The dialogue seen through the lens of civil society, with a special focus on the new Multiannual Cooperation Programme:  In 1:1 talks, Agnès Bertrand from ICMC reflected with us on 2017`s lessons learnt.

 Is it advisable to open up intergovernmental dialogues to civil society organisations and giving them an observer status on an ad hoc basis?

Yes, definitely. Civil society organisations (CSOs) can be valuable partners as they have longstanding experience in migration and asylum issues and are also important implementing partners on the ground. Hence, I experienced the ICMC Europe’s participation in the Senior Officials’ Meeting in Accra as very beneficial because it allowed us to gain an even better understanding of the direction of the Rabat Process’ new programme, the dynamics involved, and the points of agreement and divergence between the different member States. However, this of course requires that the civil partners are well informed on the content of the political processes.

From what I have learned, the multitude of processes and frameworks governing migration between the EU and African countries often make it quite complex and confusing for CSOs to be engaged. It is therefore important to increase transparency and build trustful relationships. For an organisation like ICMC, which is active at both global and European level, participation is a learning exercise to understand the intricacies of the various EU policies and development instruments when it comes to migration management. This helps us to better inform and liaise with the civil society networks we work with and to provide inputs into the processes.

How can cooperation between the Rabat Process and civil society organisations be strengthened in the near future?

When ICMC Europe in November-December last year distributed a survey among 80 African and European CSOs with respect to their experience with the Joint Valetta Action Plan (JVAP), responses made it clear that CSOs see a role for themselves at all levels of the process. These roles are ranging from helping to set the agenda, to ensuring two-way communication with communities, to helping measure delivery against objectives of the JVAP and its associated processes like the Rabat Process.

Also from our side, the participation of CSOs as observers in the Senior Officials’ Meeting in Valetta on February 2017 was very much welcomed as well as the efforts earlier this year to involve civil society organisations in a consultative process ahead of the Rabat Process SOM in Accra during thematic roundtables. 

In recent years, we have been experiencing that civil society organisations are vital actors in the area of migration, displacement and development: local and national CSOs help to alleviate the challenges of migration by giving support and assistance to people on the move, providing social and economic inclusion to returned migrants and infusing policy processes with grassroots knowledge.

However, for civil society organisations to participate best, it there is a need for an improved framework. Ahead of the Valetta summit in November 2015, African and European CSOs (brought together by ICMC Europe, Norwegian Refugee Council, Visions Solidaires and the All Africa Conference of Churches), demanded greater recognition of their specific role and their need to be consulted in the implementation of the JVAP. They suggested that this could be done in two ways: 1. the introduction of monitoring mechanisms and a review process which would measure the positive impacts as well as the negative and unintended consequences of the JVAP and Rabat Process action plan; 2. ensuring that CSOs have an active and institutionalised role in both policy design and monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the JVAP.

This demand is all the more valid for the Rabat Process. We therefore hope that the participation of two civil society organisations in the Rabat Process SOM will be the beginning of a more permanent and structured engagement with civil society.

Having seen the “zero draft” of the Rabat Process multi-annual programme for 2018-2020, what are the two main issues that should be prioritised?

In my opinion, the first issue that should be prioritised is the need to increase legal migration pathways and labour opportunities for migrants. Although legal migration and mobility is one of the priority domains under the JVAP and the Rome programme, we do not feel that this area is getting as much attention as it should be. A number of the priorities for 2016 have been met (the number of Erasmus scholarships granted has more than doubled for example) but these provide opportunities for a very limited number of people. Many of the efforts being made to create legal opportunities for Africans to travel to Europe are also directed at highly skilled workers. In fact, low and medium-skilled workers may have more to offer to Europe in terms of the needs of the latter, and possibilities should be explored for opening more avenues for migration and labour opportunities to them.

Secondly, it is important that all return operations and reintegration in countries of origin ensure protection of human rights and respect for the dignity of the person. African and European States must ensure that return policies prioritise assisted and voluntary returns and reintegration. When forced returns take place after due consideration of an asylum claim through a fair procedure, they must ensure that return is carried out in a safe and dignified manner in line with international human rights obligations. Furthermore, in order for reintegration to be successful and sustainable, a network of support services – involving government, local government, national and local CSOs, resilient and robust institutions, and targeted support to returnees – is fundamental. Naturally, special support is needed for particularly vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors and survivors of trafficking.