Previously unpublished documents by the EU Commission Services provide insights into the EU’s background activities vis-à-vis Libya, Morocco, Niger, and Tunisia
Just a year ago, on 23.09.20, the European Council adopted its „New Pact on Migration and Asylum“. This pact was to be pursued on three „floors“:
- the basic floor was to be cooperation with third countries in order to advance the externalization of the border regime. The Commission spoke of migration partnerships as creating a „win-win situation“ – quite apart from the fact that no country outside Europe had ever had any benefit from such a partnership and that the bulk of refugees had always been taken in by neighbouring regions of the Global South;
- the middle floor was about securing external borders: here it was about Frontex, hot spots and push-back mechanisms;
- finally, the top floor was to regulate burden-sharing among EU member states in order to reduce the overload on first-receiving countries.
There are a large number of critical statements on this New Pact. Christopher Hein has written a good overview for the Böll Foundation.
The upper floor of the New Pact, cooperation within Europe, is still blocked by disagreements among the member states. The implementation of the middle floor also suffers from this: there are no „clean“ forms of enforcement, but in a process that is unclear and therefore difficult to control, the hot spots in Greece and Italy are being perfected, Frontex is expanding its competences and its technology park, border business is flourishing, pushbacks at the borders have become the new norm. It is precisely this indeterminacy and lawlessness that has been a characteristic of European refugee policy since 2017.
What all member states can agree on is the basic “floor”: shifting the „problem“ of migration and flight to third countries:
The Conclusions of the European Council on the topic of migration, from its meeting of 24 June 2021, exclusively address the cooperation with third States, whether of origin or of transit. In close cooperation with UNHCR and IOM, all available EU and Member State instruments and incentives should be used for tackling root causes, supporting refugees and displaced persons in the regions, building capacity for migration management, eradicating smuggling and trafficking, reinforcing border control and cooperation on search and rescue, addressing legal migration, and ensuring return and readmission.
Prior to the European Council meeting, various recent meetings of the High-Level Working Group on Migration and Asylum identified the priority regions: North Africa, the Sahel region, sub-Saharan Africa, Western Balkans, and the Silk route. Within these regions, partnerships should be established first and foremost with Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Full use should be made of the Neighbourhood and International Cooperation Financial Instrument, especially for the prevention of irregular migration, and at least 10% of the funds should be used for this purpose.
In July 2021, the Commission described the diplomatic processes in relation to African states in a document. This involves several overlapping levels, which are also complemented by bilateral agreements:
- Since 2007, there has been the Africa-EU Migration and Mobility Process, which was established at an EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon;
- since an EU-Africa Ministerial Conference in 2006, there has been the Rabat Process, which has been merged with the Joint Valletta Action Plan since 2018;
- the Khartoum Process applies the contents of the Valletta Plan to the Horn of Africa;
- there is also a Valletta Summit Follow Up, and
- since 2010, the ACP-EU Migration Dialogue, based on the 2000 Cotonou Agreement.
All these levels converge in the draft papers of the EU Commission’s service entitled Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit.
So far, the existence of such a plan for Afghanistan was known, although the contents are not public. The situation is different with the following papers on Niger, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
An operationalization plan for Niger from September 2021 was published by Statewatch. In view of the increasing insecurity in the Sahel, it visualises a joint effort by EUCAP Sahel Niger, EUBAM Libya and Frontex. The text states:
The Commission intends to step up border management support at Libya’s Southern border, while in parallel strengthening cross-border cooperation between Libya and its bordering countries in the South, including Niger.
In this context and in line with Niger’s new Migration Action Plan, the EU will also aim to facilitate the conclusion of negotiations for working arrangements between EUCAP Sahel Niger and EUBAM Libya, on the one hand, and Frontex on the other. These working arrangements could help the Governments of Niger and Libya shore up border management at their mutual land border.
In light of the considerable deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel and political instability in neighbouring Chad, Mali and Libya, Niger remains a key partner in the Sahel in terms of addressing migration, notably as a transit country from West Africa towards Libya and Algeria, and further to the Mediterranean. The EU will seek to upgrade its close cooperation with Niger to address regional challenges related to migration and border management, such as migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
The diplomatic interventions take place at several levels (p. 3 f.) with the involvement of a Frontex liaison officer placed since 2017.
Since the beginning of October, draft papers on the operationalization of the pact have also been available for Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. All these documents contain annexes on existing cooperation and bilateral initiatives, only the Niger paper has left the information on bilateral activities blank.
On Libya, after many empty phrases that have little to do with the actual situation in the country, there are these projects (p.2):
- – Financing a migration management and asylum system (asylum in Libya?);
- Strengthening the so-called Libyan coast guard, more equipment and training;
- A Team Europe Initiative on the Central Mediterranean Route (TEI), as proposed by France and Italy in October 2021: joint registration, data exchange, transfer to and from disembarkation points and detention centres – and that means direct cooperation of the EU in the internment of migrants in Libyan camps;
- after registration, deportation takes place, and the EU will aim to unblock voluntary return flights;
- With regard to the Niger-Libya border, functioning border management should be installed analogous to the plans for Niger:
The EU will work to enhance the capacity of the Libyan Border Guard to effectively control Libya’s southern land borders with Niger, Sudan, and Chad. The EU’s efforts will draw upon the capacity-building and operational support provided by EUBAM Libya and Frontex, including via a working arrangement that these two actors are about to conclude. Similar working arrangements are expected to be negotiated by EUCAP Sahel Niger and Frontex, providing a triangular framework for the EU to provide structured support to the Government of Libya and Niger for effective border management at their mutual border.
The annexes contain the list of existing cooperation under the New Pact (Annex 1). It is provided with price tags and also contains the expenditures of the Italian Ministry of the Interior within the framework of the SIBMMIL programme (Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya), especially concerning the upgrading of the Libyan coast guard. Annex 2 lists the bilateral programmes of member states, whereby, in addition to strengthening the coast guard, Malta plans to build reception facilities (p. 9) – in other words, to build offshore centres through the back door.
The paper welcomes Morocco’s „strategic cooperation“ with Frontex, Europol, and EASO, before addressing the core issue on p. 3: the readmission of Moroccan migrants, in return for which the EU would participate in the deportation of sub-Saharan migrants (p. 3):
The EU stands ready to continue supporting voluntary returns from Morocco to the countries of origin, as well as the capacity of Moroccan institutions to sustainably reintegrate its own citizens after they are returned. To this end, technical assistance could be provided to allow for the establishment of respective government structures.
However, the return rate in 2020 was only 8% (p.13).
The Tunisia paper also emphasises „irregular departures“. It says here:
The EU stands ready to reinforce practical co-operation with Tunisia on identification and documentation, and on improving conditions of returns and returnees. Tunisia should extend the acceptance of return charter flights from all requesting Member States and accept the return of third-country nationals who transited the country before entering the EU. As part of its efforts to improve migration governance, Tunisia should develop cooperation on readmission with African partners.
The EU will take any opportunity to clarify the role of Frontex and familiarize Tunisian authorities with the agency. (S. 3)
Again, the millions are distributed in the annexes. And Annex 2 describes in detail the numerous bilateral arrangements.