The Draft Action Plan Afghanistan was issued on 08 October, only a few weeks after the Taliban took power. The EU’s previous activities, which had focused primarily on deportations to Afghanistan, were outdated. The EU is now planning to work with Pakistan, Iran and neighbouring countries in Central Asia in order to intercept the refugees in the region itself, if possible. Negotiations with Iran and Turkey will be high on the agenda. The paper states:
The EU is committed to strengthening co-operation with and support to countries along the migration route from Afghanistan towards the EU with a view to preventing irregular movements, by strengthening programmes on capacity building notably on integrated border management, on supporting protection systems, and on preventing smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.
he EU will step up its policy dialogue on migration and support with/for Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian countries. The EU will further engage with Pakistan under the Strategic Engagement Plan and a possible future Comprehensive Migration Dialogue. With Iran, depending on the evolution of the wider political environment, the EU will work towards a first meeting of the dialogue on migration under the Framework for a Comprehensive Dialogue on Migration and Refugee Issues. The EU will step up its engagement with all Central Asian countries on migration cooperation within the framework of the (Enhanced) Partnerships and Cooperation agreements concluded or under negotiation. The High-level Political and Security Dialogue between the EU and Central Asia regularly touches on challenges, including trafficking of human beings. The Border Management in Central Asia programme (BOMCA) provides technical support.
The funds from the MFF 2014-20, €1 billion for Afghanistan, are being withheld. At the same time, a Team Europe initiative, as recently envisaged for the main migration routes in Africa following a proposal put forward by Italy and France, is now also being developed for this region. The paper states:
Operationalise plans for Team Europe Initiative in the region targeting Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran with the possibility to expand activities to interested Central Asian countries. A consolidated version of the Commission’s proposal will be shared following comments from Member States.
• Deploy a Frontex Liaison Officer to Pakistan with a mandate for Afghanistan, (tbc). The Commission has provided a positive opinion for a Frontex Liaison Officer to work alongside the European Migration Liaison Officer (EMLO) already posted in Pakistan with a regional mandate. Discussions in Pakistan are ongoing.
The paper identifies the numbers of refugees from Afghanistan in the region: about 6 million, plus 5 million displaced persons inside Afghanistan. In comparison, there were 44,285 asylum applications in the EU in 2020.
The Draft Action Plan mainly envisages an expansion of the reception centre in Lipa near Bihac, calls for better cooperation with Frontex and an expansion of the asylum system there in cooperation with EASO.
In 2020, only one person was granted asylum status in Bosnia and Herzegovina – it will not be possible to speak of a „safe third country“ for a long time yet. Key sentences from the paper:
EU urges Bosnia and Herzegovina to complete the works for a new multipurpose reception facility in Lipa as a matter of priority … In the course of 2021, the EU supported Bosnia and Herzegovina in establishing a multipurpose reception and identification centre in Lipa, near Bihac, which, once fully operational can host up to 1 500 persons.
The EU urges Bosnia and Herzegovina to swiftly sign and ratify the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) Status Agreement, initialled in January 2019 as a matter of priority. The ensuing deployment of a Frontex joint operation at the border with Croatia would help address common migration and security challenges.
Future activities from EU budget under Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027: Under the IPA-III instrument, Bosnia and Herzegovina is called upon to adopt sectoral countrywide strategies whose implementation may receive EU financial support. The adoption of a new migration and asylum strategy is pending. Within the IPA 2021 financial envelope, a regional migration programme will support the operational costs of reception centres as well as capacity building. A complementary bilateral programme for Bosnia and Herzegovina can be expected to finance equipment and capacity building for migration management. Other EU instruments, notably the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI), and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) may under strict conditions provide complementary funding opportunities for the external dimension of migration.
The EU is looking forward to enhanced cooperation on integrated border management with Nigeria, primarily through the reinvigoration of the current working arrangement with Frontex.
The EU wants more border and more repatriation. In the EUTF, €128.5 million was available for Nigeria, of which €46 million was for migration management and return and reintegration. But the conditions, they are not like that:
In the fight against migrant smuggling (as well as trafficking in human beings), structured and operational cooperation among European and African law enforcement and judicial authorities could be improved, building on the results of the current Common Operational Partnership along African migratory routes.
