Written by: Júlia Arenós Karsten
Edited by: Beatriz Raichande

Executive summary

Africa is often perceived by Europeans as a place of hardship whose inhabitants are desperate to migrate to the Old Continent. Mass media, politicians, and scholars themselves portray movement in the continent as a South-to-North flow with North Africa as the gateway to Europe. However, this discourse is uninformed and only ingrains in European Society the idea of an “African invasion”, which simultaneously provides the basis for migration to be securitised and externalised.

This policy brief explores the consequences of the securitisation and externalisation of migration policies, as well as the role of combating the biassed approach towards African migration as a crucial way to mitigate them. It is shown that refocusing the narrative around the phenomenon requires a firm commitment from European journalists as a first step towards instigating change in other domains, including governments, academia, international organisations, NGOs, and decision makers themselves.


The distorted narrative around African migration in the European continent is usually rooted in mass communication industries that translate it into European citizens’ perceptions, as well as their politicians. This often leads to securitised and externalised migration policies, with multiple consequences. The effects encompass growing insecurity and human rights concerns affecting both Africans and Europeans, proliferation of xenophobic attitudes, and the potential for regional instability, especially in the mediterranean region.

Aiming at exploring the negative effects of securitisation and externalisation of migration and how to mitigate these consequences, this article is structured in three different sections to ensure a comprehensive understanding on the topic. The first section of the paper delves into the existing prejudices towards African migration, and how these prejudices are translated into the policy domain, mainly through the securitisation and externalisation of migration. The second section provides an in-depth analysis of the negative consequences of existing EU migration policies. Finally, the policy brief concludes with a set of recommendations for journalists to combat and reformulate the biassed approach in their reporting on migration issues, as they are partially responsible for the perpetuation of securitisation and externalisation policies.

2. Problem description and background

2.1. From prejudice to policy: The prejudice

African stereotypes have been deeply ingrained in our society for centuries. James Ferguson states that during the colonial era, the West created an unrealistic portrayal of Africa as the “dark continent”, depicting it as the uncivilised “other” (Ferguson, 1994). Through the production of symbolic and material representations, including theatre, opera, literature, or propaganda, the West established and reinforced societal prejudices of Africa as a monolithic entity characterised by chaos, corruption, crisis, and underdevelopment (Ferguson, 1994).

These prejudices persist in our collective consciousness, gradually intensifying since the 2015 “migration crisis”, as anti-migrant, right-wing, and populist parties in Europe manipulate public opinion and create an irrational fear of migrants (Valor, 2022). In recent years, African migration, in particular sub-Saharan African migration, has been framed as a problem, suggesting that Europe is being “inundated” by Africans seeking to escape poverty, crisis, chaos, and underdevelopment. However, prejudices are uninformed and unrealistic, as in reality there is no such thing as an “African invasion”.

Situations of deprivation in Sub-Saharan Africa are well acknowledged and confirmed by the African Center for Strategic Studies (2024), which estimates that 35% of Sub-Saharans currently live in poverty. However, in an attempt to escape this social condition, most of them actually migrate from rural to urban settings, within their national state or between different African states, seeking higher income and access to information about employment opportunities (African Center for Strategic Studies, 2024).

Intra-African migration is particularly becoming increasingly popular, increasing by 44% since 2010, with South Africa as the top destination, along with Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria (African Center for Strategic Studies, 2024). This trend is expected to continue, given that in 2023 an 80% of intra-African migrants affirmed they had no interest in leaving the continent.

This fact is confirmed with the data demonstrating that Africans living outside Africa, particularly in Europe, are minimal. According to the African Center for Strategic Studies (2024), in 2024, only 8.2% of Africans are living in Europe. And globally, only 14% of the global migrant population are Africans, which is relatively low compared to the 41% that Asia represents, and the 24% of Europe (African Center for Strategic Studies, 2023).

Overall, the data reveals that the discourse Europe is adopting towards African migration is based on existing prejudices and is uninformed. Nonetheless, the EU’s management of migration flows indicates that once migration is perceived as a threat, irrespective of the actual number of migrants arriving, it will always be treated as a crisis to be managed (The Guardian, 2020).

