New EU-Document: Migration Control in Pakistan and the role of Frontex

Wasil Schauseil, Migration Control Editorial Team

We‘ve received a leaked internal EU document, dated January 25, 2022, discussing the EU‘s present and future relation with Pakistan in regard to migration control. Written by the presidency of the Council of the European Union, chaired by France since the beginning of this year, the Presidency asks the member state delegation‘s to comment on a set of proposed measures to achieve better migration cooperation with Pakistan, with a focus on preventing „irregular“ migration towards Europe. Moreover, the document proposes to develop an action plan for Pakistan, which would include the country in the list of priority „partners“ for EU externalization policies. In these considerations by the Council, the displacement in and flight from Afghanistan plays a paramount role as the EU member states are determined to contain migration from Afghanistan towards Europe since the Taliban took power in August, 2021. This wider context must be kept in mind for understanding the the scope of the proposed measures. The document also proposes a future engagement of FRONTEX in Pakistan.

You can find the document here.

Containing irregular migration from Pakistan

One reason for the Council‘s interest in proposing Pakistan as a priority country for European externalization measures is highlighted at the beginning of the document which details the number of Afghan and Bangladeshi nationals residing in Pakistan. Approximately 3 million Afghans are currently in the country, 1.4 million of which are registered with the UNHCR and more than one million in an „irregular situation“. Moreover, 1 – 2 million Bangladeshis are estimated to reside in Pakistan.

According to the document, the Pakistani government has closed its border to Afghans without valid travel documents since August 2021 and is expecting „increased flows“ from the country in the following months. According to the Council, the Pakistani government has demonstrated its intention to play a „major regional role in addressing the consequences of the Afghan crisis.“

The Council goes on to note that approxmiately 3 per cent of Pakistan‘s total population (6 million) live outside Pakistan due to weak economic development coupled with fast population growth, mainly composed of people under the age of 30. Encouraged by the Pakistani government and the International Labour Organization many of them seek income abroad, mainly in the Gulf countries (51 per cent) – 1,3 million in Saudi Arabia and 950.000 in the United Arab Emirates. In reference to tightening employment conditions in these countries, the Council raises the concern of a „possible shift to irregular flows to Europe.“

Migration from Pakistan towards Europe

According to the Council „irregular“ immigration from Pakistan towards Europe via Turkey has significantly dropped since the adoption of the EU-Turkey Deal in March 2016. However, the numer of arrivals are increasing again, mainly on the Central Mediterranean and on the Eastern Mediterranean Route.1 The Council notes that, „(…) irregular flows to the EU have not decreased on the Western Balkan route and have increasd in Italy.“ In 2021, Pakistan was the 4th ranked country of origin of asylum applications in the EU, according to EASO, with the majority of them being declined. The so-called „first recognition rate“ – the rate of positive asylum decisions upon first application – were around 9 per cent for 2020 and 2021.2 The Council goes on to note that the rate of deportations do not keep up with the rate of negative asylum decisions. Thus, with a return rate of 11 per cent across the EU member states in 2020, the Council proposes to „strengthen cooperation on forced and voluntary returns“ with the Pakistani government.

Current cooperation on migration control with Pakistan and plans for closer cooperation

To this day there is no formal cooperation between the EU and the Pakistani government on migration. As part of the „EU Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan“ (SEP) both sides agreed to the „full and effective implementation“ of an EU-Pakistan readmission agreement and the establishment of a „mutually beneficial and comprehensive dialoge on migration and mobility“. The SEP was established in the summer of 2019 with the aim of creating a forum for disussing security issues, counter-terrorism, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, among other things.3 The cooperation follows a carrots and sticks strategy, rewarding „good“ behaviour with tariff preferences like zero duties on a portion of goods under the Generalized System of Preferences.4 For Pakistan this is of key importance as the EU is the biggest export destination for Pakistan, with exported goods worth more than 5 billion $.5

Moreover, the topic of migration is regularly addressed in the framework of the so-called „Budapest Process“, the Joint Commission (annual high level meetings of EU and Pakistani delegations6) and the „EU-Pakistan Political and Strategic Dialoge“.7 The Budapest Process is the longest-standing framework for the EU’s attempt to prevent uncontrolled migration from Europe’s east.8 Over 50 governments are participating as well as a number of organisations and agencies such as the ICMPD, FRONTEX and EUROPOL.9

The document describes three broad areas of cooperation relating to migration, with an emphasis on controlling irregular migration:

Support for Pakistan to receive displaced persons and Afghan refugees

The EU is chairing the „Strategy for Afghan Refugee Solution (SSAR) platform and intends to support Afhanistans neighbouring countires through a proposed „Team Europe Regional Initiative on the situation of Afghan IDPs (TEI). It is supposed to „promote protection, integration, voluntary return and reintegration“ of Afghan nationals by supporting Pakistan, Iran and the countries of central Asia.

