African Migration to the EU: Irregular Migration In Context

Over recent years, African nationals have been travelling through the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR) for diverse and multiple reasons, ranging from lack of economic opportunities, poor governance, livelihood stressors, violence and human rights violations. Migratory journeys across the Mediterranean to the southern shores of the EU have attracted much political and media attention and polarized debates across the EU.

However, irregular migration to Europe is one small piece of a much larger story, and a deeper understanding of the dynamics of regular and irregular migration from Africa and the EU is often missing from public debates. Without communicating accurate information on this, alarmist narratives of migration “crisis” will continue to prevail – even despite the significant decrease in irregular arrivals by sea to the EU – making it difficult to develop sustainable, humane and effective responses.

This briefing provides a comparative analysis of regular and irregular migration flows from Africa to the EU, focusing on countries on the CMR (Northern and Western Africa) over the period 2011–2017. The aim is to contextualize different types of flows to support evidence-based policy and programming, balance predominant narratives of migration between these regions, and suggest ways to improve data on these. The briefing does this by offering original analysis of statistics on residence permits issued to African nationals in the EU between 2011 and 2017, and comparing these to irregular sea arrivals to Europe in the same period.

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