If my continent weren’t so ruthless with African « economic » refugees – Part 3 (9/2020)

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection

If my continent weren’t so ruthless with African « economic » refugees is a wide-ranging investigation in three parts. It primarily addresses the migrations of African « economic » refugees to the European Union (EU) within the broader context of migrations from non-EU countries. It dissects the way in which the EU deals with this issue while focusing on the French position. It scrutinizes the actions of the EU and its member States both at the external borders of the EU and in Africa, explaining how these actions are connected with the current situation of refugees. This piece of investigative journalism encompasses a lot of original facets. Among them, it examines some overlooked economic causes of migrations; it analyzes the political ideas of people who help refugees; it gives an overview of France’s vital resources to welcome millions of « economic » refugees.

Who are « economic » refugees or migrants? The European Union (EU) and its member States tend to put people fleeing their countries because of various predicaments in this category. In short, « economic » refugees or migrants are people confronted with a high probability of acute poverty and reduced life expectancy because of one or several of the following scourges: food shortages; the absence of decent healthcare; severe environmental damage; the lack of arable lands; the impacts of global warming (e.g., dwindling water resources making decent living conditions impossible); non-lethal conflicts related to these different scourges, etc. In this investigation, I use the expression « economic » refugees rather than « economic » migrants because the word migrant has a tendency to downplay the hardships and suffering these people have to go through.

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Part 1: Widespread contempt

What kind of respect do African “economic” refugees get in international law implemented across the EU? All EU member States relegate a huge majority of refugees fleeing squalor, malnutrition, the impacts of climate change and environmental disasters, the lack of arable land or decent healthcare in only one category: that, precisely, of “economic” migrants or refugees, by definition unworthy of genuine respect. As such, they can be deported back to their country of origin.

nicolas barbier ventdouxprod 2020 half-hidden violence african economic migrants refugees european union migration policies alpes border italy france non-admission briançon montgenèvre génération identitaire solidarity movement

Part 2: Half-hidden violence

African "economic" refugees come up against a European administrative nightmare as soon as they enter this continent. They are faced with administrative violence purposely designed to discourage, overwhelm, stress and at times traumatize them. The European Union and its member States have carefully crafted administrative procedures for this type of illegal refugees. They use them as part of a psychological warfare against them.

Photojournalistic trailer

This trailer was made during the summer of 2019. Each part of my investigation is updated until the date of its release.

III. Introduction: Neglecting refugees in times of covid-19

PANDEMICS SUCH AS COVID-19 easily spread in overcrowded indoor or outdoor places. In Greece, about 37,000 refugees have been exposed to a covid-19 outbreak on several Greek islands of the Aegean Sea. The camps where they live have officially been in lockdown for months. They are also dangerously overcrowded. Their occupants lack adequate shelter, sufficient water supply, sanitation and hygiene. In those conditions, a minor mistake is enough to contaminate much of the camps (Al-Arshani, 2020; Grant H. et al., 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020 [c]).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Moria, a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in times of covid-19 in March 2020.

Covid-19 outbreaks have also threatened other places where refugees live in large groups, in France, in Italy and elsewhere, including in detention facilities where they await deportation. In France, the French government left hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children in overcrowded places and on their own in Gap, Marseille and Paris, either without adequate social protection or with no protection at all (Grant H. et al., 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020 [a] and [b]; Riou, 2020).

In Africa, the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (ETFA or EUTF for Africa) is supposed to « address the root causes of irregular migration » (see III.2). If the EU did address the issue of covid-19 in Africa, no new EU funding was released to help Africans better protect themselves from the covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the EU took away funds from preexisting programs like the ETFA. The union “re-allocated, accelerated and prioritized” these funds to give some sort of response to the pandemic. Northern Africa was supposed to get much of it and Sub-Saharan Africa had to be content with very little (European commission, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b]).

Overall in Europe, the EU’s response to covid-19 in regard to refugees was ambivalent, too little, too late. After the pandemic hit Europe, no action was taken to relocate most refugees living in refugee camps in the safest and most decent possible housing. Only several weeks after the beginning of the outbreak in Europe did the EU start spending money for refugees in response to covid-19. In April, the EU allocated 350 million euros to Greece:

  • To buy some more food, shelter, health and sanitation items. But at the same time, overcrowding and other problems persist.
  • To add medical teams.
  • To build five reception and identification centers on Greek islands, with “proper accommodation”. Their capacity to meet the health and sanitary needs of refugees in times of a pandemic such as covid-19 in the future is anything but guaranteed.
  • To keep on serving the EU’s objective of rejection through “the deployment of border guards and police officers at Greece’s external borders” (European commission, 2020 [a]).
ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
2019: Border guards have just caught illegal refugees in Greece, a scene that has repeated itself during the covid-19 pandemic. They do not catch refugees to protect them, but to make sure that they are under control.

In Europe, refugee camps and other places for refugees are not as big as they used to be a few years ago. To a great extent, it is the result of EU policies, rules and regulations. Frontex, the European border and coast guard agency, enforces many of them on both land and sea. This agency falls under the authority of the EU.

In a statement released on April 3, 2020, Frontex and its executive director Fabrice Leggeri did not dwell on the hardships of refugees exposed to covid-19 in camps and shelters. In fact, the agency did not mention them. As if they did not exist. There has not been any plan to rescue as many migrants at sea as possible and offer them decent housing that could protect them from covid-19 as much as possible. Instead, Frontex aims to keep harassing illegal migrants and capture them wherever they are on the external borders of the EU. Then, illegal migrants can be shipped to unhealthy camps or poor housing facilities. Frontex is concerned, though, about the health of its officers. Here is an excerpt from the agency’s statement followed by some words from its executive director:

Frontex: 116 German and 19 Danish officers were transported to and from Greece as part of a rotation in Frontex sea and land operations in Greece. […] The Agency is taking all necessary steps to protect the staff deployed in its operations by providing the necessary protective gear [against covid-19] (Frontex, 2020 [a]). 

Fabrice Leggeri: We must not forget about those who are still protecting Europe’s external borders (Frontex, 2020 [a]).

African refugees and smugglers were quick to realize that reaching Europe by land or sea would be much more difficult as long as EU member States keep their borders virtually closed and militarize them even further during the covid-19 pandemic. As a consequence, the number of arrivals of African refugees in the EU dropped between March and July 2020 (IOM, 2020 [a]).

III.1. Frontex’s priority: Harassing « economic » refugees

Over the last ten years, the EU has made sure that Frontex could benefit from ever more paramilitary equipment and agents. The EU has done its utmost to allow Frontex’s operations on ever larger expanses of land and sea.

Frontex has developed so rapidly and to such an extent that it has become a formidable transnational paramilitary force. In 2020, this agency is one of the EU’s key assets to stop what European national leaders perceive as a great threat to Europe in the 21st century: an « invasion » of « economic » refugees.

Frontex conducts several missions. Its agents have rescued refugees who would have died without their intervention, especially on the Mediterranean Sea. But once the rescue operation and primary care are done, Frontex shows its true colors. To « economic » refugees, Frontex generally resonates as an aggressive and ominous word. Among Frontex’s activities, four stand out as the most prejudicial to them:

  • It has authority to identify who are considered illegal migrants, such as « economic » refugees.
  • The agency coordinates the deployment of both agents and equipments (boats, helicopters, planes, monitoring and control equipment, etc.) to catch as many of them as possible and as efficiently as possible. Agents do it in areas located at the external borders of the EU.
  • When a EU member State is confronted with an « extreme [migratory] pressure » at the external borders of the EU, Frontex is empowered to coordinate the rapid deployment of border guards.
  • It organizes the return of « economic » refugees to their country of origin (European commission, 2018 [a]; Frontex, 2019 [a] and [b]).

Whether Frontex agents rescue « economic » refugees who risk drowning in the sea or capture them inland, they never do it to give them a safe haven in the EU. One of Frontex’s essential and expanding role is to deport migrants rejected by the EU back to their countries of origin.

