SIHMA | Scalabrini Institute For Human Mobility In Africa

Migration-Security Nexus vs Migration-Development nexus. Is decolonization of migration a third way?

The shift towards the securitization of migration is complete and this is not a news. However, so far, the debate around security and migration has involved countries in the Global North, while on the African continent discussions have privileged the migration for development paradigm and its agenda. Nonetheless, the security paradigm is gaining consensus amongst African states, some of which receive financial aid from the European Union to stop irregular migration. Countries such as Niger, Ethiopia and Sudan have put in place interventions aiming at enhancing border control and management; military surveillance and security of borders are thus becoming key preventive elements to mitigate risks and safeguard stability in African countries.

The security jargon is also deeply ingrained in African policy documents. The Migration Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action states that: border management is strongly affected by security concerns. In Africa, as in other parts of the world, border management systems are coming under increasing pressure from large flows of persons, including irregular and mixed flows. Specific challenges to border management mechanisms and personnel include building capacities to distinguish between persons having legitimate versus non-legitimate reasons for entry and/or stay.

Amongst African states, South Africa has placed a strong emphasis on national security and has adopted, over the past few years, a European-style approach for the management of migration based on migration containment and control. The introduction of the Border Management Bill and the repositioning of the Department of Home Affairs in the Security Cluster, reveal how the country needs to keep security issue close to migration issues.

This general convergence trend in the migration policy field both in the Global North and the Global South is led by several factors. Firstly, postcolonial African states have overstated the importance of artificial borders to keep foreigners out and protect national identity. This is due to political opportunism and legitimization of power. Secondly, the rhetoric on security is one of the consequences of an EU-led process of outsourcing border management to African states to stem the influx of migrants towards Europe.

It is important to reflect on how the process of outsourcing migration control and border surveillance is unveiling within the context of migration governance. It is out of doubt that the EU is exercising its power over African institutions at both regional and continental level. This power is not used in a coercive way, but rather takes multiple forms including agreements on technical cooperation in the field of migration management to assist African States developing their own capacity to manage migration according to norms and standard set by the EU. The ultimate goal is to align and standardize migration policies in African countries so they can divide, filter and sort out different categories of migrants: good vs bad, productive from vs non-productive and desirable vs undesirable. In South Africa, the migration policy framework makes this explicit and introduces a risk-based methodology to ensure that persons travelling to the country are being risk profiled well in advance. Again, the main goal is to divide migrants by using filtering mechanisms.

The narrative on migration in Africa seems to be driven by European neocolonialist forces which use the development for migration argument to persuade African states to adopt standardized migrations policies which maximize the benefits of migration and reduce nuances. Now more than ever, such policies are in desperate need to be decolonized and to resist the globalization of migration control and the international governance of borders, all expressions of hegemonic systems of knowledge production.

In this context, as noted by Prof Achille Mbembe, in South Africa, the White Paper on International Migration makes explicit reference to the idea of an Afrocentric migration policy which puts the interests of African first and moves away from old colonial system based on the exploitation of migrants workers. Unfortunately, and despite good intentions, semantic does not go accordingly and the language adopted in the policy document tends towards the criminalization of low-skilled African workers from the region.

African states are in a deadlock: the empty rhetoric of the migration for development paradigm does not genuinely serves their interests, while the dominant paradigm of security may lead to disastrous consequences. The unnecessary emphasis on migration as a threat to national security is leading to a widespread use of the state of exception, defined by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, as a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of factual state of danger. The state of exception is enforced through government or a presidential decrees which bypass constitutional obligations and the legislative power. Examples are Trump’s executive order introducing a travel ban from six major Muslim countries, or the provisions included in the Hungarian Stop Soros Bill which qualifies immigration as an issue of national security. The state of exception opens up to a myriad of confinement and detention spaces including camps, transit centres for asylum seekers and waiting areas at international airports. In all these spaces migrants are deprived of their freedom in the name of national security.

The South African government has laid down a plan to build asylum seeker processing centers to profile and accommodate asylum seekers during their status determination processes and speed up the return of failed asylum seekers. These centres, to be built closer to the borderline, share similar features to those of European hotspots and transfer centres and are motivated by similar security concerns. These places of exception may become squalid and forgotten detention centres where asylum seekers are kept for the sole reason of seeking international protection or for entering the country illegally. This again in the name of national security, national interests and public order.

The discussion around migration needs to move beyond the sterile antagonism between migration optimists and migration pessimists; the security paradigm will be still dominating public and political debates until a more compelling argument will emerge. In the meantime, the process of decolonizing migration in Africa should begin.


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