Since its inception almost a year ago, the Network of scholars on Mixed Migration in North Africa has been very active in producing knowledge on issues related to mixed migration in North Africa. The network, initiated by the North Africa Mixed migration Hub (MHUB) and the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo (AUC), provided a platform for scholars from the region to contribute to enhancing national migration policies and frameworks in a sustainable and humane manner along the North African Migration Route in 6 key countries Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia. 

We had a chat with Dr. Ibrahim Awad, Director of the CMRS, on the progress the network has made and its significance.

How did the idea of the scholars’ network develop?

IOM wanted to explore the possibility of putting in place a network of North African scholars of migration that would focus on mixed migration flows and stocks in the region. Of course, we welcomed the initiative. We have continuous and permanent relationships with scholars with whom we work so we got in contact with them, and we started over a year ago the first phase of the project that was finalized in September, and then we now are implementing the second phase.

The first phase was about exploring a few issues for instance: who are the displaced involved in mixed migration?  Who are they exactly? how can we identify them? How can we define the concept behind the term mixed migration?

We also looked at the legal framework of the flows. You do not have an international instrument on mixed migration flows, so you have to look at the different components and the different legal frameworks that apply and that could be used to protect the flows. 

In the second phase, we go a little further and look even at the situation such as the impact of COVID-19; how did it impact movements, and whether mixed flows are also constituted in reaction to the new situation. We have already drafted the terms of reference for the papers which will be written by different scholars from the 6 countries and then we will have a workshop to discuss them.

How would you describe the importance and significance of the network?

A network provides for sustained relationships and contacts, so you are aware of what is happening in different countries and what are the issues that arise there. Issues are often common, and the scholars would discuss among themselves possible ways to address these issues. 

This discussion takes us forward in addressing the issues that are problematic for the countries of North Africa and to build and further the benefits from the policies that proved successful. The network is also a way of addressing migration with partners in other sub-regions in Africa. 
North Africa is Africa. This is something the network wants to emphasize. We are a sub-region of Africa and North African countries receive migrants coming from other sub-regions of Africa. The mixed migrants include refugees who sometimes remain in North Africa in the same way they remain in other sub-regions of the continent. Some of these migrants, including refugees, along with nationals of North Africa, and displaced populations from Asia try to migrate further, to Europe. 

So how do you address this? And how do you address the crossing of the sea? and we know how dangerous it is. There is also the question of search and rescue, the question of migrants and refugees being treated differently in Europe and in the North Africa region. Once they arrive there, how are they dealt with? Who is returned? Because when they return, they are returned to the countries of North Africa so what are the criteria for this? The research would extend to what happens to these mixed flows departing from the North Africa sub-region.

What do you think are the main achievements of the network till now?

It is not a question of direct impact, it is a question of knowledge production that could be used to formulate policies and through the implementation of policies, you can have an outcome and impact.

Policymaking is a complex process in which scholars, international organizations, governments, and civil society organizations contribute to it. After this process, decision-makers benefit from the different inputs to take their decisions, and then hopefully you have institutions that put the decisions into practice. The final aim is that you provide protection to those in need, you provide provisional protection to all who are moving in mixed flows. Protection is not only about keeping them out of danger but also providing them with services like healthcare and education and livelihoods.

In this regard, I think the main achievement is that we carried out the first phase to the satisfaction of IOM which sponsors the network. Also, the scholars themselves were satisfied with the work they did. The network has solidified and allowed our relationships to be sustained and this in itself is a good achievement. We have not yet reached the stage of formulating policy advice although in some of the papers there is some policy advice. In later phases, we should bring together policymakers as well and convey to them the findings of our studies.

A virtual meeting of the North Africa Scholars Network

What role does the CMRS play in the work of the network and its future?

Our role is to host the network. We connect the network participants together and we have reached out to some of the scholars and researchers that we know, we have convened the meetings, we have suggested subjects for research, we will host a training session for young researchers on mixed migration next June and we are the counterpart to IOM; in fact, we are the implementers and we push for the implementation of the program that was agreed on with IOM. It is our responsibility to implement the project and be the institution that convenes the network.

Generally, CMRS does four things. We provide education through our master’s program and diploma in migration and refugee studies, we do research, we have outreach activities through webinars and conferences, and we provide training. We have a training program with IOM: the Migration Governance Certificate for Egypt and the region. 

The network for me is a mix of research and outreach. I would place the network as research because it is a network of researchers, and you are promoting research but, in a sense, it is outreach because it is about disseminating knowledge and building a sort of institutional research.

What role should academia play in migration management? 

Academia participates in different manners; by providing education and by the research that is done. By identifying the issues, you are building the blocks for policymaking. We also participate in forums, and we contribute at the international level whether by attending or by being part of committees or as advisers to international organizations, so there are many ways in which we contribute to governance.

...and how much have scholars been participating in the process in North Africa?

It depends on the place and time. At times in some countries, you would find more effective and close participation and in the same country at another time the participation may be more tenuous. 

Sometimes you are taken as an advisor whether formal or informal to the ministries or to the statistical offices. By analyzing migration policies, you are contributing to migration governance even if in an indirect way.

There is always room for more participation and for an institutional structure that might benefit to a greater extent from the contributions of academia; but you also need to preserve the distinctiveness of roles, we should not be all playing the same role. In order to reach good governance, you should maintain the diversity of those participating.

In your opinion, what are the migration research gaps that should be given priority in the North Africa region?

We need to look at global issues and carry out comparative studies, it will help us reach universal generalizations and conceptualization and the ability to forecast. It is not only about what happens in our sub-region but also what benefits we can draw from global concerns. Of course, in our sub-region, there are specific questions like the question of search and rescue in the Mediterranean. There are issues in our region that deserve to be studied like how policies in place affect migrants and refugees departing from or returned to countries of North Africa.

What we want to do now is to address the subjects of identifying migrants in and from the countries of North Africa, their employment, their income, the conditions of employment, the use of the remittances they send to reduce poverty, and the educational capacities. We want to see the progress made, to build on it in the future and the findings will also help us address the question of mixed migration.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities