The Global Compact for Migration, recently adopted in Marrakech, rests on a snappy objective: safe, orderly and regular migration. This does not appear to be such an unattainable aim, until you start comparing it to reality.
To truly understand the momentous leap needed to meet the Compacts’ goal, I ask you to do a bit of a role-play. Let’s pick a country that has had a continuous pattern of emigration over the last few decades: Somalia. Now, let’s pair it with a possible destination country: Sweden. Our challenge? To find a safe, orderly, regular way of getting from Somalia to Sweden.
Let’s try now.
You are a Somali citizen from just outside of Mogadishu. You were born in 1989. You find it hard to remember a time when bombing and war wasn’t at least a possibility. There were moments of tranquillity, but they didn’t last long. Your uncle’s family left for Kenya in 1991, when the overthrow of President Siad Barre sparked intense fighting. Your aunt’s family left in 2006 for Sweden after Ethiopian and African Union Forces attempted to force out the Islamist Sharia courts. Your immediate family decided to stay in the country, moving internally as your father was threatened and the fighting spread to different areas. Things have started to get more stable, but the threat of insurgents from Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab still lingers. Accused of being a spy, you have been threatened, held for questioning, and beaten by both Al-Shabab and the government. You are tired of being afraid and alert at every moment. Fortunately, you have a passport and want to try your luck elsewhere.
Your first thought, naturally, is of your family abroad. You have lost touch with your uncle and are not sure whether he is still in Kenya. However, your aunt calls your mother every week from Sweden. Her family seems to be doing all right and it is always easier to face a big change of location, language, job, customs, climate… with family by your side. Maybe she could even host you for the first year while you learn the language and find your feet in Sweden.
Your aunt, excited by the prospect of your arrival (and already giving you a meticulous list of foods to cram in your suitcase), goes to a migration centre to ask about the legal requirements. The answer is always the same: a nephew is not a close enough relative. You would not qualify for family reunification.
You explore other options; you hear about a church programme that hosted your brother’s friend a decade ago. You find a way to get in contact. The answer is polite but firm: they thought conditions were improving in Somalia and are now mostly hosting families, preferably Syrian families. Everyone knows about that civil war. You briefly wonder if you could become Syrian.
You decide to consider the option of resettlement with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The organisation is still active in the country. A UNHCR worker near your village calmly tells you that resettlement is only for refugees— someone who has fled their country due to safety concerns and crossed an international border. She recites a lengthy definition of a refugee that you cannot quite remember, but are pretty sure you tick at least a few of the boxes. You remind her that you would not feel much safer in your neighbouring countries and would rather not leave your family unless you were sure you would be able to provide for them. You point out that you are trying to cross a border, but she just repeats the same definition and recommends a UNHCR livelihood programme.
You go directly to the Swedish Embassy and ask if you can apply for a humanitarian visa there. The secretary says that they do not have enough personnel to register asylum requests at the Embassy and redirects you to the UNHCR. He says that there was an EU Court decision in 2009 stating that European consulates have no obligation to grant a visa on humanitarian grounds, such as preventing someone from being tortured. Issuing such a visa is entirely at the discretion of the national Embassy. The expression on the secretary’s face tells you your chances of receiving this visa are slim.
You do not give up. The humanitarian organisations in your neighbourhood seem pretty determined to give a good education to as many children as possible. What if you went to Sweden to study?
The first step seems to be applying and getting accepted to an institution of your choice. Because of the conflict, you were only able to complete the first year of secondary school. The school was since bombed and getting any proof of these years of study would, therefore, be nearly impossible. You decide to try anyway. You look at the subsequent steps for a student visa. Your heart drops. To qualify for a student visa, you need to have paid the first instalment of the school’s fee, show proof of being able to support yourself in Sweden, and promise to leave as soon as you have finished your studies. You search the requirements for special scholarships, but they all need academic records.
You explore the idea of a work permit, but to do so you need to find an employer in Sweden offering you a job and willing to pay you more than 13,000 SEK. You don’t know how to start this process.
You start to get even more creative. What if you got a tourist visa and then applied for asylum, or found work after you got there. You check the requirements. You need to prove you have enough money for your stay and the trip home. If that was not enough, you would also need to get health insurance. You don’t have that kind of money.
Just Get a Plane Ticket
You wonder if you can simply buy a plane ticket to Sweden and then make all the necessary arrangements when you get there. However, you realise any ticket you purchase would be subject to something called 'carrier sanctions': transportation companies would be penalised for allowing someone without proper entry documentation to travel.
A Phone Number…
Your friend gives you a phone number of a trafficker to reach Libya and then Europe by boat. You have heard horror stories from friends about treatment there and your family does not have the money for numerous ransoms if you got kidnapped. You would probably be sold as a slave on the black market. You are not sure what to do.
Of course, this is just one example and one story of a prospective journey. Regulations for entry do differ from country to country. However, these obstacles to safe, orderly, and regular movement across borders are more common than you might think.
The EU Commission is due to present a legislative proposal on Protected Entry Procedures (PEPs) in EU Parliament. These procedures, already explored by the EU in 2002, would permit foreign embassies or consulates to give either national protection to asylum seekers or a visa permitting entry to that particular state for the purpose of claiming protection. A positive and binding decision would be a step towards the Compact's objective.
However, another vital step is needed. A Global Compact for Migration that truly seeks to provide safe, orderly, regular alternatives needs to push countries to explore legislation on student and work visas that do not depend on proof of wealth or the accident of location and/or nationality at birth.
If the agreement wishes to avoid ‘unsafe’ death at sea, then it must readdress and strengthen the role of embassies and consulates to issue visas for protection, work, or study. At the very least, governments must reconsider carrier sanctions which make rubber boats and slave markets the only alternative. If the EU does nothing in its upcoming decisions to address any of these initiatives, what are we to conclude other than that the consensus is to maintain an 'unsafe, disorderly, irregular' policy on migration?
Hannah completed a M.A. in Social Anthropology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh, with a year abroad in Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. During her MSc. in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, she focused primarily on alternative safe and legal pathways for mobility. After the master’s she interned at Generations For Peace in Jordan and Mediterranean Hope’s Observatory on Migration in Lampedusa, Italy. She is currently working with the humanitarian corridors project in Beirut, Lebanon. She enjoys hiking, anything involving bodies of water, and questioning what it means to be a hospitality-accepting vegetarian.