Opinion: Why More African Economic Migrants Should Be Allowed To Leave Eritrea

Opinion: Why More African Economic Migrants Should Be Allowed To Leave Eritrea

From TheConversation. Analysis by Georgia Cole, researcher in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford.

Plans by the European Union to reduce the numbers of individuals leaving Eritrea through development aid epitomises the inability of policymakers to join up the dots between those leaving the country and those staying behind.

Proposals such as these are weak for at least two reasons.

  1. When it is the violence perpetrated by a state which forces citizens to leave, channelling aid through those very same institutions may well fail to address any of the original problems.
  2. 2. A few million pounds of development aid, as was the case in Eritrea, is often nothing compared to the scale of remittances that many states receive through their diaspora.

Policies are self-defeating that deny people the opportunity to provide financial support to friends and relatives outside of Europe, by seeing “migrants” and “refugees” as discrete groups of individuals. We should rather support individuals to work in Europe, thus enabling them to send remittances to those who may not wish to undertake that journey themselves.

Allowing certain individuals to stay in Europe for work prevents whole families from having to cross militarized borders, board ramshackle boats or pay huge fares to be smuggled in appalling conditions over land. Remittances provide a lifeline, both to individuals who remain within countries experiencing high degrees of violence, persecution and state failure, and for those who wish to remain in refugee camps near their country of origin.

Evidence abounds about the importance of remittances and the value of facilitating these global flows of money. The celebration of remittance economies nonetheless seems to have remained detached in the popular media from the broader debates on migration and asylum.

Remittances are not only quantitatively great, but also qualitatively effective at assisting local populations and catalyzing their development.

Linking the importance of remittances to the debate about whether people are economic migrants or refugees is critical. Images of young women or men sitting on fences at Melilla or boarding trains in Europe often invoke the label “economic migrant”, as if to dismiss the critical importance of their journeys.

On the contrary, and alongside the fact that on too many occasions this label is wrongly applied instead of granting asylum, in certain situations it is entirely because of these “migrants” that other individuals in their families are not forced to become “refugees.”

Allowing people to come, work and send back remittances preempts the need for more people to leave their homes to escape the devastating effects of war, violence and economic collapse. In building fences, bombing boats and blocking borders, however, we undermine these strategies and contribute towards forcing certain people to leave their countries and claim asylum elsewhere.

Read more at TheConversation.