Can Morocco offer a new plan of action on migration for Africa?
Africa has always suffered from the banes of illegal migration. In recent years, however, migration in Africa has gone from being a passing or restricted problem to a social and structural phenomenon intimately linked to the prevailing political and economic conditions in African countries.
With changes in security conditions and the emergence of terrorist groups in Africa, migration has become a burning issue on the agendas of African-European summits.
France, in particular, is concerned with this issue, given its colonial past in Africa and the presence on its soil of important communities of African origins. For France, immigration will be a major national and regional challenge during the coming decades.
Despite the urgency of the challenge, solutions to the problem of migration from Africa are slow to come and African countries have yet to incorporate immigration in a comprehensive cooperation initiative.
Usually, African governments address migration on a strictly local scale with temporary policies not supported by adequate means and tools to have a significant effect on the problem. Migrants are not intimidated by borders and national barriers fail to dam their increasing flow.
African countries are always counting on and waiting for European aid earmarked for anti-immigration programmes but those funds are shrinking under the effects of the economic crisis and a lack of coordination between European countries.
Terrorism has gone into business in African immigration. Migrants are easy prey for organised crime and terrorist groups. This has occured since immigration from Africa is no longer a priority for European governments in general and for France in particular. The latter will show interest in migration issues only in so far as they represent a security threat.
With the increase in security threats in Europe, more funds are allocated to dealing with them. In this European context, addressing migration in and from Africa has become a financial burden on European governments.
To face terrorism, African countries need financial and logistic assistance from Europe in addition to funds for their migration policies and programmes. In the end, fighting terrorism in Europe has won the day and fighting immigration has been relegated to a lower European priority.
Within this context and since rejoining the African Union last year, Morocco has developed an African plan for dealing with migration from Africa. The plan was unveiled during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in the presence of Moroccan King Mohammed VI.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the plan would focus on looking at migration as an opportunity rather than a necessity, changing the stereotypes people have of migrants and coming up with comprehensive plan for upholding migrant rights by coordinating with regional and international parties.
Such an initiative is not new in Morocco. Years ago, a national programme dealing with migration was started and led to a special law for migrants, a first in the kingdom.
Several internal measures were taken, such as a campaign to regularise the presence of African migrants in Morocco and specific educational programmes to counter racist views and attitudes towards them. This Moroccan experiment was hailed in African capitals as a pioneering effort.
During the African Summit, Morocco tried to convince African leaders to initiate migration policies to be incorporated into a wider economic vision. Migration in Africa can become an engine for economic development rather than a costly burden.
Such an approach to migration might be too ambitious for the African Union, which is stymied by internal divisions. Structural barriers stand in the way of cooperation. Still, to have an effective impact, the best plans will need to be backed with strong political will.
Idris al-Kanbouri is a Moroccan writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.