Paper is the new weapon in the war on migrants

Cutting-edge kit, fences and troops are all important parts of the arsenal deployed by Europe in its war on migration. But it is the treaties, agreements and pacts that underpin Europe’s strategy – the weapons of paper.

A (not so) fundamental right: the right to land in Mayotte, France

A few words less in a document can make all the difference. In France, the government intends to revise the Constitution and abolish jus soli (territorial citizenship) in the département of Mayotte alone.

This does not come out of the blue. This archipelago in the Indian Ocean, ceded to France in 1841 and a full department since 2011, and now home to more than 300,000 people, has been the subject of similar measures on several occasions. France’s poorest department is considered to be “too attractive”, particularly to migrants from the neighbouring islands of the Comoros, just a few tens of kilometres away.

In France, a child born to two foreign parents is automatically granted French nationality at the age of 18, provided that he or she has lived in the country for a cumulative period of five years from the age of 11. But, as Esther Serrajordia explains in La Croix, a 2018 law adds a further condition: at the time of application, a child born in Mayotte must now “prove that one of his or her parents had been legally on French territory for at least three months at the time of his or her birth”.

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The government thus intends to make it impossible for children of foreign parents who have recently settled in Mayotte or who only have a tourist visa to acquire French nationality, as Adel Milani and William Audureau observe in Le Monde. But the measure’s defenders are having trouble convincing the experts.

“Mathematically, it is difficult to give credence to [French interior minister] Gérald Darmanin when he claims that abolishing the right to legal residence in Mayotte would constitute ‘a major resolution’ of the problems and would have the effect of ‘reducing the number of residence permits by 90%'”, explain law professors Marie-Laure Basilien-Gainche, Jules Lepoutre and Serge Slama, again in Le Monde. They point out that the rate of foreigners who become French thanks to jus soli is slightly lower in Mayotte than the national average. “Nationality law does not therefore have a pull effect. It does not explain the figures for illegal immigration”, they argue.


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“Who can really believe [that the measure] will solve Mayotte’s problems?”, writes Claire Rodier in Alternatives Economiques. According to this legal expert, the measure would only exacerbate the precarious situation of children born in the archipelago, without curbing departures. “In Mayotte, […] GDP remains seven times higher than in its Comorian peers, thanks to state subsidies”, she notes. “The island will always remain ‘attractive’ because of the historical anomaly that makes it a French territory. The solution therefore does not lie in repression.”

The EU’s newest subcontractor: Mauritania

Following on from the agreement reached with Tunisia in 2023, the European Union now wants to set up a partnership with Mauritania. One of its aims will be to curb migration from northwest Africa.

Details of the agreement, announced during a visit to Nouakchott by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, have yet to be finalised. However, it would appear that the EU’s aid package will provide €210 million by the end of 2024, to be allocated to migration management, humanitarian aid, investment in jobs, and so on.

The partnership is of particular interest to Spain, given the sharp rise in arrivals of exiles from Mauritania on the Canary Islands in early 2024. “In January alone, of the more than 7,200 people who reached the islands by this risky sea route, 83% came from Mauritania”, points out Carlos E Cué for El País.

Indeed, Mauritania is currently facing its own surge of incoming migrants, particularly from neighbouring Mali. According to the Spanish daily, more than 150,000 Malians are currently living in Mauritanian refugee camps.

Citing sources from the Spanish delegation present at the meeting, Cué explains that “the basic idea [of this type of agreement] is that the EU works to prevent immigrants arriving at Europe’s borders, while its neighbours try to contain them first”.

It is a pragmatic approach whose potential abuses are a secret to no one. “In this strategy, the EU assumes that [partner countries] will crack down on immigration in a harsh manner and with no particular respect for human rights, with the fundamental political objective being that immigration should not reach European shores or the fences of Ceuta and Melilla“, says Cué. “European leaders accept the cost entailed by this kind of outsourced solution to migratory crises, which began with the agreements with Turkey.”

Managing departures to the Canary Islands becomes even more difficult when you add to it the delicate issue of how Spain’s various autonomous regions will deal with the exiles, explains Joaquín Anastasio for La Provincia.

Anastasio characterises the reception of people arriving in the Canary Islands and other Spanish border regions as “a management problem in which each autonomous community looks the other way, with the state unable to remedy the situation”.

The distribution of exiles – including many minors – has become an administrative headache. As Anastasio points out, the risk is therefore that migration will once again be used as a political weapon, but this time within a country itself. Decisions taken in Brussels, Paris or Madrid can have far-reaching effects.


On migration and asylum

“Eurowhiteness”: Europe’s civilisational turn

Hans Kundnani | Green European Journal | 4 December 2023 | EN

In recent years, Europe has undergone a shift in identity that has affected both migration management and geopolitics. This has revived the question of the supposed link between Europe and skin colour, as researcher and author Hans Kundnani explains in his book “Eurowhiteness: Europe’s Civilisational Turn”.

Fabrice Leggeri, the former director of Frontex who is now a member of France’s National Rally

Julia Pascual, Jean-Pierre Stroobants and Corentin Lesueur | Le Monde | 19 February 2024 | FR

Fabrice Leggeri, the former director of the EU’s border and coastguard agency Frontex, announced on 17 February that he would be a candidate for the far-right Rassemblement National at the forthcoming European Parliament elections. He was forced to resign in 2022 after an investigation into his management of the agency and “his acquiescence in the illegal refoulement of asylum seekers”.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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