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African migrants - "Paradise is no longer in Europe"

Poverty, unemployment, terrorism, civil wars and climate change caused more and more Africans to emigrate to Europe in the coming years: that is the common thesis. These factors undoubtedly explain migration in Africa. But development economist Robert Kappel doubts that the willingness to migrate from Africa is increasing. Because the developments on the big continent pointed in a different direction.

SRF News: Why do you doubt that more and more Africans will emigrate to Europe in the next few years?

Robert Kappel: The main argument is that most Africans who flee or migrate from their country stay within Africa. By relocating its borders to the African continent, Europe has more or less closed the gates and only a few Africans can still get to Europe.

Anyone who wants to go to Europe or has to flee will realize that Europe is unwilling to take in Africans.

Africa reacts to that. Whoever wants to go to Europe or has to flee will realize that Europe is unwilling to take in Africans.

Robert Kappel

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The German development economist researches economic development in Africa. Until 2011 he was a professor at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Leipzig and presided over the Leibniz Institute for Global and Regional Studies, a social science research institute in Hamburg.

In Libya alone, however, hundreds of thousands of migrants are waiting for a crossing to Europe.

Yes, but 100,000 people are relatively few for such a large continent with 16.5 million migrants and refugees. In addition, their number has decreased. If you had said two years ago that the number of migrants would continue to rise - where else did the African refugees want to go - I would have agreed with you. But we are two years further.

There have been many measures within Europe to protect the borders and to ensure that as few Africans as possible come to Europe in Libya, Morocco and other countries. And that has its effects. Those who are ready to flee or migrate in Africa are now trying to go elsewhere.

When income rises, the willingness to emigrate also rises: This is one of the thesis of migration research. You disagree. Why?

Middle classes, for example, are innovative. They want to learn new things, have contacts and networks. You are ready to go away and try something new to come back home later.

Since conditions in Europe have changed so much, Africans prefer to go to neighboring countries where they already have networks.

Since the conditions in Europe have changed so much, they prefer to go to neighboring countries where they already have networks and try to earn a little extra there. Most of them then stay within the region. So the middle class is not just migrating.

They say Africa is not waiting for Europe. What does that mean?

Europe is no longer an open country for refugees and migrants. Due to the politics of the EU and individual states, paradise is no longer in Europe. We now know that in Africa. And the consequences that people are now drawing from this are: They are trying to get somewhere else. The low growth in Europe is not exactly a paradise for workers who are not so well educated.

Due to the politics of the EU and individual states, paradise is no longer in Europe. We now know that in Africa.

Many of the Africans who want to leave do not have the skills that are needed in Europe. That means they end up somewhere on the plantations in Andalusia, in other poorly paid jobs or get no work at all and have to return. In Africa, this has meant that people tend to look for a job where there are opportunities - for example through the network of a diaspora within Africa. So you prefer to go where the same ethnic group or part of the family is already. You take advantage of this opportunity.

What are Asian countries like China doing better in Africa?

There are now a million migrants who emigrate to China, India and the Gulf States. There are two reasons. On the one hand, China has not created as high hurdles as Europe for African traders who want to buy up products in China, and even for workers. Africans can get a job there for a few months. At the same time, China uses the networks with African traders and workers to create connections within Africa.

It is better to go where the same ethnic group or part of the family is already. You take advantage of this opportunity.

On the other hand, Europe offers high-tech products that are not as much in demand in Africa as cheap Chinese products. Refrigerators, motorcycles, bicycles and textiles can be bought cheaply in China, brought to Africa and resold there via your own networks. These opportunities are more likely to exist with China than with Europe. Therefore, China has the chance to use its own network here.

What does structural change in Africa mean for Europe? Can we sit back now?

No, of course that doesn't mean that. If the unrest continues, civil wars, political crises and climate catastrophes take place, there will be waves of migration and flight again, no question about it. But most of these crisis phenomena will have to be resolved by the people of Africa.

Interview conducted by Samuel Wyss.