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Understanding African and European perspectives on migration: Towards a better partnership for regional migration governance?

Discussion Paper 203

November 2016

Knoll. A., Weijer, F. de. 2016. Understanding African and European perspectives on migration: Towards a better partnership for regional migration governance? (Discussion Paper 203). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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In September 2016, ECDPM organised a Conference in The Hague around the role and ways of partnering with the African Union and its regional bodies on peace and security and migration. What came out clearly in these conversations is a perception among some African actors that there is a lack of knowledge and appreciation of what African institutions have been doing on migration, as well as a misinterpretation of African realities and perspectives on migration. On the European side, there were questions on the capacity and effectiveness of the African Union and its regional bodies, and the added value they may or may not have on specific issues in relation to migration. The research conducted for this paper served as the background to this conference on the thematic area of migration.

The aim of the paper is to contribute to a better understanding on the interests, narratives and priorities held by African and European actors in the area of migration, as well as to explore the added value of the African Union and its regional bodies to address its dimensions. Global challenges and opportunities related to migration require new or updated partnerships, based on cooperation and negotiation between equals. Understanding each other better is an essential component in trading interests and finding synergies. A deeper understanding of these interests and perspectives can help policy makers in identifying points of convergence and issues for negotiation more accurately. This, in turn, would provide them with the opportunity to identify potential areas of engagement with respective regional partners (both in terms of financial support and in terms of political dialogue and alliances) while being realistic on what to expect. In areas where convergence is more rare, a deeper insight into the perspectives of the other party can still lead to an improved – and more respectful – dialogue on these issues. This paper aims to contribute to these goals.


Key messages


  • Between Africa and Europe, large differences exist in how the issue of migration is perceived and how it should be managed. Yet, within these divergent narratives, there exist areas of convergence between Europe and Africa, which can be built upon.
  • Within Europe, the emphasis more strongly lies in the containment of unregulated and irregular migrant flows into Europe and reducing the numbers of arriving refugees. The African position puts more emphasis on facilitating and better managing intraAfrican migration and mobility as well as creating legal migration opportunities to Europe.
  • In practice, the strong security and containment framing of these discussions from Europe and the new approaches to achieve better cooperation on migration with third countries, including the perceived undermining of African processes, has led to a degree of discontent within the African continent and contributes to a weakening of trust.
  • A “listening more and better” approach could be beneficial if Europe aims at restoring trust, especially with African regional and continental bodies. Europe’s focus on short-term interests and bilateral deals should be re-balanced to also include long-term cooperation with African organisation in support of a comprehensive African migration agenda. Both sides need to invest in unpacking different interests and invest in bridging divergent narratives regarding migration.

Read Discussion Paper 203


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Photo: Children in search of a future. Credits: UK Department for International Development (DFID) via Flickr.

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