This April issue of Alternatives magazine deals with the issue of “irregular migration,” in an op-ed piece written by Dr. Iman Ragab, the editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly Al-Ahram publication.
She explains the importance of this issue to Egyptian national security, as Egypt is a transit country that migrants pass through on their way to Europe.
Ragab points out that the issue is not new, but what has changed is the political will that now exists between Europe and North African countries to solve this ongoing problem.
Solutions such as developing the migrants’ origin countries to address the reasons for migration in the first place, re-settling the migrants to third party countries that would accept them, and developing the procedures to legalise the migrants’ status in the destination countries were among the points mentioned as ways to contain the problem.
A study was conducted by Dr. Iman Marei from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. An important point that she made was changing the name of the migration process from “undocumented immigration” to “illegal migration” then to “human trafficking.”
The study observes that irregular immigration has become a problem for both developed and undeveloped countries and is a danger related to other issues like crime, terrorism, money laundering, drug and weapons smuggling, in addition to numerous social problems.
The instability that North African countries have seen since 2010 made travelling through them to reach Europe an easier task than it was previously. The numbers of irregular migrants (or what is called illegal migrants) reaching the European Union countries was about 1.5 million people, according to the International Migration Organization.
Four case studies were examined and analysed thoroughly regarding the experiences of North African countries or the southern Mediterranean countries in dealing with the problem with the cooperation of the northern Mediterranean ones.
The security and economic policies adopted by these countries to contain the problem were analysed in order to reach recommendations that might be helpful for Egyptian decision-makers in order to control the irregular immigration problem and preventing it from becoming more serious than it already is.
The Libyan case study mentioned that in 2018 704,142 immigrants reached Libya through back channels (92 percent of whom are from 41 African countries and 8 percent from three Asian countries).
The main reasons for choosing Libya varied from the strength of the well-established trafficking network, the weak security on the borders, in addition to the country’s wealth due to oil production.
On the legal side, in 2010 Libya signed the Palermo treaty that made illegal migration a crime and put in place harsh penalties for it. On the institutional side, a new governmental body was established with the purpose of combatting illegal migration by training border patrols, arresting illegal migrants, putting them in detention centres and eventually sending them back to their countries, and finally cooperating with regional and international organisations dealing with the same issues.
On a third level, a bilateral treaty with Italy was signed in 2007 and modified in 2017 where Italy decided to provide training to the naval Libyan forces as well as monitoring the southern borders through satellites to prevent more migrants from crossing the borders. On another side, developing the Libyan south became a priority in order to allow workers to come, work and return to their countries in a legal, organised way.
The Moroccan model is considered exemplary for Europe especially as Morocco occupies the first place in exporting migrants to European countries because Spain is only 14 kilometres away.
The Moroccan authorities issued harsh laws in 2003 incriminating an illegal presence in the country combined with fines and prison sentences. These laws also include any person who aids illegal migrants.
In addition, the seizure of transportation equipment, whether boats, trucks or cars, was added to the laws, as deterrent to Moroccan citizens.
But in spite of the harsh laws, without the security’s iron fist they were ineffective; the continuous monitoring and cooperating with the Spanish and French on the naval borders led to a significant decrease in the number of illegal immigrants from 1683 in 2013 to 83 immigrants in 2014.
Yet the legal and security policies proved ineffective, without adopting a means of developing the legal migration procedures while respecting the human rights of the migrants.
The fact that the migrants keep going to Morocco in an attempt to cross to Spain and failing due to the security policies has transformed Morocco into a destination country instead of transit one. African immigrants just stayed there, adding burdens on the Moroccan economy and government while trying to take care of these new migrants on legal, economic and social levels.
The Tunisian and Algerian case studies observed similar conclusions’ the security and legal policies were adopted first, then trying to accommodate the newcomers came later.
The study concludes that irregular immigration has become a phenomenon that no one country can deal with by itself, therefore it is an essential part of the international cooperation between various countries.
Activating the clauses in the previously signed treaties between the developed and under developed countries organising migration between both sides might be a safety valve for the problem.