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Shifting the narrative on African migration: The numbers, the root causes, the alternatives – get them right! (Policy Note 2020:1)

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Jesper Bjarnesen

The overall message of this policy note is that negative public opinion in Europe is a major obstacle to holistic and sustainable policies relating to African migration. It argues for a shift in wording and perspective away from politicised opinions about immigration, or misplaced ideas of humanitarian responsibilities, towards a more constructive and pragmatic focus on labour migration management.

African migration remains at the top of political agendas across Europe. Through the EU-led focus on addressing the “root causes” of African migration, and the UN-led Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), African migration is increasingly being linked to sustainable development. It has proven difficult, however, to mobilise support for longer-term policy solutions, and the lion’s share of European funding still targets border-control measures and the repatriation of African migrants from Europe. The main challenge facing European decision makers and policy implementers in this regard is not lack of ideas – there are plenty of good policy ideas in the UN GCM, in the EU Agenda on Migration, and in a host of national political agendas. The main stumbling block of these initiatives is the negative public opinion towards African migration, which stems from a fear of unregulated immigration to Europe and a new “refugee crisis”. By shifting the narrative on African migration, decision makers can redirect political will towards more sustainable and longer-term solutions to the problems relating to irregular migration from Africa. Such a shift would also harness the untapped potential of South– North migration to meet the needs of host countries’ domestic labour markets, while simultaneously serving the interests of migrants and their home communities.