2.2. From prejudice to policy: The policy

What can be appreciated in the case of African migration in Europe is that existing prejudices are informing the social construction of migration as a threat, to the point where it is treated as a phenomenon that disrupts public order and endangers civil society. Therefore, the implementation of exceptional measures is seen as justifiable to counteract this perceived danger (Mlambo, 2020). These exceptional measures imply both securitisation and externalisation of migration.

Securitisation has already occurred in Europe. It is defined by Buzan, Weaver and Wilde (1998) as “the process of constructing a shared understanding of what is to be considered and collectively responded to as a threat” (p. 26). The responses that securitisation has brought with it include the reinforcement of border controls and the tightening of visa policies in both countries of origin and transit. In the case of destination countries, securitisation is manifested by a hostile environment caused by increased deportations and arrests (Abebe, 2019).

Examples of securitisation in the EU include the signing by Frontex in 2020 of two contracts, worth €50 million each, with Airbus and two Israeli companies to implement an aerial maritime surveillance service to detect migrant vessels crossing the Mediterranean (Mazzeo, 2021). Other securitisation practices include the revised visa code within the 2020 New Pact on Migration and Asylum, or violent deportations. This is the case of the German deportation flight, where serious human rights violations took place. As reported by the Senegalese NGO Boza Fii, on 3 May 2023, a Senegalese who was receiving psychiatric treatment in Germany was deported from Munich to Senegal. Surprisingly, the deportee was forcibly sent to the airport without being able to see a doctor beforehand and without taking the necessary medical treatment with him (Kaduu & Yonn, 2023).

Externalisation has also become the norm in Europe. It is defined by Lavenex and Schimmelfennig (2009, p. 791) as the process whereby European States “attempt to transfer the EU’s rules and policies to third countries and international organisations”. In the case of African migration, the aim has been to convert North Africa into a buffer zone, particularly as an external unilateral security zone. By establishing areas of control in North Africa, Europe expects to distance itself from the “threat” of Sub-Saharan African migration (Atzlili & Kim, 2023).

The aforementioned “areas of control” are established through bilateral cooperation with North African countries. In exchange for financial and technical support, as well as more relaxed visa measures, these countries are expected to agree on receiving migrants, implementing return policies, and increasing border security and surveillance (Abderrahim, 2019a). The underlying aim of these diplomatic relations is for European countries to shift responsibility towards North African countries which, at the same time, respond to the EU’s internal solidarity challenge  (Abderrahim, 2019b).

3. The consequences of securitisation and externalisation

The consequences of securitisation and externalisation policies responding to the irrational “threat” of massive African migration towards Europe are many. According to De Haas (2008), increased border controls and tightening visa policies led to a diversification of trans-Saharan and trans-Mediterranean migration routes, as well as a professionalisation and increase of smuggling methods. The following paragraphs list what are considered to be the main consequences of securitised and externalised migration policies:

  • Growing insecurity for the European Union (EU): The increasing number of EU countries becoming entry points and the sophistication and growth of smugglers represent a threat to EU security and stability (De Haas, 2008). More technical and financial efforts are needed to combat existing criminal networks which facilitate irregular migration both into and within the Union (DG HOME, 2023).
  • Growing insecurity for migrants and human rights violations: While consequences for the migrants are also remarkable, as Mlabmo (2020) states that “every time a fence goes up, access to the European dream gets a little more expensive”, for those migrating to Europe (p.102). The threat to human integrity posed by illegal migration routes, whether maritime or through deserts, is equally worth mentioning. Testimonies, such as Diana and Edna, who crossed the desert from Sudan to Egypt, narrate being two days without drinking water and sleeping in the sand, while escaping the so-called “shafatus”, described by them as “A group of people who live in the desert and survive on the things they steal from people like us. Shafatus are families with children: children with guns. They ride big tracks and use them to chase our white Toyota” (Arenós, 2022, p. 83). Increasing human rights violations go hand in hand with smuggling activities and irregular migration routes.
  • Proliferation of xenophobic attitudes: Racism within the EU operates both as a cause for the adoption of securitisation and externalisation policies and, as a consequence of their implementation. With the presence of these policies, the EU community is reminded of the ”threat” that African migration represents to their national identity and stability. Consequently, xenophobic attitudes among Europeans are cultivated, contradicting the fundamental values of solidarity and hospitality that underpin European principles (Farny, 2016, p.1).
  • Regional instability: The EU’s securitisation and externalisation policies can lead to an increasing instability in the Mediterranean region. Scepticism is emerging among African countries which start to perceive the coercive nature of the EU’s cooperation initiatives (Mlambo, 2020). This is noticeable as many African states, including North African ones, have already resisted intensified return policies. By affirming that returns should be voluntary, and individuals cannot be forced to return against their will, the foundation for escalating political tensions in the mediterranean region is being established (Mbiyozo, 2019).

