By Catherine Wihtol de Wenden
Translation: Lawrence Myers
Passage au crible n°95
The drama in Lampedusa, followed by new arrivals between Malta and Lampedusa, have since October 2013, led to new international negotiations on migration politics, both on the European and world scales. Let us recall that 366 people perished in Lampedusa during the night of October 3-4, 2013, at the precise moment that the second High Level Dialogue on migration and development was being held in New York. Spearheaded by Kofi Annan in 2006 to evaluate the progress of multilateralism in the governance of migrations, this summit brought together numerous IGOs and NGOs, sending and receiving countries, experts as well as members of civil society linked to the question of migration. In response to this tragedy, Brussels reinforced the powers of the agency Frontex by conferring on it more financial wherewithal. At the same time, a European summit (October 24-25) devoted to the control of migratory politics, reminded attendees of the necessity for European countries to share the burden of the arrival of illegal migrants and asylum seekers.
This is not the first time that people are talking about Lampedusa. In his film “Le Guépard” (The Cheetah), Lucchino Visconti evoked this ancient possession of the princes of Lampedusa and the interchange of Sicily, which during the Risorgimento passed between the Bourbon kings of Spain and the Kingdom of Italy. But today, the island is experiencing drama of a different nature. In the last twenty years, we can count twenty thousand deaths in the Mediterranean, of which Lampedusa was one of the principal cemeteries due to its southern location between the Tunisian Cap Bon and Sicily, which makes it particularly accessible. Its inhabitants are divided between rescuing the shipwrecked in the name of the Law of the Sea – which places them in a position of infraction with Italian legislation sanctioning the assistance of an illegal stay – and the necessity of welcoming tourists from the North who today bring in more revenue than fishing. This dilemma was recently illustrated by Emmanuele Crialese’s film, “Terra ferma”. Among the most extreme cases, let us recall the case of the victims of the Senegalese shipwreck in the middle of the Mediterranean, who, grasping onto the wire fish netting, were saved by Tunisian fishermen condemned in 2008 for facilitation of unauthorized residence in Italy. The Island of Lampedusa, after having been a point of arrival for asylum seekers and undocumented aliens until the mid-2000s, was thereafter less often used for such purposes, as the new arrivals were directly convoyed onto Italian soil. It was at the time of the Arab revolutions in 2011 that Lampedusa once again became the target of people smugglers and makeshift boats, the Arab Spring having witnessed the surge of tens of thousands of Tunisians and Libyans. The summer season – peak period of transit – also explains the remarkable affluence, since other small boats arrived off the coast of Malta and Lampedusa after the catastrophe. At that time, the occupants came from the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Somalia) and from Syria. They had sometimes traveled for several months, had been imprisoned, and then had paid smugglers in order to arrive at what they considered to be the European Eldorado, in the hopes of finding asylum and of entering the job market. Children accompanied them. Nevertheless, this is not an isolated case, as they are many other Lampedusas, and there will be new ones, if reinforced border control continues to be the only European response to the Mediterranean migrations. Otherwise, Brussels considers Frontex, which patrols the region, to be financially ill equipped (87 million euros). The right to asylum is not adapted to the situation of these mixed flows whose treatment appears to be too slow, as for example we saw with the Leonarda affair in France, which arose after four years of proceedings. In this humanly delicate context, the UN summit in New York presented a discourse favorable to mobility, a source of human development. It also recommended securing the migrants’ route in respect of Human Rights. Likewise, it advised adapting the qualified and unqualified workforce to the job markets in need. Finally, it underlined the demographic disequilibrium that exists between the North and the South. Consequently, we might be surprised that the ultimate response was as safe and short term.
United by the Community since 2004, polls bear witness to the fact that European immigration policy is defined by those European States plagued by the rise of concerns for safety. It is in this way that the sharing of the burden between European countries in matters of reception of immigrants which resulted in the Dublin II Accords on asylum – often results in the absence of solidarity between northern European and southern Europe, as the majority of illegal arrivals come via the South. Let us briefly note that most undocumented immigrants did not enter Europe in this manner: they arrived under legal circumstances and then prolonged their stay. Finally, European policy invites countries situated on the exterior borders of Europe, notably on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, the task of policing their boarders and filtering illegal immigrants. However, this duty appears to be less diligently taken on by current-day Tunisia and Libya than in the days of Ben Ali and Gaddafi. How can we then reconcile the international discourse on migration – as shown by expert reports, international organizations, law texts – and European responses? For the States of the Union who content themselves with a safe approach and a militarization of controls, this shift testifies to the incapacity to accept a position in the medium and long term.
1. A multilateral governance of migration. Migration is talked about at neither G8, nor at G20 because the question is “bothersome,” so it is said. It is true that no world conference has been held concerning international migration, as was the case in Cairo (on population), then in Beijing (on women), and in Durban (the fight against discrimination). However, the theme has been pulled from the Accords of Barcelona on the Mediterranean euro (1995-2005) and from the Union for the Mediterranean. Yet, an international discourse on migration indeed exists. It is seeking to reconcile three objectives:
1) securing the board 2) respecting Human Rights 3) improving the flow of the workforce necessary to the labor market. But the world’s interdependence is barely taken into account in these analyses, as factors external to migration (regional crises management, raw materials pricing or the definition of development policy can exert an impact on the entry into mobility of populations). Finally, the current crisis of regional governance of migration is underscored by the prudence of European policy in response to the tragic event in Lampedusa. In lieu of promoting circulation to combat the traffic economy, reinforcement of controls remains the only response. It is clear that Europeanization of migration politics struggles to affirm itself in a context of the rise neo-sovereigntism and the security imperative. The governance demonstrated is thus in contradiction with the definition of the global objectives assured in New York.
2. The reassurance of the sovereignty principal. In its globalized dimension, the question of migration puts the United Nations to the test of confirming their sovereignty, as the physical borders of the planet do not correspond to the political borders of States. The absence of world governance of migration and the absence of a definition of the right to mobility as a Human Right, underline the preeminence of the Nation State in the management of migration flows. In reality, governments refuse mobility as a figure of globalization, because they esteem that they are the greatest losers of an international order that ever continues to elude them. Let us note, nonetheless, that for the last thirty years, neither dissuasion policy nor return policy, nor even the perspective of better development, has been able to show any efficiency whatsoever in controlling borders.
If counted, the total number of spaces of free migration in the world comes to 25, but few among this number function in a satisfactory manner due to political conflicts that oppose member states. Nevertheless, in an interdependent world, international migration appears to be the less fluid factor of globalization. It is a structural phenomenon, paradoxically linked to the development of the more urbanized countries of the global South, where the more educated population aspires to a wellness which it achieves thanks especially to migration. Departure countries encourage this mobility, in order to export social protests – half of the population under the age of 25 – due to funds transfers (400 billion dollars in 2012 were sent by migrants to their home countries). All research has shown that levels of emigration tend to rise along with economic levels of departure countries, as the aspirations of the population also increase and because migration flows count higher qualification levels than those of natives. In short, emigration also shows that the more borders are open, the more people circulate and less they settle down. This is exactly what was observed in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain. In the southern Mediterranean, the opening of migration to an increased number of categories of migrants (work contracts for unqualified workers, tourists, students, transnational entrepreneurs) would permit development for both sides, as many of these actors are blocked by difficulties linked to visas. From now on, it is clear than impenetrable borders cannot stop the migratory flow, it will merely enrich smugglers.
Wihtol de Wenden Catherine, Le Droit d’émigrer, Paris, CNRS Editions 2013.
Wihtol de Wenden Catherin, Pour accompagner les migrations en méditerranée, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2013.