Despite the war in Libya and the coronavirus outbreak, irregular migration from North Africa towards the southern European shores remains inevitable. This could be mitigated by implementing pre-planned migration schemes and easier visa procedures, writes Mourad Teyeb
Mourad Teyeb is a journalist and consultant
Migration to Europe will certainly have a different shape after the coronavirus crisis that has cost the continent so much in lives lost and in economic losses.
New security and health criteria will be implemented. The European job market will certainly witness deep changes.
Over 100,000 lives have been lost in Europe, mainly in the traditional destinations of African migrants like Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
Despite the unprecedented rise in the number of people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic in Europe, as everywhere else in the world, there will always be a need for workers in many sectors, especially those which do not need highly-qualified work-force, like agriculture and restaurants.
Possible waves of migration will be expected from Libya where hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan refugees and asylum-seekers have been waiting for years in miserable conditions and in concentration camps for their chance to cross the Mediterranean.
The current summer season is a bonus for them, as sea-water conditions are favourable for journeys.
And despite the various pan-European tools of policing the Mediterranean, smugglers and potential migrants will always find ways to try and reach Europe.
Tunisia as a springboard towards Europe
Tunisia could offer a solution for many migrants and those making profit from the business.
At any time soon, Tunisia might open its borders for some of the refugees now in Libya. The authorities have already agreed with the United Nations to build a refugee camp for those sub-Saharans fleeing the Libyan conflict in Fatnassia, near the southern town of Remada.
Having a camp in the middle of a socially-fragile area is a serious challenge for Tunisia.
The risk it creates for Europe, though, is bigger.
The Fatnassia camp can be used by local and foreign smugglers and human traffickers as a platform for the recruiting of potential migrants. The activity could become an on-demand business for European businesses seeking cheap workers in specific fields.
And there’s also the risk that new waves of irregular migrants could include radicalized people. This is a major European obsession.
Mobility partnership revisited
For Europe and for Africa, having a more transparent, more efficient visa and migration system can be a solution to curb future flows of irregular migrants.
Many initiatives and programs have been put in place for this aim during the past ten years, but with very little efficiency.
Thousands of Tunisian qualified workers and university graduates have found jobs in Europe since the 2011 Revolution. In France alone, about 250 of the CPR doctors who have played an active role in dealing with Coronavirus cases are of Tunisian origin. And hundreds of other doctors, paramedics and nurses.
On several cases since the 2011 Revolution, the European Union has tempted Tunisia with visa advantages for Tunisians. EU officials have often expressed their desire to see more Tunisian workers and tourists get their visa with the minimum bureaucratic and financial conditions.
That happened, for example, whenever Tunisia showed reluctance in going ahead with the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), mostly known as ALECA.
Of course none of those promises were kept, and Tunisia officially halted ALECA talks.
In March 2014, the European Union and ten member states concluded a Mobility Partnership (MP) with Tunisia.
The agreement was meant to support practical co-operation between Tunisia and EU Member States on several relevant issues such as the returns of those who “irregularly” migrated to Europe, the reintegration of returnees readmitted by Tunisia and the development of Tunisia’s cooperation on readmission with relevant African countries.
In line with the Valletta Action Plan, announced at the Valetta summit on Migration in November 2015, Tunisia was, additionally, chosen to be a pilot country for the identification and implementation of legal migration schemes.
The European Commission has also proposed €500 million in additional macro-financial assistance, to be disbursed in 2016 and 2017.
Since 2011, but especially since the 2014 parliamentary elections in Tunisia, migration was a regular point on the agenda of high-level meetings with the Tunisian authorities and civil society. Bilateral commitments under the MP include the opening of negotiations on a visa facilitation agreement and a readmission agreement. These negotiations with Tunisia were due to begin on 12 October 2016. But they did not.
With the expected disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economies of North African countries, including in Tunisia which is already suffering from the consequences of the Libyan conflict, Europe will see a spike in irregular migration.
Reviewing the whole philosophy behind the management of Africa-to-Europe migration seems necessary today. For the benefit of everybody.