YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As African and European leaders prepare to meet for the 5th summit for the African Union and the European Union in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on 28 – 29 November 2017, the bishops of both continents are pushing for fair trade measures to be used to help combat the ongoing migration crisis affecting the region.
Hundreds of thousands of Africans leave their homes for Europe each year, often using smugglers to facilitate their search for a better life.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 22,500 migrants have died or disappeared globally since 2014 – more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” reads the IOM report.
“Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016,” the report continues.
Between 1980 and 2010, the number of African migrants living in Europe doubled, reaching 30.6 million people, according to a 2014 World Bank Report. That figure represented 3 percent of the continent’s total population.
And the numbers continue to rise. Joe Walker-Cousins, head of the UK’s Libya mission between 2012 and 2014, said in April that as many as one million migrants from across Africa could be on the way to Libya – a major leaving point due to the lack of an effective government – before making the attempt to go to Europe.
Europeans are not the only ones concerned about this migration flow. African leaders are also worried, since it is often their most industrious and educated citizens leaving: This “brain drain” is perhaps one of Africa’s greatest threats.
These immigrants often enter Europe legally, and include the 20,000 doctors, university lecturers, engineers and other professionals that the IOM reports have been leaving the continent annually since 1990.
At the same time, it is estimated nearly $4 billion is spent to employ Westerners to fill positions in Africa that could have been performed by Africans who instead are living abroad.
The bishops of both continents have proposed ways to stem the immigration tide – especially the “brain drain” – which they say will help the development of the African continent.
Their proposals were made in a joint statement issued by the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union (COMECE) and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
“We call for justice and equity in trade in goods and services, but especially with regard to natural resources, which are taken each year from Africa. New local industries and sustainable development of agriculture may furthermore help to reduce the stress which forces young people to leave their homeland and diminish the phenomenon generally known as ‘brain drain’,” the bishops said in a statement.
Noting that migration is intrinsic to human existence, the bishops called on political leaders to treat migrants with dignity and protect them “against criminal exploitation.”
Adding that African young people – who are most likely to be victims of people traffickers – lack trust in both the political leaders and private institutions on both continents, the bishops called for inclusive policies that will give young people a voice in political processes.
“To gain or restore trust, participation and a sense of belonging are key. Effective participation demands transparency and accountability from all parties,” they said in the statement.
The bishops said the African Union-European Union summit should concentrate on youth issues, and seriously address the issue of migration in Africa.
“We therefore hope for a strong statement by the participants of the AU-EU summit on migration and especially the fight against human trafficking. Furthermore, we would expect the EU to reinforce its commitment for sustainable development programs on the occasion of the summit,” they said.
The bishops said it will be necessary to give African and European youths the opportunity “to share their hopes and expectations about an adequate environment for sustainable development.”
They expressed the need for the summit to address the problems of job-creation, the development of local industries, and sustainable development of agriculture, but added such local industries will only make headway if the youths are given the appropriate skills to sustain them.
“In order to make use of the opportunities in education and training for all, boys and girls need to be strengthened and redesigned in view of the newly needed communication and technological skills,” the statement said.
“Answers must be given to the youth as they face new ideologies regarding culture, the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family, and loss of spirituality in a world where a materialistic culture is dominant.”
The bishops said they were hopeful the Abidjan summit will be “an occasion for a clearer understanding of each other’s concerns, lead to concrete and helpful decisions, and thus, become an important step towards an authentic partnership between our continents.”