Instead of treating migrants people as criminals, the EU should try to work on a functioning policy for the Maghreb region. This includes looking at problems from an environmental perspective.
Migration and Integration: Debunking the Myths
“(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
These two statements make up Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Based on this, we can say: denying the right of migration is inhumane. This may seem an overstatement, but what other word is there to describe the denial of humanitarian aid and assistance to those fleeing extreme poverty, hunger and violence?
In Europe, we are experiencing a regression of the values on which our community was based – the cosmopolitan cooperation of different cultures in order to build a common future. The crisis has fueled racial hatred and has helped feed the myths on which xenophobic parties thrive , such as:
- The myth of the roots, based on the alleged identity of the various European nations, purportedly invaded by “different” people, who are required to either assimilate and abandon any existing cultural ties or be condemned to ostracism and exclusion. This idea is based upon a lie – our cultures are not homogeneous, and neither are those of the migrants.
- The statistical myth, which consists in counting intra-European migrants as foreigners in statistics, even though the Schengen Convention establishes that they are citizens. It is sad to think that the free movement of persons, unlike the movement of capital, is called into question based on a false perception of security concerns whereby our privacy is monitored and our rights and freedoms reduced.
- The myth of the illegality of people, whereby people rather than actions are condemned as illegal, and the mere act of crossing a border is criminalised. “No human being is humanly illegal, and still there are many who are legally illegal and indeed should be, and they are those who exploit, those who use their fellow beings to grow in power and wealth.” I echo these words of the Nobel-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago and I reiterate that no one who is in need of asylum should be excluded. As if running away from one’s home were not damaging enough to a person’s inherent dignity, they are then received as criminals.
- The myth that anything goes against illegal migration. From detention centres where human rights are violated and where there is no health care, to hot returns and the walls of shame in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, due to which Spain accumulates complaints before the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Council of Europe and the United Nations (UN). The radical difference in the protection of the fundamental rights of the poor compared to the rich is huge. Proof of this is the fact that no Western countries are to be found among the signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Short-sighted neoliberal or neo-Keynesian models are unable to allow for the reality of finite resources and do not take into consideration region’s environmental deterioration.
An Interdependent World
The West must accept two premises: that one cannot hold a different conception of human rights based on economic capacity; and that in an interdependent world our actions as countries and as individuals have global consequences. Poverty and environmental degradation are closely related, as becomes clear when crossing variables from the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Ecological Footprint.
Yet environmental refugees are invisible to international statutes, despite being estimated by Norman Meyers to reach 250 million by 2050. Including them would require accepting the intrinsic relationship between pollution, ocean acidification, resource scarcity, salinisation of irrigated land and desertification with hunger, shortage of drinking water, loss of biodiversity, social unrest, war and migrations.
Advocating a green and cosmopolitan Europe implies bearing in mind this relationship and revitalising a ius migrandi (the right to migrate) in its three perspectives: the right to remain in our home in dignified living conditions, including the right to emigrate as well as the forgotten right to settle peacefully wherever one chooses. This would be of particular importance for the people of the Maghreb.
The Green Solution: No More Neoliberal Models
The creation of green policies between the Maghreb and Europe implies understanding the problems of the region from an environmental perspective. A development model is not feasible if environmental collapse is to be avoided. Therefore, the Maghreb’s future does not lie in imitating the “Angola model” of exchanging raw materials for ‘mega-projects’ built by China, which has found in Africa a resource pool to satisfy its growing consumption.
There is no denying that Africa is in need of economic decolonisation. The income sources of the Maghreb countries are either limited (gas, oil, iron or phosphates) or closely linked to environmental and social balance (farming, tourism and horticultural exports). Therefore, short-sighted neoliberal or neo-Keynesian models are unable to allow for the reality of finite resources and do not take into consideration region’s environmental deterioration.
Cooperation implies reciprocity, mutual cooperation, understanding that our best interest is in the welfare of not only our country but the world; not only for the current generations but for the future ones too.
