You are currently viewing Interview – ICMPD. Part III: Migration in Sahelian Africa:

Interview – ICMPD. Part III: Migration in Sahelian Africa:

Tackling the socio-economic reasons for departure: a prerequisite for a good Mobility Partnership

African countries are among our most crucial partners to tackle this migration crisis, being both source and transit countries. They also bear significant part of the human cost of this situation. The Arab Spring heavily destabilised the whole region, assesses Ralph Genetzke from ICMPD. The collapse of Libya, the regime change in Tunisia, the toughening of Morocco, and now the actions of the European Union in the East Mediterranean all lead to a remapping of the migration routes towards the West Mediterranean. Italy and Spain remain key entry points of illegal arrivals into the Union. As for the Balkans and Turkey route, these partners countries have to deal with more than the mere mobility of their own nationals to the EU. Morocco and Tunisia were, and still are to a large extend, transit countries where third country national from Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions try to enter illegally the Union.

Ralph Genetzke emphasises that it is important to have a good understanding of what happens in the country you are working with, and the specific dynamics of migration flows on their territory.

Migratory flows can lead to the establishment of entire economies built on the smuggling and the exploitation of the migrants. Deputy director at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime Tuesday Reitano told the audience in a Conference on Human Smuggling in Brussels (March 2017) that some countries in the Sub-Saharan region or in the Horn of Africa started relying on the illegal commerce surrounding both regional and global migration. For example, her study on the Niger-Libya smuggling corridor shows that the smuggling of people has become and industry. It is the most profitable form of smuggling, and is also more profitable than legal trades in the region (Reitano & Tinti 2015). The revenues generated by the smuggling of people are now embedded within national political and security structures in the region.

“Without this revenue, the Army of Niger would have no fuel”, she pointed out.

Addressing the root causes:

It is crucial to have a thorough description of the situation in the field. The issue of working with local communities and finding alternative income generation activities is an inescapable component of an effective migration policy. Only disrupting this smuggling industry will not solve the problem, will create unemployment with a risk of further radicalisation, and even enrolment in armed activities by the youth, as the Institute for Security Studies points out in a paper called “Mali’s young “jihadists”: Fuelled by faith or circumstance?”. Some non economic and non ideological factors also explain the radicalisation of the youth, for example the need for protection for them and their family. The European Union and its partners should always bear in mind the complexity of the field and conduct detailed analysis of local situations before and while acting.

To attract potential irregular migrants, collecting networks are also developing in the South of Sahel (Nigeria, Mali, e.g.) and the Horn of Africa. The fast growing population of the region does not match the job creation rate, and young people often find themselves without a job or a stable source of income for them and their family. Nigeria is for example the home of 186 million people, and 42% of them are currently under 18. The median age is only 18.4 years old, and half of the population lives in cities. A substantial number of young people in rural areas live without a stable source of food and income. This is why the Valletta Summit focused on the issues of income generation, especially on the modernisation and sustainability of agricultural production for reliable farmer income, and also education and vocational training. These are root causes the EU has to address in order to have a comprehensive migration policy. The EU Emergency Trust Fund is here to create the pre-condition for a migration policy to encompass all these parameters.

The role Mobility Partnerships in the West Mediterranean region:

Once again, ICMPD believes that migration related issues should be here a prominent aspect of the European Foreign Policy in the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Horn of Africa. Mobility Partnership Agreements are an important tool for the European involvement in the neighbouring regions, both South and West of the Union. Here, Ralph Genetzke provided us with a general assessment of this kind of partnership in the region, and then focused on the case of Tunisia.

Mobility Partnerships are useful tools to start working with countries on the legal mobility of people, and thus to establish structures that will be able to adapt and to tackle new migration issues as they evolve.

