February 17, 2017

A legal route to work for African migrants could prevent many Mediterranean deaths

A legal route to work for African migrants could prevent many Mediterranean deaths

Europe needs to open up legal routes for African migrants to work on the continent in order to reduce the number of those losing their lives in perilous Mediterranean crossings, according to the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Europe director.

At an informal meeting in Valetta, Malta, on February 3, EU leaders adopted the Malta Declaration, which focuses on measures to stem the flow of migration from Libya to Italy.

Over 181,000 irregular migrants made the sea crossing from North Africa to Italy in 2016, and the number of those dead or missing at sea has reached a new record every year since 2013. 

Leaders agreed to step up cooperation with the Libyan authorities to significantly reduce migratory flows, break the business model of smugglers, and save lives. 

Whilst welcoming the declaration, the IOM’s Eugenio Ambrosi, warns that trying to stop the flow of migrants via “repressive measures” will not work.

Ambrosi told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that the lack of legal channels into Europe is causing the irregular movement of migrants: “If you want to try to fulfil a very legitimate aspiration, such as having a decent livelihood, and you cannot find that back at home, but you can find that in Europe, the only way to try to get that decent livelihood is to get into Europe irregularly, because legal channels are not available.”   

He is not advocating for unlimited, open borders, but recommending “offering reasonable, workable efficient ways and criteria to be admitted into a labour market, which incidentally requires migrants.”

The EU’s working-age population will be 17.5 million smaller in 2025 than in 2015, according to European Commission data. The IOM contends that migrant labor could fill a looming shortage of workers as Europe’s population ages. 

John Kennan has written about the freedom of movement of workers for IZA World of Labor. He writes: “Most developed countries have foreign aid programs that aim to alleviate poverty and foster economic growth in less developed countries, but with very limited success. A large body of evidence indicates that the root of the economic development problem is cross-country differences in the productivity of labor. If workers are much more productive in one country than in another, the obvious way to help people in less developed countries is to allow them to help themselves by moving to places where they can be more productive.” Immigration laws severely constrain such movement.

In her IZA World of Labor article, Pia Orrenius, looks at the enforcement of illegal migration. She concludes “Immigration enforcement is necessary—the political and economic motivations for limiting illegal immigration are numerous. However, considering the high costs of implementing enforcement and the considerable human costs of dispensing it, enforcement measures should be carefully designed and regularly evaluated. Immigration policy should also take into account conditions in origin countries. Work-based migration can be accommodated in a temporary visa or guest worker program, while humanitarian migration may require other measures.”

Related articles
Freedom of movement for workers, by John Kennan
Enforcement and illegal migration, by Pia Orrenius

Read more of our migration articles here.