European Partnership Deals with North African Countries Can Bear More Fruit When Focus Goes Beyond Wealthier Governments’ Migration Management Priorities, Report Finds
WASHINGTON — Amid a dramatic spike in the arrival on European shores of asylum seekers and migrants in 2015 and 2016, European policymakers set their sights on building or reinvigorating partnerships with origin and transit countries in North Africa as a means of bringing Mediterranean crossings under control.
These deals, in which European interests seek stronger migration management and the return of unauthorized migrants in exchange for financial aid or investments, have often proven controversial. Italy’s recent deal with Libyan militias and tribes to halt migrant-packed boats from setting off across the Mediterranean has been harshly criticized by human-rights and international organizations, which deplore the inhumane conditions in Libyan detention camps where migrants now find themselves marooned.
The partnerships also have underperformed when focused largely on European priorities while giving scant attention to transit- and sending-country needs, as a new report jointly published by the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration and MPI’s sister institution in Brussels, MPI Europe, finds.
The report, Beyond Transactional Deals: Building Lasting Migration Partnerships in the Mediterranean, examines two prominent examples of bilateral cooperation on migration management in the region: the Spain-Morocco and Italy-Tunisia partnerships.
Both partnerships, which have their roots in the early 1990s, experienced limited results early on, with Italy and Spain focused narrowly on closing their borders and stepping up the return of unauthorized migrants. Researcher Luca Lixi finds these priorities clashed with those of the North African partners, for whom the receipt of remittances, retaining positive relations with their diasporas, and easing domestic economic and political pressures via emigration are paramount.
Italy has continued to pursue short-term, transactional deals that rely on the promise of aid and investment to incentivize Tunisian cooperation on enforcement. The limits of this approach can be seen in the fact that crossings from Tunisia to Italy have increased four-fold since last year—with more than 3,000 migrants arriving between September and mid-October alone. “When partnerships become transactional and cooperation must be bought, as in this case, migration management can quickly become a bargaining chip,” the report finds.
More promisingly, Spain and Morocco revisited their partnership and expanded their cooperation to include a range of capacity-building, joint border patrols and legal migration programs.
“As policymakers negotiate or revisit agreements to jointly manage illegal routes to Europe, these case studies suggest that outcomes improve when countries cooperate on the basis of shared objectives. They also point to the limitations of relationships built solely around short-term enforcement priorities,” said MPI Europe President Demetrios G. Papademetriou, who convenes the Transatlantic Council on Migration.
“Agreeing on common goals that reflect the priorities of both countries is crucial to avoiding purely transactional relationships in which one country ‘purchases’ the cooperation of the other—an approach that can quickly crumble in the wake of complex political or economic events,” Papademetriou added.
This report is the first in a Transatlantic Council series, “Building Partnerships to Respond to the Next Decade’s Migration Challenges.” The series captures the Council’s discussions over innovative ways to foster collaborative bilateral and regional cooperation at a time when migration-management and refugee-reception systems have been heavily taxed by unplanned mixed flows of migrants and asylum seekers.
Additional reports will be published over the next several weeks, and will be collected here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/migrants-migration-and-development-transatlantic-council-migration/building-partnerships.