Overall, the negative effects of securitisation and externalisation policies, coupled with their inherent irrationality in addressing a non-existent threat, highlight the need for the EU to rethink its migration policies.

4. Policy options and recommendations for journalists

The widespread idea that Africans are desperate to migrate to Europe is well rooted among European society and its politicians. As we have seen in previous sections, this irrational anxiety and fear has been translated into the realm of policy through securitisation and externalisation of migration.

This overall dynamic leaves evidence that the way African migration is framed in Europe represents a structural problem which needs a multilayered response. Therefore, adopting a materialistic approach, this policy brief believes that to instigate change in the realm of ideas, it is imperative to first effectuate it at the material level. Based on this premise, the journalists’ narratives, acting as tangible representations, become key elements in facilitating change.

This final section intends to provide journalists with a set of recommendations when framing their narratives towards African migration, as well as a specific guide to consider when crafting narratives on migration in general.

  1. Tell stories of hope:  It is fundamental that journalists do not focus on the migrants’ negative past and misfortunes, as this could lead to pessimism and dehumanisation. Instead, emphasis should be placed on the resilience and accomplishments of displaced communities despite their circumstances. Overall, it is about replacing fear for hope, as hope is a powerful source that inspires people to take action.
  2. Moving from “the other” to “the we”: Journalists should promote shared-values narratives highlighting what unites us as human beings and what we have in common. By telling stories of hope, love, family, among others, journalists represent key actors for connecting people and moving away from the divisive “us vs them” rhetoric often used by populists and right-wing parties. This can also help reduce irrational fears and prevent the securitisation and externalisation of migration.
  3. Use the power of storytelling: Journalists should focus on telling the stories of individual migrants, as well as the experiences of those who welcome them. However, journalists shall avoid reducing migrants to their status as migrants, portraying them as helpless victims or super-heroes, or perpetuating stereotypes or problem-based narratives.
  4. Think local: The local level represents one of the most powerful sources to induce change. Therefore, journalists should adapt their narratives to the local context and culture. This includes the language, the words used, as well as the mention of local cultural activities when building stories of shared experiences.
  5. Work with others: Journalists shall cooperate with other actors when writing their narratives on migration. Diversity brings with it innovative ideas, as well as reinforces shared-value narratives.
  6. Do not harm: Deeply ingrained stereotypes may induce journalists, unintentionally, to create content that perpetuates negative stereotypes of African migrants while dehumanising them. Therefore, journalists should review their content before publishing it. OHCHR (2023) provides guidelines on terminology and visuals to avoid, shown in the table below:

Ethical Reporting Guidelines for Humanising African Migration Narratives

Flow/inflow, wave, invasion, mass, plague, chaos, migrant crisis/refugee crisis:  These terms dehumanise migrants and induce narratives of fear, loss of control, and insecurity.Large group images should be replaced by images emphasising an individual’s humanity.
To “prevent/stop/fight” or to “protect/defend borders” rather than people.Violent images should be replaced by images of migrants in their various roles, daily lives, images of prosperity, shared experiences, etc.
“Legal/illegal migrant, economic migrant, expat…” categorises migrants into “good/bad” migrants and criminalises some of them, converting them into a security threat.No images that are associated with criminality.
Burden-sharing, burden” assumes that migrants are burdens and problems to be solved.No migrants at fences.

Source: OHCHR, 2023

5. Conclusion

This policy brief has brought to light how current EU migration policies, primarily marked by securitisation and externalisation measures, are formulated based on existing prejudices towards African migration.

The first section of the article began by analysing the logic behind European preconceptions towards African migration from the colonial era to the present day. With reliable data on current African migration trends, it was demonstrated that the European narrative is based on prejudices and that Europe is not, in fact, being “invaded/inundated” by sub-Saharan Africans, as the reality is that most African migration occurs within the continent. It was then further explored how these prejudices translate into policy, primarily through securitisation and externalisation, while defining both concepts.