In its annual reports, Frontex shamelessly boasts about its achievements in terms of deportations. In 2017, Frontex pointed out that its officers returned « 13,000 people to their country of origin, more than double the number from the previous year ». They deported a record total of 15,850 people in 2019. The « return of irregular migrants was a key area for the agency in 2019″, Frontex declared, adding: « We will continue to support [EU] member States in returning people who have received negative asylum decisions » (Frontex, 2020 [b], 2020 [c], p.1, 5, 2019 [c], 2019 [e], p.7, 35-36, and 2017 [a], p.7, 25-27).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
2019: A refugee from Gambia is returned to his country of origin from Austria during an operation conducted by Frontex.

Frontex is likely to stay extremely busy returning people to their country of origin for a while, whether or not certain projections come true. Those made in the World Bank’s Groundswell report comforted EU leaders in their unrelenting rejection of most African « economic » refugees. According to this report, there should be 85 million Sub-Saharan climate refugees by 2050 if no action is taken. This estimate does not take into account other kinds of Sub-Saharan « economic » refugees: those fleeing unemployment, underpaid work, unhealthy housing, local food crises, overpopulation or environmental degradation unrelated to climate change. Whether 85 million Sub-Saharan climate refugees is a reliable number or not, there may be a challenge ahead for Europeans insofar as Asian « economic » refugees could come in droves too (World Bank, 2018).

The World Bank’s estimate is one of the EU and Frontex’s worst nightmares. Today, EU member States want to prevent Africans and Asians who are the most vulnerable to climate change and other causes of « economic » migrations from having a decent life in Europe. These States are willing to use any legal means available to push them back. The time of ruthlessness is not tomorrow. It is right now.

Cases of young Africans with experiences similar to that of Omar are already multiplying. At the time of the interview, he had not yet been confronted with the EU’s ruthlessness. Omar is from western Africa. He was rescued on the Mediterranean by the Aquarius boat operated by the SOS Meditérranée association on his way to Europe. He describes the situation of his Sub-Saharan farming family, how it became unbearable and prompted him to pursue a decent future in Europe, first to be able to… eat:

[From 9 min. 49 sec. on this interview] I was a student, but there wasn’t enough money. I left to earn money and eat. We are farmers. Rain is scarce. It rains for a month and then it’s over. You plant corn and rice and there is no water. There is drought. Goats, cows, everything dies. I got out of there to earn money, for my parents, and to eat[1] (France 3 Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur, 2017).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Omar was rescued by the Aquarius on the Mediterranean in 2017.

EU member States pour tons of money into Frontex in order to better « protect » their homelands from a flow of « economic » refugees like Omar. By 2027, the EU will have deployed 10,000 Frontex agents, a sevenfold increase compared with 2018. Frontex’s budget had already soared from 50 million euros in 2007 to 320 million in 2018. Nothing is too expensive or sophisticated enough when it comes to stemming the flow of « economic » refugees (Angelescu and Trauner, 2018).

In 2018, the EU increased the budget allocated to migration and border management from 13 billion euros (2014-2020 cycle) to 35 billion euros (2021-2027). During the next seven years, Frontex alone will receive 11 billion euros. 35 billion euros (or 5 billion euros/year) represents more than the revenues of Afghanistan, Eritrea and South Sudan combined. Incidentally, a number of « economic » refugees come from these three countries (CIA, 2018; European commission, 2018 [b]; European court of auditors, 2020, p.9).

In addition, in 2018 the European council (heads of State or government of all EU member States) insisted that it wanted Frontex to « stop smugglers [of refugees] operating out of Libya or elsewhere ». The council further stated that it intended to « definitively break the business model of the smugglers » (European council, 2018 [a], p.1-2).

In reality, smugglers of refugees have not created any tangible « business model » worthy of the expression. But it is convenient for the EU to use this expression which tends to demonize virtually all smugglers. It is true that some smugglers of refugees use ultra-violent methods. Others apply slightly abusive practices. The EU uses information gathered by its agencies in order to zero in on the worst existing smugglers for at least one reason: it becomes easier for the EU to justify an enormous budget to tackle both illegal immigration and smugglers (Frontex, 2017 [a], p.13).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
2019: A convoy carrying both workers and migrants from Agadez (Niger) to Libya.

In actuality, a lot of smugglers of refugees neither mistreat nor defraud them. Rather, many respect these refugees when they organize their journey to the EU. Radio Télévision Suisse are among the rare media that debunked the myth of the « inherently bad smuggler » [You can listen to this short RTS audio documentary on this issue]. Some telling statistics should also be considered. In 2018, 5,196 people were interviewed for the Mixed Migration Review. Most of them migrated across Africa and the other across Asia. 56 percent of them considered that « smugglers helped them in achieving their goal of migrating to another country ». Less than 14 percent disagreed with this statement, while 30 percent neither agreed nor disagreed (Galeazzi, 2018; Mixed Migration Center, 2018, p.126-127).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
This man told a Deutsche Welle journalist that he drove « hundreds of migrants from Agadez to Libya ».

The EU management of migration from Africa is in no small part responsible for the increasing violence of smuggling activities. With the rapid militarization of its external borders, the EU has contributed to drive up the average price for the journey to the EU demanded by smugglers. In turn, it has lured brutal groups into this activity. Militarization has induced refugees to take riskier and less controllable routes. In order to reduce the brutality and abuses perpetrated by certain smugglers, the EU should first recognize that it shares a great deal of responsibility in that violence (Galeazzi, 2018, Horwood et al., 2018, p.115).

Beyond smuggling, the role of the European council is critical in terms of migration as a whole. Two years ago, this institution in charge of defining the general political direction and priorities of the EU issued a statement with far-reaching implications:

More efforts are urgently needed to ensure swift returns [of illegal migrants] and prevent the development of new sea or land routes. […] It is necessary to eliminate the incentive to embark on perilous journeys. […] In the light of the recent increase in flows in the Western Mediterranean, the EU will support, financially and otherwise, all efforts by Member States, especially Spain, and countries of origin and transit, in particular Morocco, to prevent illegal migration (European council, 2018 [a], p.2).

The following year, as part of « a new strategic agenda 2019-2024 », the European council doubled down on its all-out attacks on unwanted refugees:

We will continue and deepen our cooperation with countries of origin and transit to fight illegal migration (European council, 2019 [c]).

« To fight illegal migration » means to fight most « economic » refugees. The EU unhesitatingly and unequivocally uses a language of war and brutality for people who are just trying to make a decent life elsewhere.

III.2. European funds for Africa to sustain… rejection

The kingdom of Morocco under Mohammed VI gladly takes EU funds to block as many African refugees as possible from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In the north of the country, Moroccan police forces raided numerous places in which Sub-Saharan refugees were housed. They rounded them up, including pregnant women and children, before taking them south by bus. Their destination could be either the fringes of the Sahara desert or simply a long way from the Mediterranean shores, in big cities like Casablanca and Rabat or other places. The Moroccan police were accused of several human rights violations, as well as verbal and physical abuses committed against refugees (Amnesty International, 2018; Bozonnet, 2018; Slate Afrique, 2019; Zaireg, 2018).

In late 2018, Morocco received 140 million euros from the EU to deal with African migrants bound for Europe. The Moroccan government did not wait long to please the EU. Between January and March 2019, the Moroccan police moved 9,000 refugees away from the Mediterranean coast. Satisfied with the vigor with which the kingdom executed the task, the EU gave Morocco an additional 101 million euros in December 2019. That money is drawn from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (ETFA or EUTF for Africa). The ETFA was established in 2015 « to address the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration and to contribute to better migration management ». In official terms, Morocco is supposed to spend the 101 million euros to « manage irregular migration, combat human smuggling » and dissuade refugees from crossing the sea (European commission, 2019 [d]; Slate Afrique, 2019).