Collaboration between Nigeria and EU agencies such as Frontex, Europol and EASO should be pursued more systematically. For example, together with Cabo Verde, Nigeria is the only West-African country having a working arrangement with Frontex (since 2012). The implementation of this arrangement by the Nigerian authorities should be improved. An updated working arrangement with Frontex, reflecting changes to the agency’s mandate, could also be considered.
This document has been distributed on 15 September, even before the Council had adopted the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. It provides a comprehensive overview of the state of play of European externalisation policy. The document lists cooperation with states in Africa (e.g. Senegal, Niger), non-EU states in Europe (e.g. Albania, Serbia), states in the MENA region (e.g. Libya, Iraq) and Asia (e.g. India, Bangladesh). It identifies the formal framework of the respective cooperation (such as the „Emergency Aid Fund for Africa“) and contains a timeline of past and upcoming meetings and negotiations with the respective third countries. At the end of the document, there is an overview of regional processes in the framework of which the EU is advancing its externalisation policy, including the „Rabat Process“, the „Khartoum Process“, the „Prague Process“, etc.
There was a first such action plan for the years 2015-2020, which has now been updated for another 5 years. This document was primarily published at https://data.consilium.europa.eu/. In essence, it is about the cooperation of Europol and Frontex and the improvement of the cooperation of the member states with these agencies, supplemented by the unification in the legal system (Eurojust) and the cooperation in the „European Centre for Combating Migrant Smuggling„.
The hotspots are mentioned as an example of successful cooperation between member states and EU agencies:
The hotspot approach proved essential in the fight against migrant smuggling with EU agencies – the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex, Europol and Eurojust – working closely together with the authorities of Member States facing migratory pressures at the EU’s external borders, to help to fulfil their obligations under EU law and swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants. Frontex supported the identification and registration of migrants arriving at EU external borders and carried out debriefing interviews to collect information on smuggling networks and the routes for the purpose of risk analysis and to feed criminal investigations. Europol’s involvement in debriefings and more systematic access for information gathering and intelligence collection have contributed to the identification of smuggling practices, networks and routes.
On the cooperation between Frontex, Europol and Interpol, the paper speaks of „malicious internet content“ and relies on the Central Intelligence Unit at Europol as well as an Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community, which now includes 30 countries. It is about the “ development of analytical, preventive and operational capacities in the fight against smuggling of migrants, in particular through risk analysis cells„.
Europol and Frontex are developing a special role in the analysis and cleansing of internet content. In September, the agencies jointly produced a brochure entitled Digitalisation of migrant smuggling, which was published by Statewatch. The action plan states:
Europol’s Information Clearing House set the basis for a swifter exchange and processing of information from Frontex, Interpol and CSDP missions. It enhances the intelligence picture on migrant smuggling from countries of origin and transit. The EU Internet Referral Unit in Europol reinforced the capacity of authorities to investigate malicious content on the internet and in social media, to detect and request removal of content used by smuggling networks. The further development of the Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community, with risk analysis cells in The Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, strengthened the gathering and sharing of information.
And it also states:
Reinforcing social media monitoring is necessary for the continuous development of a clear, real time picture of migrant smuggling dynamics. This would help anticipate immediate developments as well as forecast medium-term trends. It would apply to the monitoring of the activities of criminal networks and general developments in partner countries with an impact on future migratory movements towards the EU. Frontex should deploy its monitoring capabilities in social media to improve risk analysis regarding future irregular migratory movements whist taking into account data protection considerations. Frontex should also cooperate with third countries in this area, including through exchange of information and capacity building.
The Frontex Centre of Excellence for Combating Document Fraud also plays an important role. This is to be strengthened, among other things, by sending experts on document fraud to the member states and third countries as part of Frontex’s operational activities.
In the area of research and innovation, Frontex is not only to serve as a hub for cooperation with companies in the arms and surveillance industries, but is to develop almost intelligence-like qualities. The paper states:
Also EU agencies should strengthen their role in research and innovation, maximising the role of Europol’s Innovation Hub initiative and Frontex’ participation in the development and management of research and innovation activities, including in cooperation with industry, to identify opportunities for developing new capacities for detecting, preventing and combatting migrant smuggling. To improve the knowledge of migrant smuggling activities, EU agencies should step up their cooperation with the private sector, notably with the banking sector, the rental sector (including car sharing), parcel services, travel agencies, air companies, money-transferring services as well as online service providers.