“In the end, if you look into the content of the Mobility Partnerships, you could also call them “Migration Partnerships”. There are all the elements you need when you want to have a structured dialogue with the country. France, and other countries, have their own bilateral Migration Agreements. If you look into them, you will find the same elements. You have a blueprint of structure: cooperation platforms in the country, questions about funding, modalities of the meetings and the common work, and all the technicalities that make the practical cooperation possible”.

Mobility Partnership Agreements were all initially designed to address the legal migration of the partner country’s own nationals to the EU, and that is why they are not sufficient to cope with the current migration crisis, where third country nationals transit through countries we have an MPA with, such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan. They were developed around 2006 and 2007, at a time when the European Commission wanted to signal their commitment to act in this field to their international partners. These agreements were also meant to remind the Member States that legal migration has to be a part of the discussions they conduct with third countries. In other words, legal migration can not be excluded from their traditional foreign policies. In the these partnerships, the Member States participate in a voluntary basis. The number of admissions of third country workers remains a national competence, and stands as contentious issue.

They should not be confused with readmission agreements, where different problems arise. The almost ten years long negotiation on readmission with Morocco, independently of the Mobility Partnership, illustrates the difficulty to reach an agreement on readmission of transiting third country nationals and on how many workers could come to specific EU Member States. That is why ICMPD firmly believes that readmission asks for a more comprehensive and regional approach, including a coherence with the overall European policy for the region, and coordination with other tools in the field of economic cooperation and development.

Mobility Partnership Agreements are part of a bilateral approach the EU develops with its partners, and they exist together with several other bilateral agreements on related topics. For example, the EU also has a refugee-focused compact with Lebanon alongside the Mobility Partnership. This bilateral approach with several agreements make things more complex, but they allow well targeted responses to various challenges. Mobility Partnerships also vary in reality between the countries, because their formal text is later substantiated by detailed annexes agreed upon by each partner country. This is why Ralph Genetzke underlines the importance to make them operational. Anyhow, beyond the advantages of actual work, bringing both parties together generates mutual trust, and improve the efficiency of their own internal structures. And that makes the coordination with other agreements even more important, because the topics covered by the implementation of the Mobility Partnership must not overlap or undermine the implementation of the other agreements the EU has with the country.

There is one logical precondition to the conclusion of such a partnership: there must a be a credible State structure to work with. That is why the ICMPD is currently working in Libya to identify the stakeholders the EU could work with. The “State authorities” do not seem robust enough to be in position to negotiate and to implement such cooperation, but local authorities could be strong enough to put in place some actions to help migrants in Libya. This situation is a good reminder that mobility deals must always be included in the general foreign policy of the EU and its members States. Where there is no state, there is no room for such partnerships and it is therefore harder to face all the challenges the migration crisis creates.

Tunisia gives us another good example of the importance of incorporating European action related to migration in a more global approach to countries and regions. Ralph Genetzke’s assessment of the situation in Tunisia is rather positive. The revolution that started the Arab Spring did not leave the country in ruins, and the current Tunisian government is actively implementing the 2014 Mobility Partnership. The Tunisian civil society exerts a tough scrutiny on the government on every policy, and especially on its migration policies. International observers remain very present and give a strong incentive to the government to do its job in a way that both respects Human Rights and works effectively. Forcing unilaterally migration on the agenda too much could destabilise the new regime, and this would be disastrous for the Tunisian people, for the third country nationals in Tunisia, and for the Europeans. We should always be careful not to be counterproductive when putting migration on the table.

“In the end, it is not so different for European politicians and our national administrations”, Genetzke said.

Migration is part of a policy and not some stand-alone topic. Mobility Partnerships and other agreements on migration must also contribute to meet the end goals of the EU and its Member States.

“ It is a fine line for Europe to find how to have interests and put them on the table, and to remember that the ultimate goal in our relationship with Tunisia is the stability of Tunisia”.

Dialogue is crucial, because asking too much can bring a partner to the verge of the political collapse at the detriment of every stakeholder. In this crisis, no country is an island. And no topic is a stand-alone topic. We must always have in mind the broader picture. The 2016 EU Global Strategy emphasises that the resilience of partner economies should be a key driver of EU cooperation and assistance to the region. Discussing migration should be done with special attention to this end goal.

We can try to build on the cooperation structures and mutual trust we have with these countries to address the several issues surrounding illegal migration. The implementation of the Mobility Partnership in Morocco, Tunisia, and Lebanon brought structures, good practices, and mutual trust that will help work on illegal migration and coordinate our policies with other broader policies like the Rabat and the Khartoum process.

West and Central Africa: the significant achievements of the Rabat Process

The dialogue framework developed between the European Union and West/Central African countries

When 27 African countries agreed 10 years ago to engage with the EU and its 27 Members States on the Euro-African migration route in an unprecedented effort of cooperation, they did not foresee the critical relevance of the migration issues for good relations between the two regions.

The surge of migrants trying to reach Europe through Gibraltar and the Canary Islands in 2005/06 was a wake-up call. It led to the decision to engage in a dialogue on the West African migration route between all countries affected by the crisis: countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries in Europe.

The Rabat process works on the basis of a sustained dialogue at the ministerial level and thematic exchange on the mutually agreed strategic issues listed in ministerial declarations. It has evolved into a real cooperation framework where priorities are followed up by operational initiatives improving the migration management in several phases. Ministerial and thematic meetings were put forward to implement the discussion.

It takes time for multi-state dialogue processes to build trust among partners and to mature. The gradual exchange of views and experiences between parties having each their own specific interest but willing to address a common issue enable all to improve on their response, both at the regional and at the national level. The political commitment by the parties can bring all the more results that dialogue is backed up by concrete initiatives to operationalize the joint declarations and actions plans. Such concrete activities are not always identical, but drawn from the common platform and adapted to each national situations. Furthermore, the continuity of dialogue fosters a flexibility enabling to adapt to new emerging urgent issues.

ICMPD has played an important facilitating role in supporting such migration dialogue processes launched by the European Union in its neighbourhoods. It has provided continuity and coherence of action through regular meetings and concrete support at country level.

Four ministerial declarations were released about the Rabat Process since 2006. Each declaration marked a different stage of its development. These declarations outline actions plans for the future of this cooperation.

The first declaration established a “close partnership” to pursue a dialogue among countries on the West African migration route. Following the Rabat action plan, more concrete phases began. The second declaration agreed on a Triennial Cooperation Program (Paris, 2008) that organizes legal migration, tackles illegal migration and reinforces the link between migration and development. Four years after, the States met up in Dakar, Senegal and put in place a strategy focused on more operational initiatives. In 2014, the Rome programme came along. This programme included for the first time two new aspects of the cooperation which were contentious issues back in 2006: the promotion of international protection, and asylum. International protection became a legitimate aspect of the cooperation among countries.

As highlighted by Mr Genetzke: “This is one of the biggest example where you see how it has changed over the years: countries would never question that anymore”.

Next to dialogue, operational initiatives were progressively put in place using financial instrument from the European commission. Between 2008 and 2012, partners countries supported the organisation of meetings, and developed communication tools in order to improve the information sharing and the coordination between partners.

A biggest step was reached in 2013, when partners agreed on the implementation of a short term technical assistance on the country’s request, and on the development communication between them. A new stage was reached in 2015, facilitating the funding of technical assistance and main initiatives.

The success of the Rabat process

The success of the Rabat process is difficult to quantify. It started as a simple dialogue among participating countries and eventually evolved into a more practical cooperation, which is still developing. A lot has happened during these ten years of cooperation.

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen a change of attitude of African countries in terms of wanting to address migration issues”, Ralph Genetzke told us.

Not only did it change on a bilateral level with the European Union, but it also impacted the way to cooperate between themselves. This process has become a reference. It has given the participants a common foundation for future work. It is now possible to know how cooperation can go on.

