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Inter-state and multilateral collaboration on migration and mobility in the post-Valetta era: Key issues

The number of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers has increased in the past few years, with the Horn of Africa still being ranked as one of the top in terms of origin, transit point, and final destination for migrants both within and outside the sub-region. Of the estimated 3,772 migrants, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, 359 originated from the Horn of Africa in comparison to 1,220 from the rest of the Sub-Sahara Africa, with only 879 originating from the Middle East and North Africa regions.[1] The high number of migrants and refugees within and across the Horn of Africa sub-region has been due to combined factors, such as violent conflicts, droughts, authoritarianism, and economic hardships.

Although the refugee and migrant crisis in the recent past has increasingly attracted global attention, especially in the wake of the Syrian conflict, across Africa, it has been an ongoing problem for decades. This is more the case in the Horn of Africa where some countries, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, have hosted huge refugee populations for almost over twenty years.[2] Unlike Europe, the developing countries, more so across Africa, continue to bear the brunt of migrants and refugee crisis with minimal attention and global response, as compared to the international attention that has of recently been accorded to Europe following the influx of mostly Syrian migrants into ’fortress’ Europe. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the recent media attention and increased goodwill by the international community to tackle the migrant and refugee crisis will lead to a concerted effort by state and non-state actors to collaborate at both bilateral and multilateral levels in managing the migrant crisis, not only in Europe but across Africa as well, and the Horn of Africa sub-region in particular.

This article aims to examine key patterns and issues in inter-state and multilateral collaboration on migration and mobility in the post-Valletta era. The article will also look at the interplay between states and regional institutions in the formulation and implementation of normative policy frameworks as well as the successes and challenges in the post-Valletta Summit. Finally, the article will provide some policy recommendations.

Inter-state and multilateral collaboration on migration and mobility: Key patterns and issues

The collaboration between state and non-state actors through bilateral and multilateral framework of cooperation should aim at formulating both short and long-term strategies to tackle the migrant and refugee crisis. However, for sustainable management, they should aim to avoid ad hoc and uncoordinated measures, and focus on long-term sustainable strategies.[3] It is within this backdrop of long-term cooperation between state and non-state actors at both bilateral and multilateral levels that the Valletta Summit‘s political declaration and action plan should be understood. The Valletta Summit, which was convened between the European Union (EU) Member States and select representatives of the African Union (AU), held in November, 2015 provided an opportunity for inter-state and multilateral frameworks aimed at managing the migrant crisis.[4]

The outcome of the Summit has provided an opportunity for collaboration between state and non-state actors at national, sub-regional and regional levels of engagement. The post-Valletta consultations held in Nairobi in December provided AU Member States and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) with a forum to discuss the migration agenda of the Valletta summit while identifying significant priority themes that needed immediate short and medium-term actions within the framework of AU policies.[5] In this regard, the Summit played a key role in highlighting the plight of migrants and refugees, while providing possible future steps of achieving them, especially within the context of the continued influx of African migrants crossing into Europe.

Interplay between states and regional institutions in the formulation and implementation of normative policy framework

Although normative and institutional frameworks on migration governance exists across regional, sub-regional, and national levels Africa, what is obviously missing, especially at the national and sub-national level, is the constitutional and political impetus to coordinate their implementation. The AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa and the African Common Position on Migration and Development, both adopted in 2006,[6] for instance, provide a clear roadmap for managing migration issues across the continent. Nevertheless, due to the lack of political goodwill to translate and integrate, these existing normative policy frameworks on migration into the national laws of individual member states as well as within treaties governing regional and sub-regional institutions,[7] effective governance of migration issues has continued to be undermined.

Across the Horn of Africa region, for instance, following the establishment of the AU Commission Initiative against Trafficking, a strategy which was aimed at combating irregular migration, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) adopted a Regional Migration policy framework.[8] The Regional Migration policy framework acts as the primary normative regime in the forefront for multilateral collaboration between the Horn of Africa sub-region and the AU regional bloc, while providing country-specific recommendations to individual member states. However, similar to the adopted continental policy frameworks on migration, that are non-binding, its recommendations have often been left upon individual member states to implement. This has meant that member states, due to the non-binding nature of the policy framework, only implement what is in their best interest at the expense of regional governance on migration.

The fact that states by far, despite an increasingly globalised world, are still the primary legal personalities with regards to international law,[9] the regional and sub-regional organizations will, therefore, find it difficult to implement the normative and institutional frameworks that define migration governance without the support of individual member states that have created them. This is, however, the case across the Horn of Africa sub-region where despite a raft of normative and institutional frameworks that promotes multilateral and bilateral cooperation between individual member states as well as inter-regional consultation processes, they still exist in a state of limbo between the point of formulation — at the continental or sub-regional level — and their actual operationalisation at the national level.