Deportations and so-called voluntary return:

In 2010 Pakistan and the EU signed a readmission and return agreement. This is monitored by a joint committee with the aim of providing „rapid and effective processes for the identification and safe and orderly return of persons illegaly residing in the respective territories“ – which mainly refers to „illegal“ Pakistani migrants living in the EU. For that purpose, Pakistan and several EU member states have deployed a „Readmission Case Management System“, which is intended to be expanded. Moreover, Pakistan has signed a readmission agreement with Bosnia and Herzegowina and cooperates with the ERRIN network on so-called voluntary returns. The ERRIN network is comprised of EU-member and associated states as well as ICMPD, FRONTEX and the EU-Commission.10 Since 2016 a so-called European migration liaison officer (EMLO) is also present in Islamabad. EMLO’s work in close cooperation with the member states immigration liaison officers‘ (ILOs) network and local authorities in order to gather, exchange and analyse data about migration.

According to the Council, the Pakistani government has expressed its will to cooperate more strongly in the area of forced and voluntary returns, with the interest of achieving an administrative arrangement with the EU to facilitate legal migration in return. This was emphasised by Pakistan‘s Foreign Secretary during a meeting with delegations from European countries in January 2022, organised by the ICMPD.

Prevention of departures, border management, migrant smuggling

Pakistan deploys an „Integrated Border Management System“ that has collected travel history information on more than 142 million travellers since 2002. Despite of this and two 2018 laws that provide heavy criminal penalities against human smuggling and trafficking, the Council is concerned with the lacking capacity of Pakistan’s security and judicial system to effectively prevent irregular departures: The country „does not have a fully-fully fledged departure prevention policy.“ In order to change that, the EU has supported Pakistan in the 2014-2020 multi-annual financial framework on „border management, migrants smuggling and human trafficking“. This is part of the programme „Integrated Border Management in the Silk Route Contries“, implemented by the ICMPD.11 The ICMPD has signed a cooperation agreement with Pakistan in November 2020, regularly runs training programmes for officers of Pakistans Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)12 and implements so-called „awareness-raising actions“ in Pakistan.13

FRONTEX has so far not been cooperating with the Pakistani authorities but according to the Council this is likely to change. FRONTEX representatives have visited Pakistan in August 2020. According to the Council, Pakistan has „expressed interest in initiating concrete cooperation in the area of border management“ with the European border agency. This is going to happen though the appointement of a FRONTEX liason officer (FLO) or the negotiation of a formal working arragangement.

Migration control, human rights and the Pakistani military

Reading the Council‘s proposal against the backdrop of European externation policies elsewhere it is interesting to note, firstly, that while the Presidency mentions Pakistan‘s interest in achieving legal and save ways of migration from Pakistan towards Europe, the proposed fields of stronger cooperation do not mention any practical steps in this direction. However, this is clearly one of the key interests of the Pakistani government in participating in a migration partnership with the EU. Stressing Pakistan’s active participation as a „responsible member“ of the Budapest Process, Pakistans foreign secretary has underscored in January the importance of regular migration pathways as a way to reduce the need for irregular migration in the first place.14 However, by not addressing this point in any tangible way, the Council document reveals the general pattern of the European migration regime of paying lip service to the necessity of legal migration channels, while effectively focussing on „hard measures“(the use of identification systems, deportations and police training) toachieve a more effective prevention of „irregular“ migration from Pakistani, Afghan and Bangladeshi nationals alike.

Rather then putting forward tangible steps towards a system of legal or a system circular migration and acknowledging its non-European „partners“ interest in legal migration pathways, the Council‘s proposal puts clear emphasis on establishing a more effective deportation regime between the European bloc and Pakistan. This is the likely to be the context for the encouragement of a stronger involvement of FRONTEX in Pakistan, which has become the EU‘s „deportation machine“ in the course of the recent years.15 Moreover, it seems likely that negotiations about favourable trading conditions for Pakistan as part of the EU Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan play a role for the EU in pushing for establishing an „effective departure prevention policy“.

