Inhabitants and Migration

Migration in the Mediterranean is often a controversial and emotional topic. To its credit, the IPEMED note, “Migrants and Migration in the Mediterranean” (September 2009, French only) gives a rational and objective analysis of a subject that, despite its long-term aspect – demography is a science that entails observing phenomena over time – is increasingly ranked as a current event.  

The migration situation in the Mediterranean is generally linked to three elements: pressure on poor countries in the South undergoing steep demographic growth; demand for labour from rich countries in the North and the Gulf States; and the downward trend of transport costs. According to the Note’s authors, this first item needs to be put into perspective. The second and third points, on the other hand, show the main lines of a new form of migration.

The authors also underline five fundamental points:
1-    Pressure to migrate in South and East Mediterranean Countries (SEMCs) is dropping as the population levels off.  
2-    Labour supply in the north Mediterranean will remain a powerful magnet for immigration from the South.
3-    Emigrants from southern Mediterranean countries, whatever their provenance, are usually considered as a resource by their countries of origin.
4-    The rise in education levels in the South and the drop in transport costs encourage migration flows in the Mediterranean.
5-    SEMCs are also faced with immigration and the issue of integration.

The Note informs us that SEMCs’ demographic growth is stabilizing at around 1.5%. Consequently, the thesis of a “major migration” from the South to the North is incorrect. In fact, over the coming years the countries concerned will see the number of young people in the labour force stabilize as a direct consequence of the drop in birth rates in the 1980s. Philippe Fargues and Hervé Le Bras criticize two popular myths: one is the risk that Europe will be invaded by people from the South (an argument put forward by the European far right); the second is the idea asserted by some centre and left-wing parties that immigration from SEMCs could counterbalance the north Mediterranean’s ageing population.

Much more than demographic pressure, it is the labour supply in the North that will continue to play a driving role in the call for immigration from the South. The shortage of specialized labour that can no longer be filled by internal European migrations, and the stabilization of inter-regional migration within Europe, explain why this “pull effect” will be significant, despite high unemployment in the northern Mediterranean. Added to this is a boost from growing sectors that require immigrants, such as human services, commerce, the hotel industry, tourism, building and public works.
One of the merits of this note is that it tackles the issue of migration policies in countries of origin. As the two experts point out, the vast majority of SEMCs set up policies aimed at their emigrants. In considering migrants as a resource, not to say an export, these policies have two major axes: one is economic, aiming to maximize the advantages that the country of origin can draw from its diaspora (e.g. savings transfers, private investments), and the other is cultural, in order to maintain a link with emigrants’ descendants (second and third generations).

At the same time, all SEMCs have become immigration destinations. The whole Maghreb is currently a transit zone in which immigrants who cannot reach Europe settle down and integrate the local labour market, with different degrees of difficulty and risk. This pressure obliges governments in countries in the southern Mediterranean to develop their immigration policies and attempt to reserve jobs for their own nationals. Conversely, and unlike in Europe, SEMCs (with the exception of Turkey) do not consider the integration of these migrants, most often from the sub-Sahara, as a priority.

Debate on mobility

Another of the IPEMED Note’s strong points is that it sets out a debate on the issue of mobility in the Mediterranean. Rather than a simple South-North flow, the two experts esteem that circulation in the Mediterranean is possible because of closer links between the two sides (dual nationality, back and forth movements, etc.). Their opinion is that the future of migration should not be seen in purely quantitative terms and that it is increasingly important to take the human capital of migrants into account.

Philippe Fargues and Hervé Le Bras mention that non-qualified migrations are tending to drop in Europe, replaced by one-off and short-term migrations by managers. “One way of encouraging a similar movement between both sides of the Mediterranean would be to develop qualification-based migration,” say the authors. This would involve “jointly managing training and first jobs via bilateral agreements between a country in the North and a country in the South in qualified domains undergoing shortages in the North”. As a result, “Schools and university channels would be co-managed and first jobs would be guaranteed in the North, for example via long-term internships”.

How should we measure and understand Mediterranean migrations?

In a comprehensive annex, Philippe Fargues and Hervé Le Bras set out the main difficulties in understanding and measuring the migration phenomenon in the Mediterranean. These include difficulties in counting migrants, statistical differences from one country to another, the evolution and weakness of Mediterranean migrations towards Europe, and even different definitions of migrants from one country to another. The annex contains a particularly interesting description of the southern Mediterranean’s potential by young adults.

Unlike the two preceding generations, the experts note, today’s young people have “few children in their charge, or none as yet, with birth rates similar to Europe. However, the very high birth rates of the previous generation means that they have numerous brothers and sisters with whom to share responsibility for old people”. Philippe Fargues and Hervé Le Bras maintain that this is “an exceptional situation that will only last for one generation, with 20-30 year olds free from the responsibilities that weighed down previous generations, without having to take on those that will face the next generation. Demography gives them an exceptional freedom of movement.”

Their conclusion is that “In previous generations young men emigrated to feed a family that stayed at home, whereas today’s young people, both men and women, emigrate to fulfil themselves. Migration is not so much an expression of constraint as of freedom”.

Akram Belkaïd, September 2009.



FARGUES Philippe

FARGUES Philippe

Associate expert