Once the Moroccan police relocate refugees, their living conditions usually worsen. Moroccan refugee camps are commonly unhealthy and vulnerable to diseases. Deaths have been reported. Refugees living on the streets of Moroccan cities are not rare. Those healthy enough to set out for Europe again oftentimes do it. Others are detained for some time, ordinarily in miserable conditions, before being deported back to their country of origin (Abellan and Martin, 2019; Ghani, 2018; Grira, 2018; Slate Afrique, 2019; Zaireg, 2018).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Northern Morocco, 2019: Sub-Saharan Africans attempt to hide from the Moroccan police that have been cracking down hard on "economic" refugees, with the funds and support of the European Union.

At times, the fate of « economic » refugees is even worse in Algeria than in Morocco. As reported by the ECRE (an alliance of 105 NGOs across Europe), Algerian authorities deported 25,000 Sub-Saharan refugees to Niger in 2018, with little or no attention to their health care needs. Among these deportees were 7,000 women and children who had fled a food crisis in Niger. Normally, deportations from Algeria are greatly facilitated by the EU. Through the ETFA, the EU has allocated 47 million euros to Niger for an « improved migration management », including operations like deportations and repatriations. Niger has repeatedly taken part in the repatriation of its citizens from Algeria by coordinating operations with Algerian authorities. In 2018 however, it was reported that Algerian armed forces dumped refugees from Niger and other countries in the Sahara desert near the Algeria-Niger border without Niger’s agreement (Ben Yahia, 2018; European commission, 2020 [d]; France 24, 2018; Pascual, 2019 [a], [b] and [c]; Reliefweb, 2019).

From the inception of the ETFA in November 2015 to January 2020, 1.36 billion euros, or 31 percent of the entire ETFA budget, was poured into « migration management » inside the African continent (European commission, 2018 [c],  2020 [c]).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
In 2018, the Algerian government authorized the dumping of Sub-Saharan migrants in the Sahara desert near the Algeria-Niger border.

The ETFA addresses other issues connected to the overarching theme of migration. From 2015 to 2020, a total of 1.98 billion euros was split among 24 African countries to foster « greater economic and employment opportunities » and « strengthen resilience ». The EU claims that this budgetary envelope addresses « migration crises » in the 24 countries located in the regions of the Sahel, westcentral Africa and the Horn of Africa. The much larger European Development Fund (EDF) of about 3.5 billion euros annually (2014-2020) is intended for 48 Sub-Saharan African States. Finally, there are a few meager funds (much smaller than the ETFA) for other development programs. The main focuses of all these different funds are agriculture and rural development, education, food, healthcare, infrastructure, governance and natural resources management (European commission, 2020 [f] and 2018 [c]; European council, 2020 [a]; European parliament, 2014).

In total, the EU funding for development in Africa amounts to slightly more than 4 billion euros per year (ETFA + EDF + smaller funds). It may seem like a lot of money. But when you do the maths, it is not. First of all, it means that, in theory, each Sub-Saharan African could get 4 euros of EU aid annually. If the target population was only extremely poor Africans, which is not the case, each of them could receive 8 euros every year, or 0.02 euro/day. As a reminder, an extremely poor person is living with less than 1.90 dollar a day (around 1.80 euro). Therefore, the EU funding for African development is totally inadequate to begin with (European parliament, 2014; World poverty, 2020).

EU leaders and heads of States do not risk alienating most of their supporters with this level of assistance for African development to curb the flow of migrants. Indeed, a little more than 4 billion euros of EU aid every year represents 0.80 euro per EU inhabitant and per month.

To put this sum of money in another perspective, in July 2020, the 27 EU governments validated a 750-billion-euro plan to support the economic recovery of the EU from the covid-19 pandemic. In April 2020, another 540-billion-euro fund had already been approved by the EU for EU businesses, member States and workers affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. It sounds almost more difficult for the EU to agree on 4 billion euros of aid for African development than to disburse 1,290 billion euros following a few months of economic recession in Europe (Amaro and Wang, 2020; European council, 2020 [b]).

ventdouxprod 2020 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel reject African economic refugees
July 2020: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, and European Council President Charles Michel are about to disburse 750 billion euros in an effort to help the EU recover from a few months of the covid-19 pandemic. Somehow, it sounds easier than to allocate 4 billion euros per year for African development. In 2019, Ursula von der Leyen stood by "Protecting our European Way of Life" as a title for a EU program dealing with different issues including migration.

However insufficient it may be, it is also true that the European aid for development in Africa does help people. It assists small populations on a temporary basis. For instance, locally, the aid

  • benefits young people and women;
  • finances job training programs, the creation of small businesses and basic services;
  • helps certain communities become somewhat more resilient to climate change;
  • provides food;
  • participates in environmental restoration and improves energy use (European commission, 2020 [e], 2020 [f] and 2020 [h]).

In a 2019 annual report, the European commission asserted that the ETFA provided 1.1 million people with nutrition assistance in the Sahel and Lake Chad region that year. The commission alleged that the ETFA made it possible for 4 million people in the Horn of Africa region to « have better access to basic services » like « healthcare, education, legal aid and access to energy » in 2019 (European commission, 2020 [g], p.23-24, 29).

In both cases, even if the numbers cited (1.1 million and 4 million) are accurate or close to it, the nutrition assistance or basic services granted should never be construed as an assurance that they meet the needs of these people:

  • « Better access to basic services » does not mean adequate access. It may have very little lasting impact on the beneficiaries. One or two basic services out of six or seven necessary to have a decent life do not solve the beneficiaries’ problems either.
  • Similarly, « nutrition assistance » does not ensure that people’s dietary needs are met during that period of time, let alone that it will last more than one year.

In the end, when it comes to its handling of aid for Africa, the EU never stops spreading a crude propaganda[2], wherever and whenever it can do it, on EU websites, the social media, tv and radio programs, newspapers and magazines.

By contrast, an indisputable constant shows up: the EU aid for development in Africa does not address in any meaningful way Africa’s severe crises in terms of internal migrations, endemic poverty, widespread housing deficiencies and climate change. What about the living conditions of the millions of internally displaced people and refugees due to conflicts and violence? What about the 511 million Africans living in extreme poverty in July 2020? What about the 47 percent of the Sub-Saharan urban population living in slums? What about the displacement of people due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events (e.g., 600,000 people displaced because of floods in Nigeria alone in 2018)?, etc, etc. Only a ridiculously small minority of all these people truly benefits from the EU aid in a tangible way (Bhatt et al., 2019; IDMC, 2019 [a] and 2019 [b], p.18; World poverty, 2020).

Four billion euros of yearly EU aid for development in Africa is also trifling from yet another standpoint: when this funding is assessed against the wealth looted from Africa by European colonizers in the past and from the subsequent exploitation and degradation of their natural resources by European corporations (see part I.1. of this investigation) (Bayélé-Goma, 2017, p.88; Burgis, 2016; Malon, 2006, p.175, 599; Mattei and Nader, 2008, p.21; Mduduzi, 2015; Seddon et al., 2013, p.3).

ventdouxprod 2020 Emmanuel Macron and Mahamadou Issoufou fight illegal migrants like African economic refugees
Through the ETFA and other forms of collaboration, Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou and French president Emmanuel Macron have worked together closely so that most "economic" refugees would never get to Europe.

The EU uses the ETFA and EDF as a bargaining chip to induce African States to address what the EU portrays as an « emergency »: all these « economic » refugees knocking on its doors. The same rhetoric (« emergency » or « crisis » « at the border ») has been used by both the Obama and Trump administrations to talk about « economic » refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. With its petty aid for development, the EU seeks to make it politically easier to legitimate its brutal rejection of « economic » refugees. Instead, the EU proves all the more heartless.

III.3. How EU policies and actions exacerbate forced displacement and extremism in Africa

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Internally displaced people in Nigeria.

