Oriol Puig writes that the recent incidents in the Spanish enclave Ceuta may have stated otherwise, but (mostly) Africa does not aspire to come to Europe.
Oriol Puig is a researcher at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs. The original Spanish version of this article can be found on CIDOB.
The recent events in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave, may explain otherwise, but (mostly) Africa does not aspire to come to Europe. The number of immigrants in Africa is much higher than the number seeking to enter the European Union.
Continuing to present the other side of the wall as a place full of hunger, poverty and violence lacks rigor and contributes to the narrative of the Eldorado in Europe-an image that is no longer accurate. Morocco, Turkey, and Niger are three different aspects of the externalization of European borders. They deserve more attention.
“Avalanche”, “Immigration Pressure”, “Immigration Wave”, “Border Aggression” and so on. This kind of clichéd political and media remarks fuels false intrusion concepts and exacerbates mistrust and fear.
The terrible games played by Morocco and Spain seem to confirm that open borders will continue to lead to “mass” arrivals of immigrants, “fleeing war, suffering and poverty”.
But beyond this distorted, selfish narrative, is Africa really lurking on the other side of the wall?
Approximately 75% of African migration flows occur within the African continent. The remaining 25% goes to America, Asia or Europe. When it comes to West Africa, the balance is about 90%/10%.
Therefore, the flow in Africa is basically intracontinental and inter-regional or intra-regional. In fact, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 80% of Africans considering immigration are not interested in leaving the continent.
But stage-managed theatrical performances like Ceuta and the discourse surrounding them help spread the opposite impression.
Thousands of people entered this Spanish city within a few days, which shows the serious consequences of the European border foreignization policy. On the one hand, it shows that immigrants are used as geopolitical bargaining chips and blatant violations of human rights.
On the other hand, it enshrines the border as a spectacle, racist and xenophobic gestures and paternalistic vision of assistance confirm the belief that there is only vulnerability and poverty below the northern Mediterranean coast. Therefore, the wall becomes a focal point of attraction, division and hiding.
Fences, “heat returns” and other repressive policies can contain thousands of people within a certain period of time, but they cannot stop them. In fact, they often do the opposite. The symbolic power of walls is ignored: they not only separate, confront and restrict, they also entice and attract.
They attract people’s attention because they evoke a sense of the unknown—anything that is worth so much effort (and money) to protect it must be truly valuable. Border securitization contains a lot of such content. Therefore, Fortress Europe added the idea of European Eldorado. Imagination is complementary, not opposite.
Imposing obstacles will only arouse frustration and indignation, but will not diminish determination. When the obstacle is lifted, it may cause a short period of vigorous exercise—as in Ceuta—but the flow will subside soon after.
Relaxing border controls does not necessarily mean more people move. In the short term, it allows those who are blocked to enter and may attract the attention of others who do not want to leave, but in the medium to long term, movement tends to decrease. Being able to travel at any time brings peace and calm expectations.
On the other hand, in addition to restricting the entry of foreigners, barriers also distort the internal perception of external things. For those who want to jump over them, the walls may be high, but for those who build them, they are often impassable.
This has led to the assimilation of discourse that presents the outside world as wild, backward, poor, and violent. For example, Africa’s vision is homogeneous, undifferentiated, and uncomplicated—the African continent is helpless and fragile.
Stereotypes are copied, and the root causes of global and domestic inequality are ignored. Therefore, historical and present responsibilities have been ignored.
In the case of Ceuta, the army was deployed, the language was militarized, the colonial metaphor was indulged in the name of national identity, and the attempt to reintroduce containment was the only way out of the crisis of true diplomacy rather than migration.
When it comes to the repeated requirements and conditions of the European Union, they have now been blown up in front of it. Talking about Morocco’s “extortion” is unbalanced. An authoritarian kingdom is undoubtedly endowed with undue power, and some people have torn off their hair in this display of “power”.
At the same time, in the Sahara Desert, European institutions continue to impose, restrict and exacerbate the already unstable situation.
In the Sahel, Europe’s obsession with curbing immigration has hindered traditional mobility and adaptation to climate change, and violated the ECOWAS (a West African Schengen area) agreement on free movement, preventing thousands of people from entering and Exacerbated the instability in the region.
All of this happened outside the European public (and published) opinions, but it created an ideal hotbed for expanding the ranks of armed groups.
The EU’s criticism does not exonerate the Maghreb and Sahel leaders, their aides and other beneficiaries of these measures. The more influential Maghreb warned that they have leeway and are willing to use immigration as a political weapon.
The Sahelians are aware of their growing geostrategic importance, and their inventory is rising. In just two months, the EU was forced (more or less tacitly) to accept two coups in Chad and Mali in order to avoid losing the retaining wall.
It is a major problem to hand over power to third countries with legitimacy problems to do dirty work. However, the key issue to be solved revolves around what many people consider these firewalls to be inevitable.
To solve this problem, it is not enough to refute and defuse the hate speech of the extreme right. The narrative of hegemony needs to be comprehensively revised, and these narratives often permeate nominally progressive positions.
The potential difficulties caused by migration should not be minimized, but migration itself should not be a problem.
Should avoid binary discourse (us/them), stick to a rights-based approach, accept data and reposition the center. In other words, we must stop thinking that Europe is the only champion of history.
All of this requires the media, politicians, civil society, and academia to defend verifiable evidence and resist fierce outbreaks. Because (mostly) Africa does not want to come to Europe. Blindly and stubbornly believe that it is indeed possible to strengthen Europe’s claims to fight against it.
**This article has been funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under Grant Agreement No. 821010. It reflects the views of the author and EC and its agencies are not responsible for any use of the information it contains.