After establishing the nexus between prejudice and policy, the second section delved into the main consequences of these policies. By highlighting their clear correlation with human rights violations, it became evident that reassessing EU policies and combating existing stereotypes about African migration is imperative.

Once the acknowledgement was made, the third section aimed to advance in this endeavour by offering recommendations to journalists as an initial step towards instigating change within EU society. The guidelines provided intend to help journalists in formulating migration narratives that foster empathy, avoid dehumanising or criminalising migrants, and prevent the securitisation of migration.

In summary, with the main goal to raise awareness of prevailing prejudices and advance on their eradication, the article sought to acknowledge the presence of preconceptions that  have been ingrained over centuries in our subconsciousness, while simultaneously recognising the harm they are causing and the urgency to eradicate them. To do this, the policy brief showed the importance of a collective commitment based on a materialistic approach, as change must first be initiated at the material level before it can manifest at the level of ideas. Based on this assumption and while contributing to this the first objective, the brief intends to serve as a fundamental tool for journalists when addressing migration, specifically African migration.

Finally, the paper is also oriented to EU policymakers, as it encourages them to rethink the EU policy-making process in the realm of African migration. While informing the latter about the harm of current migration policies in human rights, the article emphasises that it is unacceptable for current EU policies to be influenced by existing prejudices and stereotypes. African migration, like any other migratory flow, must be assessed and managed with policies based on European values, respect for the principles of international law and, above all, on well-founded and truthful information.

7. References

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Arenos, J. (2022). Stories of Strength: Exploring Education for African Refugee Girls in Cairo. Master’s Thesis. Leiden University.

Abderrahim, T. (2019). A Tale of Two Agreements: EU Migration Cooperation with Morocco and Tunisia. EuroMesco, 207. https://www.euromesco.net/publication/a-tale-of-two-agreements-eu-migration-cooperation-with-morocco-and-tunisia/

Abderrahim, T. (2019). The securitization of the EU’s migration policies: what consequences for southern mediterranean countries and their relations with the EU? Euromed. 08.The-Securitisation-of-the-EUs-Migration-Policies-What-Consequences-for-Southern.pdf (iemed.org)

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De Haas, H.(2008) Migration and development: a theoretical perspective, IMI Working Paper 9, Oxford: International Migration Institute.

DG HOME. (2023). Migrant Smuggling. European Commission. https://www.europa.eu/

Farny, E. (2016). Implications of the Securitisation of Migration. E-International Relations, 1. https://www.e-ir.info/

Ferguson, J. (2006). Global shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822387640

IOM. (2020). Africa Migration Report: Challenging the Narrative. https://publications.iom.int/

Islam, S. (2020). Europe’s migration ‘crisis’ isn’t about numbers. It’s about prejudice. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/08/europe-migration-crisis-prejudice-eu-refugee-orban-christian

Kaddu, B., & Yon, B. (2023). Rapport de Deportation 3 Mai 2023, Allemagne – Sénégal. Boza Fii. https://bozafii.com/

Lavenex, S., & Schimmelfennig, F. (2009). “EU rules beyond EU borders: Theorizing external governance in European politics.” Journal of European Public Policy, 16(6), 791–812. https://doi.org/10.1080/13501760903087696.

Mazzeo, A. (2021). Border surveillance, drones and militarisation of the Mediterranean. Statewatch. https://www.statewatch.org/

Mbiyozo, A. (2019). Pressure grows on Africa to take back its migrants. Institute for Security Studies, 1. https://issafrica.org/

Mlambo, V. H. (2020). Externalization and Securitization as Policy Responses to African Migration to the European Union. AHMR African Human Mobility Review, 95-102. https://www.sihma.org.za/

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (2023). Stand Up 4 Migrants: Toolbox. Migration | Stand up for human rights | UN Human Rights. https://www.standup4humanrights.org/

Valor, E. (2022). Europe’s Migration Dilemma: Securitization, Humanitarian Implications and Possible Policy Changes. Universidad Pontificia Comillas, 22. https://www.comillas.edu/

Williams, W. (2024, January 9). African migration trends to watch in 2024. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. https://africacenter.org/spotlight/african-migration-trends-to-watch-in-2024/ Add block    

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