Mamoudou Gassama, a Malian refugee, became a national hero in France when he was filmed risking his life to scale a building and rescue a child on a balcony. Soon afterwards the 22-year-old was awarded citizenship by French president Emmanuel Macron.
Not everybody enjoys such a welcome. France and its European partners are working to keep the vast majority of refugees coming from Mali and West Africa out of Europe. When those efforts do not succeed, they are working just as hard to send them back.
In April, the lower chamber of the French parliament passed amendments to its immigration law, which – had it been approved by the Senate – would have seen migrants thrown into jail for a year for “illegal entry” into France in addition to being swiftly deported thereafter.
In the last few months, a proposal has been discussed in the E.U. to impose additional visa restrictions on “misbehaving” West African countries like Mali.
Meanwhile, France has also been going after Gassama’s home country, Mali, for a lack of cooperation with its questionable deportation practices. In the last few months, a proposal has been discussed in the E.U. to impose additional visa restrictions on “misbehaving” West African countries like Mali. The E.U. explained the practice as “a mix of positive and negative incentives and the use of all leverages and tools.”
Deportations are difficult to carry out for a variety of reasons. They are often thwarted by the intended deportee not having a valid travel document. Typically refugees and migrants lose their passports or have to surrender documents to smugglers during arduous and hazardous journeys to Europe.
Their embassies are also often slow to issue new documents, due to a mixture of procedural difficulties and the awareness that supporting deportations is met with opposition by voters in countries like Mali. To resolve this situation and facilitate deportations, Brussels has been pushing for readmission agreements with a number of African countries, including Mali, which signed a deal under considerable E.U. pressure in December 2016.
Through these agreements, European countries have sought to force African “partner” countries to readmit people, even though they have been deported without a valid travel document from their country of origin. In other words, it removes the delay in waiting for documentation to be issued by African governments. Instead, the E.U. can simply print its own replacement travel document – a “laisser-passer” – and deport.
The Malian government had already been under pressure from influential local civil society organizations for signing the agreement and accepting $153 million in aid from the E.U. to impose “measures to deter migration.”
France tried to do this with two deportees in late December 2016, only to have Mali send them back on the same plane they arrived on. The Malian government had already been under pressure from influential local civil society organizations for signing the agreement and accepting $153 million in aid from the E.U. to impose “measures to deter migration.”
The enforced returns from the E.U. have prompted anger in Mali. For many Malians, money sent home from family working in Europe are a crucial source of income. Often, entire extended families and villages depend on remittances. Money flows directly to the household level, supporting the creation of businesses, schooling of children and care for the sick and elderly. In short: supporting local development more efficiently than any aid would ever be able to. Sending millions to the government in no way makes up for the losses families suffer through the prevention of migration and eventual repatriation. A functioning system of incentives for new arrivals to get into the labor market, combined with local development in the country of origin, is being willfully disrupted.
France and the E.U. are threatening to punish Mali’s government for essentially listening to its own people. That is despite the fact that leaked documents from the European side acknowledge that cooperation with Mali on returns would not be easy. The documents admit that “views and interests on migration between the E.U. and Mali … do not coincide.” Meanwhile, European governments continue to stress the value of good governance and democracy in development projects.
Mali and the E.U. have reached a crossroads. On one side, there is Mali with a population strongly opposed to their countrymen being forcefully returned from Europe. On the other is Europe, which is officially committed to promoting democracy and human rights overseas, while committed to deporting those who fail to get asylum.
The direction the E.U. is taking will not surprise anyone who has watched migration policy evolve over the past two decades. German Green MEP Ska Keller received a response from the European Commission to several questions she lodged regarding readmission agreements with Mali. The Commission took months to provide a response and failed to answer even her most basic questions. What the Commission did confirm is that it will continue to use positive and negative incentives in “working with Mali” on migration, and that it will continue to seek “a better cooperation regarding repatriation and readmission.”
The E.U. is endangering Mali’s democracy by blackmailing the government to agree to policies their electorate is clearly opposed to. In a fragile context like Mali, this is a very dangerous game. The same factors that drive migration from Mali, such as the specter of armed conflict; the growth of radical groups such as Islamist extremists; and economic hardship, are all being reinforced. In Mali, as elsewhere, the E.U. is not tackling the root causes of migration; its short-sighted migration policies are actually creating them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.