Post-Valletta Summit: Successes and challenges

The disconnect and inconsistency between formulation and implementation of migration policy frameworks at the different levels have made it difficult to actually assess the effectiveness of formulated policies on the ground. In this regard, the consequences of the Valletta Summit have been limited to merely adding to existing normative and institutional policy frameworks. Perhaps, the Summit’s main achievement has been the continued attention on the plight of irregular migrants crossing into Europe. The significance of this has been the elevation of the plight of migrants and refugees as an issue that is being deliberated on by the highest levels of decision-making as was witnessed during this year’s UN General Assembly conference.[10] The fact that the main 71st UN General Assembly was dedicated to deliberations touching on the migrants and refugee crisis underlines the idiosyncrasy and urgency of the global community’s need for collective action to establish a binding set of international regimes to manage migration issues.

A major critique that could be levelled at the Valletta Summit would focus on its core intention rather than any of its outcomes potential or actual. While the Summit seemed to have been designed on the principle of equal regional partnership, viewed more keenly, it was more Eurocentric, with its main agenda being localisation of the migrants and refugee crisis within the continent, while facilitating the return of African migrants from Europe back to the continent.[11] This has reinforced the perception of Europe’s increasingly securitisation of the migration crisis in Europe, a fact that has prompted xenophobia and violent attacks on African immigrants, including regular migrants. This approach of localising and deporting migrants back to their countries of origin is unsustainable as migrants, usually fleeing repressive regimes, violent conflicts, and economic hardships, would always risk their lives to find alternative routes back to Europe. The Valletta Summit has also continued to suffer from a lack of adequate funding. The established EU Trust Fund following the end of the Summit aimed to fund development projects in Africa and deter irregular migration.[12] However, as of September 2016, out of the €1.8 billion pledged by EU Member States only €80 million had so far been contributed.[13] The EU Trust Fund has further been criticised by some human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, as disregarding human rights through using its political and economic muscle to return refugees and localise the outflow of refuges with Africa.[14]


Despite the challenges, it is important to note that migration and refugee issues can only be managed and not resolved. The management should be at the unilateral and multilateral levels, while engaging both state and non-state actors. This is because no individual country, region, or sub-region can solely and effectively manage migration and refugee crisis unilaterally.[15] The emergence of regional consultative processes on migration, such as the numerous collaborations between the EU and the AU, is at least a step in the right direction.

However, with regard to policy recommendations, what needs to be done is to effectively transform the policies into binding regimes capable of managing the governance of migration issues. It is obvious that there are numerous normative policy frameworks on managing migration between regions, as well as within the sub-regions. However, other than the Kampala Convention, which aims to protect the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and which is internationally legally binding,[16] all other policy frameworks, aimed at managing migration remain ’toothless bulldogs.’

It is imperative, therefore, that state and non-state actors, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, should aim to put the formulation of new policy frameworks on hold and sustain a push for the ratification, improvement, and implementation of existing policy frameworks. This should be done through integrating and aligning the existing normative frameworks within the national constitutional frameworks of individual member states as well as annexing them on the treaties establishing sub-regional and regional institutions.[17] And, finally while the formulation and implementation of migration policy frameworks should be inclusive, and participatory, the main focus should be on individual member states.

Ibrahim Farah is a former lecturer from the University of Nairobi, is the founder of the Mogadishu-based Justice & Peace Network (Maandeeq– JPN). He can be reached at

Sekou Toure Otondi is a graduate from the University of Nairobi. He can be reached at


[1] International Organisation for Migration, “Irregular Migration in Horn of Africa Increases in 2015”, Migration Research, 26, January, 2016,

[2] Sulaiman Momodu, “Refugees turn to Ethiopia for safety and asylum”, Africa Renewal, April 2015,

[3] United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants


[4] See more at

[5] Rural Reporters, “Highlights: The African Union Post-Valletta Summit on Migration,

[6] African Union, “The Migration Policy Framework for Africa”, Executive Council, Ninth Ordinary Session 25 – 29 June 2006 Banjul, The Gambia,

[7] Henrike Klavert, “African Union frameworks for migration: current issues and questions for the future”, European Centre for Development Policy Management, Discussion Paper, No. 108, June 2011,p.14

[8] Mehari Tadelle Maru, “Migration Priorities and Normative and Institutional Frameworks In the IGAD Region”, Horn of Africa Bulletin, Life and Peace Institute, July-August, 2015, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp.5-10.

[9] Malcolm N. Shaw, ‘International Law’, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, India, 2008, p.197

[10] United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, See,

[11] Lorne Cook”Desperate to stop migrant influx, EU presses for deals with African nations to send many back”, Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2015,

[12] European Commission, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa – Horn of Africa Window, “Operational Framework of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa Horn of Africa Window”,

[13] Africa Confidential, Migration: EU tiptoes into minefield’. 9 September 2016. Vol. 57. NO. 18. Pp 5.

[14] Lorne Cook”Desperate to stop migrant influx, EU presses for deals with African nations to send many back”, Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2015,

[15] United Nations General Assembly Report, “In safety and dignity: addressing large movements of refugees and migrants” Report of the Secretary-General, 21 April 2016.

[16] African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, (Kampala Convention), Kampala, October 22, 2009, see

[17] IGAD Report, “Human Trafficking and Smuggling on the Horn of Africa-Central Mediterranean Route”, Sahan Foundation and IGAD Security Sector Program, February 2016.

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