Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Separate and unequal treatment of African and Syrian migrants by the European Union

African migrants' epic trek across the Balkans into Europe
The 28-Member European Union will be getting ready for a Summit in Malta tomorrow to discuss Europe's migrant problem.  To be more precise, the EU will be zeroing in on its African migrant problem.

There was growing concern among migrants and aid agencies that the European Union is committing grave error by segregating the African from the Syrian migrants into  two distinct classes of refugees.

By differentiating the two groups, the EU might be unwittingly finding a different and distinct set of solutions for the two groups of migrants when the underlying cause of their migration is essentially similar.  Both groups are fleeing civil wars, and corrupt and repressive regimes.

It appears that the fears of those aid agencies are being confirmed because the Europeans are now moving the direction of granting asylum to the Syrians and sending the poorer and less educated Africans packing back to Africa, even if it means sending the latter to their certain death or imprisonment.  Granted, there are a number of economic migrants among the lot, but many among them are voting with their feet because of civil strife and highly repressive regimes.

Others, mainly Gambians, are fleeing the economic miseries their corrupt leader, Yaya Jammeh, have subjected a population of two million.  In a country where the national treasury and the pockets of the dictator are indistinguishable, entering into a bilateral agreements (between Italy, Spain and Gambia) to stem the human tide have failed and nothing has changed to turn failure into success should similar arrangements be entered into again.

The European Union's proposal to establish a $ 2 billion "trust fund"in the form of aid in exchange for taking back those classified as economic migrants is a case in point of replicating, in a grander state,  the bilateral agreements that Italy, Spain and Malta have signed for a number of years with The Gambia, all of which have failed.

What led to the bilateral agreements between Italy, Malta and the government of the Gambia and the details remain unknown.  In fact, according to a source familiar with the Italian agreement said as far as he his aware,"even the Italian parliament seems to be unaware of this agreement that was signed by the Italian Foreign Minister and the head of the Gambian police."

Of the 1,500 who drowned in two boat incidents last year attempting to cross the Mediterranean, 15% were Gambians and between January and June this year, 10,500 Gambians sought asylum in Europe despite a long history of bilateral agreement between individual EU members and The Gambia.

The separate and unequal treatment of the two sets of migrants will result in uneven success in addressing the problem.  A more equitable and even-handed approach by the European Union is more likely to succeed than what is being proposed currently.

The Senegalese Minister of African Integration spoke for many African countries when he said "we cannot tolerate double standards"when Europe admits people from the Middle East and central Asia as refugees while turning away Africans as economic migrants."

According to an Italian source, "a campaign to change the distorted idea of 'economic migrant' is much needed in the EU."  The same source continued "human rights abuses and economic problems are two faces of the same coin."