“The objective of dialogue is dialogue”.

Ministerial meetings are not the only way to have a discussion on migration. ICMPD is trying other ways to improve cooperation with technical meetings or smaller ones at national level, thereby encouraging a more efficient coordination between the administrations.

As Ralph Genetzke explained, “we always think about West and North Africa, but there are others regions such as Central Africa” that need to develop cooperation on the issue of migration.

“Reality between these different parts of Africa are really different”.

That is the reason why the Khartoum process was introduced.

The Khartoum Process:

The Khartoum process only started in 2014. It gathers countries from Eastern Africa (the Horn of Africa), a totally different set of countries than the Rabat Process. It brings together countries which are not in good term with each other such as Ethiopia and Eritrea or South Sudan and Sudan. It has only been two years, and the countries are still in the discussion stage but they seem ready to engage in operational initiatives together. With the help of the European commission, partners are more willing to take part in such a project.

ICMPD supports the Khartoum process by organizing, suggesting, and convening but always under the control of participating countries, especially the chair of the ministerial committee. To fight against human smuggling and migration network, the first way to work with such countries is to understand what is happening in their own countries, to interact with the community, and to work with the local authorities. To do such a cooperation, organisations have to take into account the smuggling industry as a whole including the creation of unemployment, risk of radicalization, enrolment in army activity, etc.

As a result, the EU was able to address the burning issues of migration from Africa by gathering the Heads of States of countries affected by the crisis at the Valletta Summit in December 2015. Many were already engaged in the two Processes. As Ralph Genetzke said, this meeting “injected a good dose of political energy”. The Summit brought new concrete developments to the cooperation about migration, and its follow-ups can be based on the work of the Rabat and Khartoum processes.

Recommendations about the next EU-Africa Summit

For the next EU-Africa Summit which will take place in 2018, the countries will have to  “link youth, income generation, employment, investment, and role of the private sector”.

They will have to underline how can the EU support African plans for intra-African mobility.

This question seems to be extremely relevant as the African Union wants to put intra-African migration first. A second question which will have to be answered is the one concerning the general interest of Africa and not only short term issues. Another element that should be discussed is the development of mobility with, for example, the increase of Erasmus Mundus scholarships, or even mobility of businessmen.

Ultimately, it is only through a genuine cohesive solidarity among all the EU Member States that the EU will be able to tackle the hard challenges of migration pressures, bound to continue in the decades to come. The sooner, the better for all the parties.

A special thanks to Ralph Genetzke and the ICMPD for their availability.

Zana Çanaku

Rémi Petitcol

Alice Poidevin

Sabrina Terentjew

With the assistance of P. Borgoltz


  • Reitano, T. (March 2017). “Beyond anecdotes: Human smuggling in North Africa, the Sahel and Turkey”. Lecture given at a conference organised by the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Brussels the 23th March 2017.

  • Reitano, T. and Tinti, P. (2015). “Survive and advance. The economics of smuggling refugees and migrants into Europe”. ISS Paper 289 (November 2015).

  • “Mali’s young ‘jihadists’: Fuelled by faith or circumstance?”. Institute for Security Studies, Policy Brief 89 (August 2016).
  • “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy”. EEAS, June 2016.
  • Figures from:
  • Frontex official website:
  • Robin, N. and the “Projet de Soutien au Processus de Rabat” team.  “Une décennie de dialogue sur la migration et le développement”. ICMPD, 2015.
  • “Valletta Summit on Migration: A Common Political Basis Cooperation in Migration Between Africa and the European Union Analysis of the political commitments of the Rabat Process, the Khartoum Process and the Africa – EU Dialogue on Migration » ICMPD Policy Brief, September 2015
  • « Valletta Summit on Migration From Policy Coherence to Delivery Coherence Suggestions for the Valletta Summit Action Plan « . ICMPD Policy Brief, September 2015

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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