23 October 2011

II. On the Move between Europe & West Africa

“Migration as such is abstract. Migration follows economic development. Migration follows globalization, both within and between the region and other parts of the world” (EU Commission, DG Home staff, Brussels).
In the past decades Europe encountered socio-economic changes that lastingly affected societal and economic structures. European societies experienced a decline and an aging of their population. This diluted the capacities of welfare state structures and compromised the labor supply to European economies. Mismatches of sectoral demand and supply led to the paradoxical situation of rising unemployment rates with a concurrent increase of labor needs. Southern European states were additionally confronted with the consequences of the EU integration processes, since their labor forces moved to the now easily accessible and more attractive North European markets. In order to sustain the economic equilibrium, Europe had to ‘import’ labor forces.
Beside others, these needs were covered by a highly mobile West African labor force.  As a result of the economic and political crisis, which the West African region experienced from the mid 1970s onwards, a share of this mobile labor force had oriented towards the thriving Maghrebi labor markets. By the end of the 1990s they increasingly extended towards the needy European labor markets.
However, European popular fears on access to welfare privileges and moral considerations of civil society on a possible West African ‘brain drain’ continuously discouraged European governments to setup a political framework that would channel the supply of labor migrants to the respective sources of labor demand. While the wider popular called for the control of what was widely perceived as refugee movements, civil society called for an extension of European asylum systems.
Decision makers confined themselves to the rather curious ‘no policy tools’. This resulted in growing European informal economies and labor markets, which attracted and absorbed illegal West African migrants. Against this background, it is concluded that illegal migration is not the actual challenge. Rather, the challenge is the generation of policy initiatives that respond to the eligible but at times opposing needs of societal groups in the face of the underlying socio-economic changes in Europe. Illegal migration is found to be a consequence of such unmet challenges and hence has to be addressed via these. >>> read Part III. of I./II./III./IV./V./VI. <<<