Lastly, it can be noted that the Council‘s proposals subsume any consideration relating to politial stability, unemployment, violent displacement and inequality in Pakistan or Afghanistan under the EU‘s concern with migration movements towards bloc: „It will also be necessary to take into account specific factors, such as political instability, unemployment and inequality, espcially as they affect migration movements.“ This raises the question of the EU‘s committment to bearing the responsibility of many of its member states that participated in military interventions throughout the region and Afghanistan in particular. The cost of war project by Brown Univerity has conlcuded that between 37 and 59 Million people have been displaced in the context of the West‘s war on terrorism – the highest number of displaced people since World War II.16 For Afghanistan alone, the study speaks of 5,3 million displaced persons and 3,7 Million in Pakistan. Still,the first and almost unanimous reaction of European governments to the Taliban‘s surge to power was to reiterate the need to prevent „another 2015“ by externalizing the responsibility for asylum seekers to Afghanistan‘s neighbouring countries.

Costs of War Project, Watson Institute, Brown University
Costs of War Project, Watson Institute, Brown University

At the same time, the EU is condoning the restriction of the right to asylum in Europe at all the European borders. This is exemplified, for example, by the practical steps taken my EU member states such as Greece, which (shortly before the Taliban taking over) has adopted a restrictive asylum policy towards Afghani, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, among others. Building on a key feature of the EU-Turkey Deal, the Greek government has unilaterally declared Turkey as a „safe third country“ for these nationalities, effectively blocking their way to applying for asylum in Europe on the basis that their claim can be rejected as inadmissible and that they should be returned to Turkey. The Greek migration minister declared unambiguously that „our country will not be the gateway to Europe for illegal Afghan migrants“.1

In parallel we can observe a staggering scope of illegal pushbacks taking place on a daily basis from European territory. In the latter, FRONTEX has been an active actor, yet the same agency is now being introduced to the stage in order to deal with unwanted „flows“ from Pakistan. The Council‘s document only offers a glimpse to the current policy formation in regards to migration control in Pakistan and it will be important to closely scrutinize if and how the proposed measures are going to be implemented over the coming months.

That said, especially in regards to implementing a readmission agreement with Pakistan, it appears doubtful whether the EU can achieve there what they have not achieved after years of trying to implement „effective“ return schemes with countries like Tunisia or Morocco. The Pakistani government has every interest in encouraging labour migration – regular or irregular – with remittances of Pakistani‘s working abroad (21,8 Mrd $ in 2019) far exceeding the revenues from export of cheap garments and the like to the EU (around 5 Mrd $).17 Overall, the strategic interests of Pakistan‘s government lie foremost with the geopolitical rivalry with India and the military has been a dominant actor in Pakistan‘s political system, also in economic terms. In this context, the strategic alignment with China has higher importance than cooperation with the EU about preventing people from seeking income abroad. Moreover, even if the government would take stricter migration control measures following the EU‘s interests, the authorities of Islamabad have limited reach in rural areas on the Western border where pashtun local leaders and Taliban groups have a stronger influence than state administration. The same is true for other regions of Pakistan as well, where corruption and arbitrary violence by the states security forces undermine the central government‘s authority.

This brings us to another key criticism with European externalized migration control in general, which is no less pronounced in regard to Pakistan: The scale of human rights violations, arbitrary state violence, extrejudicial killings against opposition political actors, ethnic and religious minorities as well as violence and discrimination of women and girls in particular, beg the question of the Council‘s commitment to human rights principles. Ultimately, this is a major reason why Pakistan is mentioned as the 4th largest country of origin for asylum seekers in Europe.

According to the EU‘s humanitarian principles, women in particular would be entitled to asylum in Europa. Will the ICMPD‘s proud remarks18 about their training of female police officers make a difference to millions of women suffering from a pronounced patriarchal system, which might even lead many of them to seek asylum in Europe? Up to now, they cannot dare to migrate, although millions of them would be liable to Feministasylum.19 However, as with other „partners“ in migration control measures, the Council‘s proposals clearly prioritize migration control over considerations of an accessible international protection system for people subjected to the arbitrariness of authoritarian state, patrachical and religious structures.

You can find the document here.




















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