, even by UNHCR and other NGOs, as priorities. This would hasten the vulnerability of African refugees to predators of the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea.

To conclude Europe is, by and large, the only continent that has so far been able to strike a balance of sorts between human rights and security exigencies. However, this is rapidly dwindling due to the rising number of migrants and the ceaseless refugee influx. Hence, in the foreseeable future Europe‘s main concern may not be the rights of migrants, but the security threats they may pose. And the effort to strike between these two conflicting agendas seems to be unattainable unless the number of migrants is not back to the normal condition or decreased.

Although internationally accepted standards and the charter of EU itself recognized the prohibition of degrading and inhuman treatment of human beings (article 4 of EU human rights charter), the approach of the EU‘s border control patrols respond in denying the African migrants to enter the Union without any inspection of migrants‘ case and the treatment during transfer to ‗third states‘ or the condition of the detention centers all appears contradict with the fundamental international human rights norms vis-a-vis migrants‘ human rights. Beside the policy of externalization and the approach of FRONTEX is inconsistent with ―movement-related rights‖that is fundamental principle in the international migration context as it is stated in article 13(1) of the UDHR and article 12(2) of the ICCPR.

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