The environmental problems of the area generate social problems that also impact its economy. The drought that plagues Mauritania and keeps 12 million people at risk of malnutrition is proof of this delicate balance. Meanwhile, desertification threatens the Maghreb’s coastal areas, a region where there are still non-degraded areas and one that is already dependent on exports of grain.
Moreover, the introduction of fracking in Algeria prompted strong protests, since it requires large amounts of water, a scarce resource in the country. This should remind us that ecological thinking is present even among the poorest sectors and those more strongly dependent on energy exports. It should also remind us that wherever there are people living under draconian business practices, there we will find allies to generate awareness and amplify calls for change committed to the planet.
We tend to forget that the causes for shortages in countries emerging from colonisation often go back to the abuses committed by extractive social elites that plunder the resources on which the global North thrives and concentrate power, promoting what the development scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson called “vicious circles” – that is, problems that exacerbate the existing problems.
For example, Morocco and Algeria are politically stuck in their progress towards democratic systems, being dependent on “strong men” such as King Mohamed VI of Morocco or President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Institutionalised corruption and the absence of democracy create instability that makes the rule of law impossible since it prevents institutional changes, condemns these societies to poverty and inequality, and makes them a hotbed of fundamentalism and conflict, rather than fostering an education that respects the culture and religion of the different regions, that promotes the emancipation of women and creates the conditions for developing a strong civil society.
In addition to this, Libya is embroiled in a second civil war, and its HDI continues to decline; which has been forgotten now that the oil flow to the North has been restored. Furthermore, Western Sahara is still illegally occupied by Morocco, due to Spain’s lack of political will and the distrust in the relations between Morocco and Algeria – as the king of Morocco owns the phosphate mines in Western Sahara, whereas Algeria defends the territory’s independence by echoing the demands of the Polisario Front (the liberation movement of Western Sahara). Meanwhile, refugee camps in the region, such as Tindouf or M’Bera, continue to grow in size and await a solution that never comes.
In this context it is no wonder that regional cooperation projects such as the Arab Maghreb Union are frozen owing to bilateral conflicts. Morocco is trying to distance itself from Algeria and be positioned as a salient ally of the European Union by partaking in common security policies, fisheries agreements or through the MEDA programme for financial aid. This forces supranational organisations like the EU to cooperate with each nation separately, rendering it impossible to develop interregional projects.
The West Needs to Listen, as Well as Act
We need to radically rethink our understanding of foreign policy if we want to cooperate with the Maghreb. Cooperation implies reciprocity, mutual cooperation, understanding that our best interest is in the welfare of not only our country but the world; not only for the current generations but for the future ones too. To this end, we must rethink the traditional formulas, we must reduce resource consumption in countries with a higher carbon footprint, and enforce the effective observance of human rights in the most devastated regions.
Environmental refugees are invisible to international statutes, despite being estimated by Norman Meyers to reach 250 million by 2050.
The formula of the Washington consensus, based on the premise that introducing a neoliberal market economy guarantees the development of democratic institutions, has been proven false. Failing to treat non-Western cultures as equals who are able to dialogue and fit for problem solving, reeks of Eurocentrism and prevents exchanges of culture and know-how between North and South.
It is not acceptable that the dreams of the people of the South are crushed on the barbed wires of Ceuta and Melilla or that thousands of them are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, the North must commit to reducing the carbon footprint, foster a culture where citizens are empowered and ecologically aware, and demand fair treatment from Europe towards the Maghreb, its migrants and the global South. In the words of Seville’s Muslim poet Az-Zubaidi, “The whole Earth, in its diversity, is one, and all its inhabitants are human and neighbours.” Let us cooperate today to remove the barbed wire.
 CHUECA, Ángel G. (2005) “Mitos, leyes de extranjería y migraciones internacionales en el Mediterráneo”. In FLECHA, José-Román & GARCÍA, Cristina. El Mediterráneo en la Unión Europea ampliada. Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, pp. 89-116.