The way in which the EU and its member States have been making their external borders more impervious to African “economic” refugees has had dire consequences inside Africa. Instead of seeing Europe as a place of refuge and decent life, an increasing number of Africans rightly see it as a place of abject rejection. For EU heads of States, it is a success of sorts, even though it remains incomplete. An absolute success would mean that all unwanted would-be « economic » refugees stop dreaming of settling in Europe.

As a result of EU policies and actions, scores of Africans are looking closer to home rather than Europe. They usually have to move to regions suffering from a high rate of poverty. Rejection in Europe has exacerbated the crises of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in Africa. IDPs are people forced to move within the country they live in.

At the end of 2019, 19.2 million Sub-Saharan Africans were internally displaced because of conflict and violence. Underdevelopment, poverty, inequality, unemployment or governance deficits, increasingly compounded by the impacts of climate change, are common underlying reasons for conflict and violence (IDMC, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b], p.15; IDMC, 2019 [a], p.16, 32).

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, the violence of extremist groups and retaliations are responsible for certain displacements (e.g., 140 000 people in Mali during the first half of 2019); lack of access to land and water is responsible for others. These two problems occurring simultaneously drive yet other displacements. In the Lake Chad region (Chad, eastern Niger, northern Nigeria and a part of the Central African Republic), the emergence of extremist groups like Boko Haram is directly related to a series of afflictions: poverty and inequality, lack of health care and education, successive droughts and an increasing competition for vital resources (IDMC, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b], p.15; IDMC, 2019 [a], p.16, 32).

In 2019, disasters like desertification, droughts, storms, floods, coastal erosion and others added 3.4 million new IDPs in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of 2019, 2 million people were still IDPs because of these particular disasters (IDMC, 2020 [b], p.15).

Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the four countries with the most IDPs. The Sahel region and other central and eastern African countries are also home to large groups of IDPs. More than 8 out of 10 IDPs in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan live in extreme poverty (i.e., with less than 1.90 dollar a day) (IDMC, 2020 [a]; World bank, 2019 [a]).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Somali families, displaced after fleeing their homes amid an uptick in U.S. airstrikes against the al-Shabab extremist group, rest at an IDP camp near Mogadishu, Somalia on March 12, 2020.

In addition to IDPs, 6.7 million refugees were spread out across Africa in late 2018, including 3.5 million in the Central African Rep., the DR of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. They fled their countries because of a variety of reasons, and sometimes a combination of those (e.g., conflict, disaster, poverty, violence, health issues) (IDMC, 2019 [a], p.37).

The European commission deludes people into believing that the EU cares about African IDPs and refugees. According to the commission, “the EU is a leading international donor in situations of forced displacement”. It stated that the EU spent 1.2 billion euros for 71 million IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers worldwide in 2018. It amounts to 0.05 euro person/day. If that is leadership… (European commission, 2018 [b] and 2019 [c])

What else does 1.2 billion euros represent in some kind of concrete way? Less than 0.7 percent of the annual turnover of the French agri-food industry (180 billion euros) for instance. Something more important than this needs to be remembered. For the EU, for its heads of States and perhaps for most European voters, from a budget perspective, the Frontex agency alone is worth more than decent living conditions for 19.2 million Sub-Saharan African IDPs. If the EU meant to be honest about where its true interests lie, the European commission should have said that first (ANIA, 2018).

When it comes to refugees alone on a global scale, the United States is the single largest funder of refugee needs in terms of food, emergency shelter, education, health care, etc. In 2019, the U.S. government spent 6.7 billion dollars for refugees worldwide, or 38 percent of the global amount. Put together, the EU, the governments of Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden provided 29 percent of the global total of 16 billion euros. France contributed less than Sweden. Most funds are managed by the United Nations and World Food Program. Here again, the funding is inadequate:

  • In 2019, refugees in Cameroon, the Dem. Rep. of the Congo and Mozambique received less than 50 percent of the funding that they needed according to official estimates.
  • That same year, the shortfall for refugees in Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Sudan and Zimbabwe was somewhere between 40 and 50 percent (Karasapan, 2020; OCHA, 2020).
ventdouxprod 2020 the European Union fuels the crisis of internally displaced people and refugees inside Africa, deludes people into believing Europe cares about them
Typical EU propaganda about IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers.

If the EU neglects IDPs and « economic » refugees while pretending to care about them, it pays close attention to extremist groups like Boko Haram. EU member States first want to avoid that they spread in Europe or hurt European interests in Africa. The primary European « solution » to deal with such groups is straightforward. It primarily consists in arming and training African troops so that they become more effective and efficient killers than the extremists. It is the main goal of the opération Barkhane led by France in the Sahel region, with about 5,000 French soldiers on the ground. While training African troops, the French have killed an unknown number of extremists in the region. In the process, they may have annihilated large groups of thieves who are not extremists. Opération Barkhane should be subject to independent investigations because there is a very high risk of war crimes (Barbier, 2019 [a]; International crisis group, 2017 [b]; Lagneau, 2020; Le Monde, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b]; Ministère de l’Europe et des affaires étrangères, 2019 [a]).

ventdouxprod 2020 the European Union and France contribute to the rise of extremism and Boko Haram in the Sahel
Boko Haram jihadists.

In 2019, the EU had « already provided 147 million euros to establish the African led G5 Sahel Joint Force (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger) which aims to improve regional security and fight terrorist and criminal groups ». On the G5 side, African casualties are always far higher than the French ones. Yet, one could argue that African troops fight for Europe too. After all, they limit or prevent the spread of Boko Haram and similar jihadist groups in our continent (DW, 2020; European Union, 2019; International crisis group, 2017 [b]; Le Monde, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b]).

Only a very small fraction of the 147 million euros of EU aid has been spent on nonviolent solutions. The latter include the reintegration of former Boko Haram combatants, who left the movement or were taken prisoners, into society. Another nonviolent means of achieving peace is to facilitate dialogue conducive to the easing of tensions between and within local communities. In 2018, only 7.5 million euros were allocated to these sensitive tasks in northern Niger. So most of the money keeps going to military solutions and war. Meanwhile, more and more children, traumatized by the conflict, will probably have to deal with deep psychological scars for part or all of their lives (Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Niger, 2018; Mules, 2020).

Many times, Africans attacked by Boko Haram and other jihadist groups have killed their members so as not to be killed themselves. In that regard, self-defense or vigilante groups in the Lake Chad region have served their purpose. They regularly make up for the shortcomings of official armed forces, while sometimes working with them. Even though it brings some relief to the communities attacked, war goes on (International crisis group, 2017 [a] and 2017 [b]).

Overall, in most cases, the roots of extremism persist, be they poverty, dwindling natural resources, insufficient investments, rejection of « economic » refugees in Europe or some others. The problem of extremism remains unsolved.

In case members of groups like Boko Haram dare cross the Mediterranean, Frontex and additional European armed forces could probably obliterate them pretty quickly. In the near future, will military solutions and more bloodshed dwarf peaceful initiatives such as the reintegration of former extremists into society, constructive dialogue, millions of African « economic » refugees in Europe, or widescale and sensible European investments in Africa? Yes, as long as military solutions are the primary strategy of African States, the EU and its member States.

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Chadian soldiers involved in the fight against Boko Haram.

To sum up, the EU and its member States have participated in the rise of extremist groups like Boko Haram in central and western Africa in different ways:

  • By rejecting most « economic » refugees;
  • By refusing to consider reparations for the colonization of Africa;
  • By allowing European companies to reap most of the benefits of numerous economic activities in Africa today (see I.1 of this investigation);
  • By being one of the main drivers of climate change while refusing to take adequate steps to slow it down, etc.

III.4. The largest (and mostly invisible) barrier ever?

« When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people ». These are the words of U.S. president Donald Trump about Mexican migrants. European heads of States are more careful about their words. It does not mean that they do not share similar judgments regarding many African migrants (Ye Hee Lee, 2015).

