The Valletta Summit on migration: a disappointing result

Migration25 Nov 2015Bob van Dillen

The Valletta Summit between the European Union and African Heads of State and Government could have been a historic occasion. It could have reached an agreement on policies fighting root causes of forced migration and displacement, from poverty to conflict and human rights abuses, as well as the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities. Yet, in the absence of political engagement and trust, the policies that are desperately needed could not be agreed upon. Therefore, the Valletta outcomes will not do enough to ensure decent lives in the coming decade.

This expert opinion is part of our living analysis on migration

While European policymakers are challenged to formulate unified migration policies, blind spots along the migration trails hamper our ability to understand the situation as it is.

Click here to visit the living analysis

The Valletta Summit resulted in a Political Declaration, an Action Plan and a new Trust Fund. The Declaration and Action Plan are full of vague language and repeating agreements that have already been signed elsewhere such as the commitment to reduce the transaction costs of remittances to below 3% by 2030, which was already agreed upon in the Financing for Development conference in July 2015.

The Action Plan includes 16 priority actions to be launched only by the end of 2016 under five overarching headings related to the root causes of migration, legal migration, protection and asylum, smuggling and human trafficking as well as return and readmission. These areas are similar to those in the Declaration on Migration and Mobility of the April 2014 EU-Africa Summit, which so far has seen no significant implementation. Political commitments have already been adopted through the Rabat Process (2014 Rome Ministerial Declaration) and the Khartoum Process (2014 Ministerial Declaration of the Khartoum Process).

The Trust Fund will provide two billion euros for implementation in 25 African countries. The financial resources pooled by the European Commission – mostly from the 11th European Development Fund – were not met by any substantial figures from the EU member states. The meagre 15 million euro contribution announced by the Dutch government eventually turned out to be the highest figure, while several member states felt their contribution could not extend 50,000 euros. African leaders themselves also failed to commit to substantial financial contributions, with a minimum of three million euros allowing them to share ownership and co-management of the Trust Fund.

Civil society demands

It would in fact be a mistake to channel the resources of the Trust Fund to government programmes. Instead the resources should be provided to civil society and small and medium enterprises, or social business actions in the countries involved. Governments should concentrate on establishing an enabling environment. With Valletta, there was no inclusive governance process and instead of including civil society organizations from the very beginning, they have been excluded until the eleventh hour when two representatives were allowed to participate as ‘observers’. As with much of the Valletta Summit process and outcomes, this was ‘too little, too late’, which will no doubt be remembered as a missed opportunity that may as well backfire one day.

As a result, Valletta did not take any action on civil society demands such as the lift of carrier sanctions as a means to ensure safe migration and counter people smugglers or to facilitate the important role of migrants and the diaspora in development. The issue of using development assistance for the first year’s reception of asylum seekers (currently 20% of the Dutch official development assistance budget) has not been discussed as well.

An agenda of European self-interest

The European agenda of self-interest was seen during three issues at the summit. Firstly, the discussions on return and readmission dominated. The EU wanted Africa to cooperate on forced return of migrants, while African countries only wanted to contribute to voluntary return. A compromise was found in the agreement ‘to give preference to voluntary return’. The EU had hoped to see African states accept ‘laissez passer’ documents to facilitate a swift return of irregular migrants – even before their nationality has been identified. The EU had also proposed that neighbouring countries would accept the return of nationals in case of continued identification problems or state’s unwillingness to facilitate swift returns. These proposals did not make it to the final documents.

Secondly, the Action Plan will allow African migration officials to come to Europe for the verification of nationality. This means that corrupt African dictators can facilitate the return (and imprisonment, or worse) of political opponents, religious activists or human rights activists that for the wrong reason did not receive the right to EU’s protection. Such a situation would contradict the non-refoulement principle of the Geneva Convention.

Lastly, the Summit made little progress on enhancing legal migration for a variety of migrants, not just students and expats. African leaders and civil society organizations expected a commitment to a safe, fair, responsible and legal migration in the form of increased resettlement, humanitarian visas, extended family reunifications, sponsorship programmes and educational scholarships. However, European member states did not want to provide legal opportunities for African nationals apart from a doubling of Erasmus scholarships for students.

The Valletta ‘European response’ to the migration crisis was based on self-interest rather than shared concerns and urgency. It was a dual effort to promote the return of migrants and prevent them from coming. This is an agenda that is at odds with the fundamental values of an open European society based on respect for human rights, human dignity and promotion of peace and solidarity between and among nations. The European response failed to convince African leaders who showed strong unity in their opposition of forced returns.