The problem with outsourcing Europe’s migrant crisis

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by Catherine Tilke. Catherine edits the PS21 website and can be reached at editor@projects21.org.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)- the government body responsible for the Britain’s  overseas aid budget  and major backer of development organisations including VSO and Tearfund- recently announced its plan to back a proposal to fund the creation of an industrial centre in Ethiopia which aims to create 100 000 jobs, some of will go to asylum seekers, in order to create incentives for people to stay in Ethiopia and stem the flow of migrants watering Europe’s ‘crisis’. 

Ethiopia currently hosts the highest number of refugees on the African continent, due to a combination of its unfortunate and unstable neighbours, its open-door asylum policy and it being an ideal stopover point for people migrating northwards to Europe from Eastern and Central Africa.

In Ethiopia, the majority of refugees are supposedly confined to camps and have no legal right to work in the country. At present, there are 23 such camps scattered across the country, the vast majority of which are situated in Ethiopia’s most deprived rural provinces. According to key proponents of the industrial centre- which was proposed by the Eastern African giant’s ruling party the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and is supported by major financial institutions including the World Bank and European Investment Bank- by granting employment rights to a number of refugees, opportunity will improve, adversity will decrease and asylum seekers will remain in Ethiopia until it is safe for them to return home. 

However, there are a number of obstacles to the plan’s objective which don’t appear to be accounted for. The project is designed to create 100, 000 new job vacancies through the building of the industrial hub, some of which will presumably be filled  by asylum seekers, given that the EPRDF has agreed to also grant employment rights to 30 000 Somali, Eritrean & South Sudanese refugees in the country.

While on the surface this appears to be a sensible step in the right direction, the project fails to acknowledge that Ethiopia is dealing with its own unemployment problems (conservative figures for unemployment rates in town and cities among the working-age population were around 17% last year). 100 000 new jobs are needed if the country is to continue its promising economic growth.

While still outstripping many Sub-Saharan neighbours- whose collective growth rate is forecast to slip to the lowest level in two decades this year, according to World Bank forecast- Ethiopia’s booming economy of recent years has seen something of a cooling-off. This is mirrored in unemployment figures, which despite having improved as a whole over the last 20 years, have been creeping over the last few years up in certain social groups, namely amongst women and under-25’s.

As such, the success of the plan comes down to ensuring that 1/3 of these jobs actually go to asylum seekers, and also how EPRDF manage to pull off the project as a piece of PR to avoid local perceptions viewing the plan as favouring refugees over Ethiopians- particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, where the majority of refugees are living at present.

On the global institutions’ part (i.e. the World Bank, DFID, and European Investment Bank), the issue is that while this kind of foresight is preferable to collectively burying heads in the sand over the so-called migration crisis, this particular brand of future-proofing doesn’t actually do very much to help the root cause of the problem and arguably just outsources it to somebody else.

This isn’t entirely surprising. So far, many of the policies that major world institutions have managed to agree on involve re-settlement of refugee populations to “emerging” countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This is not an entirely bad idea, but without taking more decisive responsibility in the UK & Western Europe, it looks a lot like passing the buck. 

In addition to this, although the project is marketed as a philanthropic developmental scheme, it is undeniably beneficial to the donor states who are able to use their collective financial clout to both shrug off responsibility for settling more migrants on home turf and simultaneously stipulate quotas of manufactured goods to be imported to the EU (if we are to assume that the Ethiopian plan will follow the Jordanian model of a similar plan implemented earlier this year). The centre piece to all of this is that the plan ultimately deepens Ethiopia’s aid dependency and economic inequality with developed nations, which is one of the country’s most difficult obstacles to long-term development. 

In principle, the project could be defended if there were any evidence that development actually reduced migration. However, as people become wealthier they are inclined to travel more, not less. Industry and trade in emerging economies should complement migration, but will not prevent it. Equally, a short-lived abundance of low-paid factory jobs on the outskirts of Addis will not change the demands for skilled and unskilled labour in Europe, nor quell the labour demands of its looming demographic crisis.

Besides this, Ethiopia (although stable) is politically implicated in some of the key source countries’ conflicts, which makes it a questionable choice for the industrial hub. If it is accepted that little that can be done to stem economic migration, then efforts should be focused on reducing “push factors”, such as armed conflict.  Given that the EPDRF has been accused of arming refugees on the Sudanese border and prolonging clan scuffles in the Somali region, it is debatable whether supporting the government lends itself to peace-building in the region.A serious attempt by the UK government or global financial institutions to reduce growing number of asylum seekers would involve more decisive efforts to combat high-level international corruption and reduce the number of arms flowing into affected regions. 

