Politics is about finding a compromise, so it is no surprise that the issue of migration is increasingly defining discussions between Africa and Europe. But this approach is not without risks, writes Jens Borchers.
It may sound cynical, but it has become an increasingly visible reality: Migration and fleeing conflict have become a political currency. The evidence of this could, most recently, be seen at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, which borders Morocco. Time and again, migrants on Moroccan soil have tried to scale the well-protected, six-meter-high fence. If they get over the fence, they have reached European territory. If they fail, then they have to wait, in miserable conditions, for their next opportunity. The intriguing question is what determines whether the fence can be scaled?
The Western Sahara and the rush on Ceuta
Moroccan security forces play an important role in answering that question. They usually keep a close eye on migrants in the north of the country. But if, in Morocco’s view, there are good political reasons, they may pay a bit less attention. And when they do, a few hundred migrants manage to reach Ceuta – and Europe.
One such political reason is the delicate issue of Western Sahara. Morocco peacefully occupied this region in 1975 and regards it as part of its territory. But the region’s status has not been resolved under international law, and this has repeatedly resulted in tensions. Most recently this has surfaced again because the European Court of Justice has refused to accept a trade agreement between the EU and Morocco. The reason behind this is that Morocco has included agricultural products from the Western Sahara as part of the agreement. The European Court of Justice found this to be illegal.
That angered the Moroccan government. At the beginning of February, Morocco’s agriculture minister said it seemed as if Europe did not value the enormous efforts made by the Kingdom of Morocco in protecting the European borders from illegal immigrants. His ministry recently warned in a statement that a new influx of migrants could be on its way towards Europe – if difficulties between Morocco and the European Union continue. A new, small influx of migrants was precisely what we then saw occur twice in Ceuta a few days ago. A third attempt was eventually stopped by Moroccan security forces.
Europe puts its values up for sale
This is how migration become a “political currency.” Germany and Europe are afraid of more immigration. It is only logical that countries that could prevent the steady flow of people to Europe would use this to further their own interests. Morocco is trying to do this, as is Turkey. Even the West African country Niger has long understood that its level of cooperation on migration matters can be used as a tool to gain political and financial capital. This principle behind this is: If I keep the migrants off your turf, you will comply with my political demands – be it money, concessions, or the label “safe country of origin.” And this is our, Europe’s, contribution to the fact that migration and migrants have become political currency.
This especially endangers our much quoted European values: The more we push aside, buy or negotiate ourselves out of the migration problem, the more hollow our constantly proclaimed values and standards of openness, equal opportunity and the inviolability of human rights become.