The U.S.A. is one of the most cruel nations to « economic » refugees. During the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, the U.S. government ordered the building of an ever stronger wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to prevent most south and central American refugees from entering the United States (Lakhani, 2020).

The EU’s strategy is not much different from the United States’. In just a few years, the EU has become a notorious world leader in the rejection of « economic » refugees. In the case of my continent, we should speak about a barrier rather than a wall. For the most part, the EU’s barrier is not made of concrete or barbed wire apart from relatively short segments (for example around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla north of Morocco or along the Greece-Turkey border).

If the EU’s barrier is rarely visible, it is anything but virtual. What matters is that the barrier fulfills the EU’s expectations: it is becoming increasingly hard to pass through it. Barriers of this magnitude were constructed in and around Europe in the past, most notably by the Roman Empire to protect it from « barbaric » invaders or, during World War II, by Nazi Germany along the western shores of France in a failed attempt to push back our American liberators.

Today, the Frontex agency and other European armed forces are key in making the EU’s barrier as impervious to « economic » refugees as possible. On its website, Frontex asserts its determination to « maximize » the control of « three types of border: sea, land and air » (Frontex, 2019 [c], 2019 [e], p.7, 35-36, and 2017 [a], p.7, 25-27).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Greece, March 2020 : Following a request from the Greek government, Frontex reinforced police and military units for border surveillance on the land border with Turkey.

In its hunt for « economic » refugees, Frontex is making more and more inroads outside Europe. The EU is funding the cooperation between Frontex and a host of African countries like Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Tunisia, etc. These nations are involved in the Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community. Their governments share knowledge and intelligence on border security and information on migratory movements with Frontex. Frontex can also deploy liaison officers in African countries. It has done so most recently in Niger and plans to send an increasing number of officers in eastern, northern and western Africa (Frontex, 2019 [c], 2019 [d], 2019 [e], p.7, 2017 [a], p.39 and 2017 [b], p.8, 11).

EU paramilitary forces are now everywhere where they can efficiently chase African « economic » refugees. Since 2015, the Mediterranean Sea has seen a stupendous upsurge in paramilitary operations targeting first and foremost « economic » refugees from Africa and Asia. Officially or in politically correct terms, the target is called « smuggling of migrants ». The EU paramilitary forces strive « to disrupt the business model of migrant smugglers ». Secondary activities include attempts to stop or thwart both human trafficking and the smuggling of oil and weapons (Frontex, 2019 [b]; European council, 2019 [a]).

Eunavfor Med operation Sophia is one of the high-profile operations EU leaders are especially proud of. First initiated by the EU political and security committee, it was approved by the council of the EU in 2015. Operation Sophia involved 1,770 officers, 7 ships, 3 planes and 4 helicopters for nearly five years. From 2015 to late 2018, it resulted in the interception of 551 boats on the central Mediterranean Sea, 296 of which were removed (i.e., disposed of or destroyed). The intercepted refugees were disembarked in Italy (Eunavfor Med operation Sophia, 2018; European commission, 2016 [b]; Council of the EU, 2018 [b], p.6, 28-29 and 2019 [a]; European parliament, 2018 [a]).

Operation Sophia is but one of many other similar operations. In the central Mediterranean, Frontex coordinated operation Triton, which was renamed Themis from 2018. Frontex has been involved in other operations in the Mediterranean like Poseidon between Greece and Turkey, or Hera and Minerva off the Spanish coast. In order to supplement its ever expanding paramilitary apparatus and better monitor the EU’s external borders, Frontex began testing drones in 2018. In 2019, French and British border guards started using drones along the English Channel in their search for illegal migrants trying to reach the United Kingdom. In 2019, immediately after a Frontex drone filmed a boat carrying illegal migrants, the agency alerted Italian and Maltese authorities so that they could intercept it (Cnews, 2019; Council of the EU, 2020 [a]; European commission, 2016 [b]; Frontex, 2018 [a] and 2019 [f]).

All those operations are costly. So the EU came up with a cheaper way to prevent African « economic » refugees from arriving in Europe. It bought the services of African armed forces. If the said armed forces have no compassion whatsoever for « economic » refugees, so be it. For instance, the EU opted for the Libyan coast guards (LCGs) to make its external borders more terrifying for refugees. Yet, it has always had a clear choice. Regardless of the policies on asylum adopted by EU member States, the EU could have facilitated the migration of Sub-Saharan Africans across the Sahara and Mediterranean. It had way more than enough funds to serve this purpose.

Officially, the EU pays the LCGs to carry out two different tasks:

  • First, the LCGs have taken over the interception of boats carrying refugees bound for the EU over vast expanses of sea up to 94 miles off the Libyan coast (southcentral Mediterranean).
  • Second, the LCGs are in charge of rescue operations in the same area.

Between 2017 and 2023, the EU will have disbursed a total of 285 million euros for Libyan border authorities dealing with illegal migrants bound for Europe (Campbell, 2017; Courrier international and New York Times, 2019; European commission, 2018 [d] and 2017 [a], p.4; European parliament, 2018 [b]; Fine, 2019).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
2018: The EU-backed Libyan coast guards demand that rescuers from the Sea Watch non-governmental organization move away from an area under their control.

The LCGs are known to have let a number of refugees drown in the sea when they could have been rescued. It has also been reported that these coast guards have physically mistreated quite a few refugees. EU heads of States are well acquainted with these facts (Courrier international and New York Times, 2019; Temps présent, 2018, 40 min. 00 sec. to 43 min. 30 sec).

The European commission states that a part of the funding for the LCGs is directed at « human rights training ». The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations refugee agency are allowed to « conduct protection monitoring [of refugees] at disembarkation points in western Libya ». However, no entity can stop the abuses occurring at sea or in Libyan detention centers. EU heads of States « advocate the end of arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants » in Libya. But they do not really pressure Libyan authorities. They could do it by suspending all payments until arbitrary detentions no longer occur and by demanding that EU representatives be able to track down any group of refugees in Libya. EU officers of operation Sophia train the LCGs and enforce a seven weeks’ vetting process for their trainees. But these officers are not mandated to control how the LCGs treat refugees at sea or on land (European commission, 2019 [b], p.3; Council of the EU, 2018 [b], p.6, 33; Hayden, 2019; UNHCR, 2018, p.2; UN security council, 2018, p.5).

Thus far, the EU has deliberately let refugees be abused by the LCGs. Therefore, as funders of their activities, all EU decision-makers involved should be prosecuted. Right now, EU leaders do not have to worry about any lawsuit.

As a whole and in the eyes of EU decision-makers, the results of operations undertaken by EU paramilitary forces and their African allies like the LCGs have been a major accomplishment. These operations have been instrumental in the sharp decline in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, a steady trend for the last four years (see part II.1 of this investigation) (Council of the EU, 2018 [b], p.5, 13 and 2019 [b]).

The invisible barrier built in the central Mediterranean has become a formidable deterrent. In this area, the number of refugees arriving in Italy from Libya dropped by 85 percent from the first half of 2017 to the same time period in 2018. As a consequence, the proportion of African refugees taking the western Mediterranean route towards Spain has significantly risen for the last two years. But the pervasive surveillance apparatus that extends to this western route has minimized the number of crossings there as well (see II.1 and this map) (Council of the EU, 2018 [b], p.5, 13 and 2019 [b]; IOM, 2020 [a]).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
On the Detroit of Gibraltar in July 2018, a group of African refugees is about to land on a Spanish beach under the supervision of the Spanish police (Guardia Civil).

One of the people the most satisfied with the European rejection of « economic » refugees is Fabrice Leggeri. In 2015, this Frenchman was appointed executive director of Frontex. A member of the so-called French élite, he was educated at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration where some people get their tickets for the highest levels of political authority (e.g., presidents François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron, prime minister Edouard Philippe). Fabrice Leggeri’s appointment « received a warm welcome » from then socialist interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (who later became prime minister under president Hollande) (Ministère de l’intérieur, 2014).

Fabrice Leggeri has been pampered by French governments and majorities at the parliament under socialist president François Hollande and his successor, Emmanuel Macron. In August 2018, Fabrice Leggeri’s words echoed those pronounced by French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen (see part I.1):

Fabrice Leggeri: EU member States have got to make more effective expulsion decisions. They need to be more efficiently enforced. An expulsion decision made by [one of the 26] States within the Schengen area [should] be enforced in another State if a foreign citizen moved from one country to another in the meantime[3] (Le Figaro, 2018).

In February 2019 and despite the already fierce militarization of the EU’s external borders, this enthusiast advocate of mass expulsions requested « stronger border controls ». Emmanuel Macron could not agree more with Fabrice Leggeri. The president said that he wanted « a genuine European border police building on the existing Frontex » for the sake of « Europe’s security and prosperity ». With this statement hailed by his counterparts across the EU, it could be said that Emmanuel Macron put the final nail in the coffins of thousands of Africans who die on their journey to Europe and dashed the dreams of countless others (Elysée, 2018; Roth, 2019).

The priorities set by the EU, coupled with Frontex’s budget soaring through the roof, practically give Fabrice Leggeri a carte blanche. From now on, Frontex and its allies are given unprecedented resources and free rein to aggressively hunt down « economic » refugees wherever they are. In that regard, the EU undeniably reached a milestone in the late 2010s.

Until recently, the EU could somehow fool people into believing that there were fundamental differences between the EU’s intentions with regard to African « economic » refugees and the intentions of major European far-right parties. Not anymore. Both reject them categorically.

Only minor differences exist between the EU and dominant far-right parties in terms of their preferred treatment of « economic » refugees:

  • For example, far-right parties ordinarily advocate for a tougher criminalization of Europeans who help refugees.
  • In France, Marine Le Pen wants asylum applications to be examined in reception centers for refugees built outside the EU.

The latter idea is a typical far-right project. Is it really surprising that the EU attempted to apply it in 2018? There has just been a little obstacle: so far, the African Union has refused that burdensome takeover despite the EU funds provided for that purpose. Money cannot buy everything (Boffey, 2019; European council, 2018 [c]; Marine Le Pen, 2018; Pressenza, 2019).

This notwithstanding, Spain’s socialist government and the Kingdom of Morocco found an agreement in 2019 whereby a part of the refugees rescued in the western Mediterranean near the Spanish coastline will be taken to Moroccan ports: when Spanish officers assist their Moroccan counterparts in Morocco’s maritime area of responsibility and where the nearest port is Moroccan. Before that, all refugees were sent to Spanish ports. That measure makes it even harder for « economic » refugees taken to Morocco to reach Europe. A few months before the agreement, Spain helped Morocco receive 140 million euros from the EU to better tackle migration. So in this case, money did help spread central elements of the far-right agenda into Africa, thanks in big part to a socialist government (Abellan and Martin, 2019; Fine, 2019).

ventdouxprod 2020 Spain's social prime minister Pedro Sanchez and Mohamed 6 embrace a far-right project for migrants
Rabat (Morocco), November 2018: Spain’s socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez and Mohamed VI, the king of Morocco, embrace a typical European far-right scheme: taking a part of the refugees, en route to Europe and intercepted on the Mediterranean, to Moroccan ports instead of Spanish ones.

In Spain or elsewhere, that sort of far-right agreement on migration between States is designed to reassure the alleged « moderate » political parties and economic « elites » ruling Europe. Because no government across Europe wants to redistribute and share wealth, property and sensible work in a just and fair manner, minimizing the number of African « economic » refugees is the best option. European governments would not know what to do with millions of « economic » refugees other than putting most of them in already impoverished neighborhoods. Forcing them to go back where they come from could also reduce the chances of a vast popular uprising against social injustices. The French State gives special attention to this possibility.

III.5. France: Enough resources to welcome millions of African « economic » refugees

In this last subpart of my investigation, I look into France’s housing market and farmland as a way to prove that this country alone could easily welcome millions of African « economic » refugees. I first look at the situation of people of African origin here. France voluntarily leaves a large segment of the population of African descent in deep economic and social distress in overpopulated and impoverished neighborhoods.

After World War II and during times of economic growth up to the late 1960s, France resorted to African workers from former French colonies to rebuild the country and provide housing for its growing population. Lots of these workers were from Algeria and Morocco, others from Sub-Saharan Africa. Their families oftentimes followed. In exchange, French political authorities ordered the construction of neighborhoods made of residential buildings in a slew of French cities. More often than not, French authorities demanded low-cost and poor quality housing in the suburbs. The African workers who did not live there (along with poor or economically struggling people of European descent) often resided in other buildings or small houses of poor quality (David, 2020; Insee, 2017 [a], p.17).

Today, a big part of the descendants of African workers who arrived from 1945 to 1975 are still living in these neighborhoods or others of similar low standards. More recent African migrants have mixed with them since then. Rehabilitation and renovation plans have usually been low-cost and poorly designed too. All governments and majorities at the parliament have consistently objected to do what it takes to get these communities out of poverty or low standards of living. According to the most recent nationwide data, in 2013, 48 percent of households from Sub-Saharan origin lived in overcrowded housing. Only 7 percent of non-immigrant households shared the same experience (Costil, 2016; IAU Île-de-France, 2018; Insee, 2017 [a], p.77).

ventdouxprod 2020 in Lille with the Concorde neighborhood as in virtually all major French cities, France leaves people in poverty, including many of African descent
Most people living in Lille’s Concorde neighborhood in northern France are of African descent. More than 70 percent of its 3,900 residents live below the poverty level, courtesy of national, regional and local policies for decades. This kind of impoverished neighborhood can be found in virtually every French metropolitan area (Varanges and ESJ Lille, 2018).

In this country, people of African descent are disproportionately affected by other social scourges like unemployment. In 2017, ten years after the completion of their degree, 35 percent of male descendants of northern African immigrants were unemployed, vs. 16 percent for the rest of the relevant male population (females: 26 percent for descendants, vs. 14 percent for non-descendants) (Insee, 2017 [b], p.23, 27; Varanges and ESJ Lille, 2018). 

In light of this situation, how could France welcome African « economic » refugees in good conditions? Clearly, not changing anything in a significant manner is the way forward for the French commercial, financial, industrial and political ruling classes who want to keep all their privileges and properties, as well as their control over most of the country’s resources. That way, they do not have to worry about sharing resources with both « economic » refugees and French impoverished communities. These French ruling classes have got their administration, their police, their army and now their Frontex on the borders, to control the entire population.

Yet, in France alone, we have a sufficient supply of two key resources, both in quantity and quality, to welcome millions of « economic » refugees: housing and food. This issue of availability of these two most vital resources is worth studying. Indeed, high-ranking elected officials regularly argue that we « cannot afford » to welcome so many refugees. From a pure humanitarian standpoint, it sounds like a spurious allegation, even for people with little knowledge of the French housing and food situations. It is all the more reason to inquire about the  potential of housing and food in France.

So far, the French State has never taken a step towards changing laws and policies on housing and food production to provide as many people as possible with both good quality housing and organic food. It prefers working hand in hand with most of the real estate and agribusiness industries to keep its current course of action: a totally unfair housing market and a prevalent conventional agribusiness which pollutes the land and threatens people’s health.

In order to welcome millions of « economic » refugees in good quality housing across France, far-reaching legal and political decisions would have to be made. In 2019, there were 2.98 million vacant housing units in France and an additional 2.4 million second homes (Insee, 2019 [a]).

ventdouxprod 2020 France's State-sponsored tremendous injustice in the housing market leaves millions of vacant housing units
In Lyon, the third biggest French city in terms of population, 8.5 percent of the housing is vacant. In France as a whole, the percentage is the same (Le Progrès, 2018).