 Instead, the project in Ethiopia looks more like an attempt by Europe to outsource responsibilities a country that is no more impartial, and certainly no better equipped, than most European states. By offloading these responsibilities Europe also shies away from action to improve local tensions between its longstanding citizens and 100 000s of new arrivals. Without acting on broader social concerns such as a shortage of stable employment and affordable housing, countries like the UK will only see these tensions will continue to grow, with or without their involvement in Ethiopia’s industrial projects.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Italy and Libya: Why Libyan stability is vital to PM Renzi’s career

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By Lorenzo Holt- Lorenzo is an Italian-American journalist based in London.

The Italian government is facing enough pressure to put its survival over the next few months into question. Depositors have withdrawn €78 billion from Italy’s central bank since May, while government attempts at bailing out Italy’s private banks have been met with little private-sector interest and inflexibility from the EU. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s main opponents, the anti-establishment party Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), accuse him of being subservient to EU interests while ignoring those of Italians.

Italians are also increasingly frustrated at Renzi’s inability to secure EU support for the migrant crisis. Over 300,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the EU took control of Mediterranean border security in 2014, costing the Italian government over €3 billion a year, according to the Financial Times.

The migrants and their smugglers are facilitated by the chaos in Libya, where Italy has very large interests but little influence. There too, Italian popular opinion doesn’t always coincide with international politics. The way Renzi handles the volatile situation in Libya – exacerbated by a recent coup – may determine his career.

Italy and Libya have mutual business interests reinforced by time and proximity, and Italy enjoyed a privileged economic relationship with Libya under Berlusconi in the 2000s. Thousands of small and medium-sized Italian businesses were working in Italy before Libya’s civil war in 2011, and many left behind millions of dollars in suspended contracts and equipment. ENI, Italy’s national oil company, has been operating in Libya since 1959 and is responsible for much of the country’s energy infrastructure.

The Italo-Libyan chamber of commerce estimates that business revenue between the two countries in the years leading up to the war (excluding oil and gas) totaled €30-40 billion- and that initial reconstruction investments in Libya could total €400 billion. Access to suspended investments and new business opportunities in Libya would be a much-needed tonic for Italy’s consumptive economy.

Obviously, no progress can be made until Libya is stable – a prospect which looks increasingly unlikely. Libya is divided between the secular Tobruk government in the east, Tuareg rebels and smaller fractions in the southwest and the UN-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west. The GNA was formed in December 2015 in an attempt to unite Libya’s rival governments. Widely regarded by Libyans as a foreign imposition, it was first rejected by the Tobruk government in September and more recently deprived of some of its municipal buildings in Tripoli during a coup on October 14.

Foreign nations have been ambiguous about which of the many Libyan factions they support. Although officially declaring exclusive support for the GNA, US, French and British special forces have been widely reported to be fighting alongside other factions including the GNA’s main opposition, the Tobruk government. The UAE has been reported to be providing weapons to Tobruk’s military commander, Khalifa Haftar, in violation of the UN arms embargo, while Egypt – eager for stability on its western border – has also been reported to have supplied Haftar with military helicopters and aeroplanes.

Italy’s role in such a high-stakes environment is limited by its military and political weakness. So far, it has faithfully aligned itself with the UN and the interests promoted by France, the US and the UK. In September, Italy deployed 300 soldiers to Misrata to staff and protect a newly built field hospital, making it the first nation to establish an official military presence in the country. It has allowed US drones and aeroplanes to operate from its airfields and has publicly expressed its willingness to lead a UN intervention in Libya. During Renzi’s stay in Washington on Tuesday October 18, Obama praised Italy’s role in forming the GNA and fighting ISIS.

Libyan oil facilities captured by Haftar in September are producing over half a million barrels per day and funding the GNA. This provides the country with much-needed revenue and a tentative sense of progress. It also benefits Italian oil importers. But the coup in Tripoli on October 14, although largely ignored by the media, signals deep, unresolved divisions and the potential for escalated conflict.

Libya’s status quo is bad enough for Renzi, but his sensitivity to UN interests could make things very difficult for him should the situation deteriorate. Accusations from his opponents of being a US or EU stooge and wasting government money while neglecting domestic problems would be particularly damaging. Renzi can only hope that his traditional western allies will find a tactful, non-military solution in Libya; given their track record over the last 15 years, the odds are not in his favour.

Libya represents a relatively detached geopolitical interest to the main international actors but it is Italy’s next door neighbour. The impact of a worsening situation in Libya would be immediately felt through increased migrant arrivals, rising energy costs and the further loss of business and energy assets. Stability, on the other hand, would help keep the Italian economy afloat while offering a viable, safer alternative for migrants.

The question for Renzi is whether or not his decision to follow the UN line in Libya, like that of following the EU line at home, is something the Italian people will find agreeable.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.