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Illegal Migration From Africa Is Now An Industry, Ethnographer Says


And now, let's turn to an urgent migrant crisis on the other side of the globe. Thousands of people from Africa are trying to reach European shores. And we're about to hear from a man with some deep insight into this. For seven years, ethnographer Ruben Andersson has been studying West African migrants. He's interviewed migrants as well as aid workers, border security guards, smugglers and journalists. Andersson told my colleague Renee Montagne that research has led him to this conclusion - clandestine migration has become an industry and efforts to control it only make it worse.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: As an example, Ruben Andersson pointed to two Spanish enclaves on the coast of North Africa. Over the years, security there has expanded and fences have gotten higher.

RUBEN ANDERSSON: We have 6-meter tall fences equipped with razor wire, sensors, cameras, bright lights, pepper spray mechanisms. You have very militarized policing on both the Moroccan and Spanish side of the border. But even so, the people have kept coming in recent years in more and more distressing circumstances, getting badly wounded on the fences. And the problem is simply not going away.

MONTAGNE: Last year, you published a book on your work. It's been widely praised. The title is "Illegality, Inc." Talk to us about the Inc. part. How do you think illegal migration from Africa to Europe has become an industry?

ANDERSSON: Well, we've seen more and more over the past two decades how a larger and larger range of sectors have become involved, in one way or another, in managing migration into Europe by land and sea and in border controls at Europe's external borders in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. And we also have the various sectors that are involved in the more humanitarian side of things, and often they are collaborating with the security force. I'm thinking here of the assistance in deportation facilities, detention facilities and on the journey south as people get expelled back into Africa. And crucially, we have the - also the defense sector and the private companies involved in creating new border technologies, fences, radars. And we also see how it's not really working, how it's counterproductive in generating evermore risks for migrants and feeding also stronger smuggling business as border controls get strengthened.

MONTAGNE: One thing about the coverage of the desperation that we see in people crossing the Mediterranean - mostly people think of them as the poorest of the poor, but I gather you found that's not the case?

ANDERSSON: Yeah, we often think of these migrants and refugees reaching Europe as the most desperate of all. But, in fact, most migrants stay within their home region in West Africa at any rate. And the poorest of the poor move very little at all, or if anything to the next village. And they certainly don't set out on these very long, dangerous journeys towards Europe, which involve monies. Well, you do need to have some funds to move north, often family connections, family funds and often some level of education to embark on these very long and dangerous journeys.

MONTAGNE: What thoughts have your work given you as to what an alternative might be, a good alternative to what is being proposed, which is cracking down on the smugglers?

ANDERSSON: I think first of all, we need to start de-escalating the rhetoric. Of course this is a crisis right now in the Mediterranean in terms of the numbers of people dying. But at the same time, we can manage this. We shouldn't forget here that many parts of Europe are aging very rapidly and we'll need labor migrants in coming years. So we should really - also for our own sake - try to tap into migration as an opportunity rather than seeing it simply as a threat. And part of that involves re-establishing some form of legal pathways into the continent. We should remember that a few decades ago, we did have these roots. We had circular migration - countries such as France from West Africa. And we didn't have this type of boat migration back then. We need to leave an alternative to the smuggling business. We need to start undercutting the smuggling business or otherwise it's just going to keep getting strong and stronger.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

ANDERSSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

GREENE: Andersson was speaking there with my colleague Renee Montagne.

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