In order to be comprehensive, new laws should encompass the whole French housing market. Housing prices are senselessly high in most French urban areas, which is detrimental to most people and both extremely unjust and unfair. Welcoming millions of refugees could be an opportunity to get rid of our highly discriminating housing market.

Prices for new housing should be based solely on the work done to build it and construction materials. Neither this work nor these materials should be overpriced. Only then could the housing market begin to develop into a just and fair market. In June 2020, the average price for existing housing (as opposed to new housing) was 1,900 euros per square meter for a house; it topped 3,500 euros per square meter for an appartment. Wherever prices are equal to or exceed those average prices, they need to be cut by at least two-thirds (Efficity, 2020).

In addition, people who do not need their second or third homes to live well should not be able to keep that excess of wealth. It is a privilege as close to the worst discriminatory privileges of the former French kingdom’s nobility as close can get. In 2019, France had more than 3.5 million second or occasional homes. At least in a significant part of the French landbase, that excess of home ownership should be very clearly defined by law and based on revenues and personal assets/wealth (e.g., real estate, important material goods, cash, equity and financial holdings). It would not be complicated. Once that is done, the excess in the form of housing could benefit the most fragile people with limited financial resources in priority: the elderly, the disabled and the people suffering from serious diseases (Insee, 2020).

ventdouxprod 2020 France has probably more large or huge second homes than the French nobility ever had before the French revolution in 1789
In 2020, the French upper class has probably more large or huge second homes than the French nobility ever had before the French revolution of 1789. Perhaps needless to say, most of their owners do not need those ostentatious privileges to live well.

A sizeable surplus of good food is the second resource necessary to welcome millions of African « economic » refugees. Let’s begin with France’s trade surplus[4] in food. In 2019 for example, the French surplus was high in grains (except rice), cattle, sugar, farm animal feed and dairy. Our trade surplus was about 3.45 billion euros for wheat, 956 million euros for corn, 654 million euros for sugar, 588 million euros for potatoes, etc. In 2018 (latest available data for the following produce), the French trade surplus was 357 million euros for apples, 226 million euros for protein peas, 52 million euros for cabbage and broccoli (Ministère de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation, 2020 [a], 2019 [a], p.8, 12, and 2019 [b]).

Analazing the trade surplus in food alone will not tell us if France could feed well millions of « economic » refugees. Other facts and data, many of which are overlooked or downplayed by the French State and most of the media, deserve scrutiny.

A particular indicator is helpful to assess our food surplus. According to the latest available data, in terms of cereals and starchy roots (like potatoes), France’s food self-sufficiency rate[5] was 140 percent. This rate parallels the French average dietary energy supply adequacy (i.e., percentage of food energy required per person) which stood at 138 percent per French individual from 2016 to 2018 (Clapp, 2016; FAO, 2018).

In France, we are blessed with an extraordinary rich farmland, but our agriculture is crippled by mismanagement at many levels. For instance, we import a sizeable portion of vegetables and an even bigger share of fruit consumed in this country (e.g., leeks, salads, tomatoes, strawberries). A huge part of that imbalance has got to do with three problems that could easily be solved:

  • First, France is notorious for excessive cattle and sheep farming. Areas currently used to feed cattle and sheep could be converted into organic fields for grain, fruit and vegetable.
  • Second, consuming a large quantity of out-of-season fruit and vegetables is a rather popular habit in this country. A balanced diet does not require this kind of consumption.
  • Third, growing fruit and vegetables in small gardens used to be very common in France during the first half of the 20th century. It is much less frequent nowadays. For decades, this activity has suffered from a loss of interest or an inability to do it. That decline represents a loss of knowledge, well-being, autonomy and healthy dietary habits. It began in earnest with the advent of giant supermarket chains in the 1960s and the expanding urbanization since then. However, more people have recently gone back to growing fruit and vegetables. But this renewed interest is far from making up for the past loss.

A simple calculation should be in everyone’s minds about the growing fruit and vegetables for personal or family consumption. What if each French person had 100 square meters of good arable land, that is more land than one needs to get a sufficient supply of vegetables and fruit for the entire year? Nationwide, the total area allocated to 67 million French with 100 square meters would represent less than 4 percent of France’s utilized agricultural area (Agreste, 2018).

Such a gift of land ought to be both a birth right and a right given to any migrant. It would involve a restructuration of overcrowded urban areas and a revitalization of plenty of dying or derelict rural areas, both of which are urgent needs in this country.

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Growing fruit and vegetables in gardens (private or like these community gardens in Marseille) have grown in popularity over the last 20 years following decades of dereliction. About one quarter of the French people grow fruit and vegetables in a garden, but only a part of them provides a significant part of their diet thanks to this activity. (Salon du jardin, 2020).

From an environmental standpoint, according to a study authored by eleven researchers published in Nature communications (Muller et al., 2017), 100 percent of France’s tremendous agricultural wealth could be converted into organic farming without noteworthy decline in production. These scientists determined that two conditions should be met to achieve this goal:

  • First, the French population would have to significantly reduce the amount of food that is wasted.
  • Second, we would have to reduce our consumption of animal proteins. The latter should be offset by plant-based proteins (Muller et al., 2017).

Today, the entire French agricultural area for human consumption covers about 27 million hectares (vineyards excluded). A French application available online (parcel-app.org) and developed by a team of agricultural scientists supports the findings of Muller and his colleagues. It calculates the number of people that a given area could feed based on four variables:

  1. Either France as a whole or a geographic area within France (e.g., départements). 
  2. The population of this area.
  3. Either a 25 percent or a 50 percent reduction in the average consumption of animal proteins in France, while preserving nutritional balance through an increase in the consumption of legumes, nuts and vegetables.
  4. A full conversion to organic agriculture.

According to parcel-app.org, 27 million hectares of French organic farmland could feed 89 million people with a 50 percent decrease in our current average animal protein intake (offset through an increase in our intake of legumes, nuts and vegetables) (Parcel-app.org, 2020 [a] and 2020 [b]; Desriers, 2019).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
In the 60-hectare organic Ferme du moulin in central France (Beauce), three farmers and several seasonal workers grow potatoes, beans, peas and other vegetables and fruit. Although the percentage of French organic farms is on the rise, conventional farms still covered 91.5 percent of the national utilized agricultural area in 2019 (Agence bio, 2020).

Commendable though parcel-app.org is, this application has a fundamental flaw. In terms of agriculture intended for human consumption, their creators assume that organic yields are almost twice lower than conventional yields. Much of the recent literature on this subject suggests otherwise. The three following examples among many others demonstrate how scientifically inaccurate parcel-app.org’s assumption is (see also this typically biased French governmental document in favor of conventional agriculture):

  1. In Pasadena, California (Los Angeles) in the 2010s, a well-known 370 square meter organic garden (the Urban Homestead) yielded about three tons a year of some 400 varieties of vegetables, fruit and herbs. That is enough food for 90 percent of a vegetarian diet for the four adults who run the homestead (Urban homestead, 2017).
  2. Set on 135 hectares of organic farmland in Pennsylvania (northeastern United States), the Rodale Institute demonstrated that organic agriculture could compete with conventional agriculture practically at all levels. In 2018, this nonprofit organization working with various universities (Iowa State U., Penn State, U. of Minnesota, etc.) published the results of a 28-year study comparing the grain yields of organic and conventional methods. The organic yields were just 18 percent lower than the conventional ones. « Organic farming outperformed conventional systems » in terms of revenues, profits, soil and water health (no toxic chemicals) (see method on [6]) (Rodale Institute 2018, 2020 [a], 2020 [b] and 2020 [c]).
  3. In an article published in 2015 by the Royal Society which compared 115 previous studies, six researchers found that organic yields were only 19 percent lower than conventional yields. The organic yields for fruit and nuts were only 6 percent lower, 13 percent lower for oilseed crops, 15 percent lower for legume,  17 percent lower for vegetables and 21 percent lower for cereals (see the method used by the researchers on [7]) (Ponisio et al., 2015).

