Philippe Huguen
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Migration from Africa: a forgotten crisis

Migrants are still dying. 

So the Valletta Summit came and went, and it will soon be forgotten. The one thing it has achieved was putting migration from Africa back in the news for a day or two: while the Syria refugee crisis matters and needs urgent attention, the patterns of migration from Africa are not going to change anytime soon: according to Frontex in 2014 arrivals by sea from Africa accounted for up to 60 per cent of total border admission across Europe. It would be a mistake to think that this is no longer an issue just because right now people are not dying off the coasts of Lampedusa: people are dying in the Sahara in what is probably the most dangerous journey of all. Yet this is a ‘forgotten’ crisis, at least until next spring - and the Action Plan agreed at the Summit is a spectacular failure to do anything about this.   

The most tangible outcome is a not so new - and not so big - EU aid package for Africa: €1.8bn in exchange for easier deportation of economic migrants back to Africa. With remittances to Africa dwarfing aid  by a ratio of nearly three to one and €3bn recently agreed by the EU to support Turkey alone in its response to the refugee crisis, all things considered this deal is not worth much for African leaders, who left Valletta unimpressed and underwhelmed.

What the officials that struck the deal have also overlooked is that even when and if aid ‘works’, to reduce poverty and foster development, it is likely to lead to more, not less migration – at least from the very poorest countries.

Aid – or any form of charity for that matter- also misses a fundamental point of what drives migration.  People move not only to escape war and poverty, but also to fulfil their aspirations to a better life for themselves and for their families. For this reason alone, an action plan grounded in strategy of containment and hand outs is doomed to fail.

Unsurprisingly, much of the language in the plan is weak: the document is peppered with vague and meaningless words like mainstreaming, enhancing and supporting.  The commitments are generic, and where they are specific, they are spectacularly unambitious - charges to remittances to Africa will be cut down to three per cent, but only by 2030. 

And yet, the claims around fighting root causes of migration, from poverty to conflict and human rights abuses, as well as the promise of job creation and economic opportunities all across Africa are dangerously unrealistic and misleading. Addressing these challenges requires political action, not summits or emergency aid. Yet political engagement was not on the cards in Valletta, whether bilaterally between European and Africa countries or through the much anticipated, but currently vacuous ‘European response’ to the migration crisis. 

The limited financial resources and political capital that Europe can offer on migration from Africa would be better spent on more specific and realistic initiatives – such as enhancing legal migration where politically feasible through visas for a variety of migrants, not just students and entrepreneurs, temporary humanitarian visas for refugees fleeing wars and conflict and better, more reliable data, analysis and information especially on the economic benefits of migration.

Well intentioned as it may be, the Valletta Summit was a waste and the EU leaders who called for it have missed an important opportunity to take any meaningful action.

Marta Foresti is Director of Governance, Security and Livelihoods at the Overseas Development Institute.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.