In view of this research, parcel-app.org’s assumption that organic yields are twice lower than conventional ones is wrong and misleading. Of course, depending on variations in the soil, the climate and the geographic environment as a whole, differences in yields between conventional and organic agriculture can fluctuate. But all in all, if the current French farmland were 100 percent organic, it should be able to feed more than 100 million people. Therefore, if the political will was there, France could provide millions of « economic » refugees with good food.

In light of this country’s wealth in housing and agricultural land, the preconceived idea that « we can’t afford to welcome millions of people » is a lie.

ventdouxprod 2020 In France, there is enough farmland to feed well tens of millions of additional people (like African economic refugees) with organic food
In France as a whole, there is enough farmland to feed well tens of millions of additional people with organic food. The Hauts-de-France region in northern France (this photograph) is one of the richest agricultural regions in Europe.

III.6. Conclusion

Beyond all these economic considerations, even if France were not so rich in food and housing, it is always possible to organize a just and fair sharing of national resources. This basic level of human decency and this genuine respect for others goes against the dysfunctional established order that is prevalent in both Europe and Africa. Basic decency and genuine respect are part of a philosophy of kindness that EU decision-makers and heads of States do not share. This kind of philosophy goes against their actions.

These actions have intensified the suffering of some of the poorest people on Earth, killing a lot of them. Europeans who voted for these EU decision-makers and heads of States share this responsibility. These voters and their political leaders have been making the lives of « economic » refugees even more miserable. It is not a moral judgment. It is merely a fact. In Africa and on the Mediterranean, the billions of euros spent to deter these refugees from coming here could be used in an opposite manner: to make their crossing much safer and help them have a good life here.

It seems that EU-sponsored violence against African « economic » refugees with the assistance of African States is here to stay. The Marrakesh program for 2018-2020 is headed in this direction. It was signed by ministers of all EU member States, Norway, Switzerland and twenty-five African States[8]. It has bolstered EU policies targeting « economic » refugees through several major actions, including the improvement of detection capabilities and exchange of information, more efficient return of refugees to their countries of origin and innovative identification techniques (Governments of African States, EU member States, Norway and Switzerland, 2018, p.6-8).

In June 2019, the European council doubled down on this agenda by announcing that it would deepen the EU’s « cooperation with countries of origin and transit to fight illegal migration […] and to ensure effective returns ». Therefore, the EU and African States are undeniably ratcheting up their persecution of « economic » refugees. Together, they are refining the administrative, economic, psychological and social violence that they can legally perpetrate against them (European council, 2019 [c], p.3).

Refugees like Lamine are the targets of that violence. Interviewed in June 2018 in Agadez in Niger (see map in III.1), he explains why he has been stuck in this city for three years, at the gates of the Sahara. Lamine is from Gambia, a small country located some 2,000 miles west of Agadez:

[From 3 min. 10 sec. on this interview] Unfortunately we cannot go further and we cannot go back because the road is now stressed. […] Things are not easy. Some people are in prison in Libya and even in Agadez. And the situation of the police for the immigrants is creating stress for us. […] Though some people lost their lives, some crossed. Everything depends on God. We know how hard the desert is. But even where I was born it’s hard for me because I can die there (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2018).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
Lamine, a refugee from Gambia, stuck in Niger for three years: "We cannot go further and we cannot go back because the road is now stressed" (ICRC, 2018).

Just like Lamine, James’ dream was to live in peace and thrive in Europe. After two years in a detention center in Libya where he was shot in the leg, the EU paid for his flight. The EU did not want him in Europe, so he was flown back to Nigeria, the country he fled. Luckily, James then received the support of the Switzerland-based inter-governmental International Organization for Migration to open a barbershop in Benin City, Nigeria. It was not enough to have a decent roof of his own. He soon found himself not able to pay his rent. He ended up sleeping in his shop. In June 2020, he shared his feelings with two Euronews reporters:

[From 1 min. 12 sec. on this video] It’s hard for us to get back to society, really really hard. […] The stigma will always be there. […] Nobody seems to care about you. Nobody wants to listen to your story. They don’t give a damn where you are coming from because you came back empty-handed and you are not coming back from Europe; you have been deported from Libya. But this is my country, this is my State. That’s why I am back. I feel like leaving though, really. I just feel like leaving. I feel I don’t belong here. If I have my chance today, now, if an opportunity comes, I am taking it, I am leaving the country (Creta and Montalto Monella, 2020).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection
After having been shot in a Libyan detention center, sent back to Nigeria in a flight paid by the EU, forced to leave his new home in Nigeria, James considers migrating to Europe again.

France alone is a land of plenty that has got the key resources necessary to welcome millions of people like James and Lamine in good conditions: housing, good farmland, a phenomenal culinary wealth and an extraordinary potential to improve our food systems.

Philosophically speaking, the solution could be threefold:

  1. It starts with a recognition: we recognize our personal perception of the meaning of our lives as human beings.
  2. We have different perceptions. Some are compatible. Others are not. We can act upon these differences. Staying artificially « united » when our perceptions are too different and lead to misery, economic and social wars and ills for scores of people does not make sense.
  3. Imposing our perceptions on the lives of others translates into endless economic and social wars and ills. Instead, we can respect each other’s differences. It makes sense to negotiate with our opponents in order to live in different and peaceful territories. It is respectful of others to create territories distributed in a fair and just manner. Then, groups of people who want to welcome as many « economic » refugees as possible in good conditions in certain territories could do it. The separation does not have to be total: when national infrastructures, laws, organizations or programs make sense, when they are just and fair, we could keep them, and improve them at the national level when needed (e.g., social security, railroad network, health care system). When they do not make sense, when they are unjust or unfair, the populations of the different territories should be able to do away with them.

No territorial justice, no peace.


[1] [9 min. 49 sec.] J’étais un élève, mais il n’y avait pas assez d’argent. Je suis parti pour gagner de l’argent pour pouvoir manger. Nous sommes des cultivateurs. Il n’y a pas beaucoup de pluie ; ça tombe un mois seulement et ça s’arrête. Tu sèmes le maïs, le riz, tu sèmes ça et il n’y a pas d’eau. C’est la sécheresse. Les chèvres, les vaches, tout cela meure. Moi, je suis sorti de là pour gagner de l’argent, pour mes parents, pour manger.

[2] Propaganda: « Information, […] images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are […] spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions ».

[3] Fabrice Leggeri: Les Etats membres doivent prendre davantage de décisions effectives d’éloignement, qui soient mieux mises en œuvre. […] Une décision d’éloignement prise par un Etat de l’espace Schengen [devrait] être mise en œuvre dans un autre État, si l’étranger concerné est entretemps passé d’un pays à l’autre.

[4] Trade surplus: « A situation in which the value of goods a country exports (= sells to other countries) is greater than the value of goods it imports (= buys from other countries), or the size of this difference ».

[5] National food self-sufficiency: Ability to meet national food requirements with the national production.

[6] The organic system used by the Rodale Institute is named « organic legume ». It is based on « mid-length rotation consisting of annual grain crops and cover crops », with leguminous cover crops for fertility and crop rotation as protection against pests. If « fertility is provided by leguminous cover crops and periodic applications of composted manure », the yields of conventional and organic methods are almost identical (Rodale Institute, 2020 [a]).

[7] The six researchers worked on 115 studies. For studies that « compare multiple treatments (usually organic) with one control treatment (usually conventional) », they:

  • calculated « a combined response ratio and corresponding standard error for the entire study »;
  • considered « sources of random variation (i.e., random effects) (1) between studies, (2) within a study between years and (3) within a year between response ratios (e.g. across replicated trials of a crop planted at different times in the season) »;
  • considered « whether the variances of the random effect distributions for (2) and (3) were shared across studies, or study-specific » (For more details, see Ponisio et al., 2015).

[8] The twenty-five African States’ governments that signed the Marrakesh Programme for 2018-2020 are those of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Tunisia.


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