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EU-Ethiopia return procedures: Council fails to answer three simple questions
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On 15 February 2018 Judith Sargentini MEP asked the Council of the EU three questions concerning procedures for returning Ethiopians to their country of origin, which were approved by the Council at the end of January.
She asked: why do the admission procedures not have the status of an international agreement; how will risks concerning the transfer of personal data to the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) be mitigated; and why has Ethiopia suddenly become so cooperative in the field of forced returns?
The Council's answer came over four months later, on 18 June, and fails to answer any of the questions effectively.
Concerning the first question, on why the procedures have not been given the status of of an international agreement (which would require parliamentary scrutiny), the Council merely states that "the procedures were agreed n the context of the development of a Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on migration. These Partnership Frameworks are not international agreements."
However, this merely begs the question of how "a procedure... officially adopted for cooperation with a third country" can be approved within this framework, and why an agreement that establishes cooperation with a third country should not be concluded as an international agreement simply because it has been agreed as part of the 'Partnership Frameworks'.
Concerning the risks of transferring personal data of Ethiopian nationals to the Ethiopian NISS, the Council refers to:
"the fact that EC law and acquis provide the necessary safeguards and guarantees for persons falling within the scope of the admission procedures. The return decisions are individual ones taken by Member States, and compliance with the principle of non-refoulement must be checked on an individual basis before the return decision is enforced. The Return Directive provides for a number of harmonised standards in this respect."
However, this does not mean that an agreement with Ethiopia could not - and shold not - introduce more specific safeguards. The situation in Ethiopia should be recalled. As Human Rights Watch summarises:
"Since late 2015, security forces have killed over 1000 people and detained tens of thousands during widespread protests against government policies. A state of emergency began in February 2018, the second in two years, and permits draconian restrictions on rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Authorities regularly use arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to silence journalists, activists, and perceived opposition party members. Torture remains a serious problem in detention. The Ethiopian government has not conducted meaningful investigations into any of these abuses. Repressive laws restrict the activities of nongovernmental organizations. The ruling coalition won all 547 parliamentary seats in the 2015 election."
An Australian state report from September 2017 (pdf) on the country notes that:
"The Ethiopian intelligence agencies are highly capable. DFAT [Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] assesses that individuals who actively protest against the government or its policies - physically or online, in Ethiopia or overseas - are unlikely to escape the attention of authorities."
Concerning the third question, asking for an explanation on "the sudden cooperative attitude of Ethiopia over enforced returns," the Council provides no direct answer - although it does state:
"The EU has furthermore engaged with Ethiopia through the financial instruments aimed at promoting and facilitating the implementation of the Partnership Framework, in particular the EU Trust Fund, and more generally in developing its relations with the country."
Full text of the question and answer (European Parliament, link)
15 February 2018
Question for written answer to the Council
Judith Sargentini (Verts/ALE)
Subject: Agreement between the EU and Ethiopia on return procedures
On 29 January 2018, the Council approved procedures for returning Ethiopians to their country of origin. Neither the Council nor the Commission published the text, so that the European Parliament was compelled to base its assessment on a leaked version. That version makes it clear that the return procedures are applicable to both voluntary and enforced return.
1. Section 1(1) of the admission procedure document states that the procedure does not have the status of an international agreement and is not intended to create any rights. Can the Council explain why a procedure that it has officially adopted for cooperation with a third country does not have the status of an international agreement?
2. What does the Council intend to do to mitigate potential risks arising from the transfer of information concerning people illegally resident in the EU who may be Ethiopian nationals to the Ethiopian NISS (National Intelligence and Security Services) and arising from the admission of Ethiopian missions with the aim of identifying Ethiopians?
3. In view of the fact that, during the negotiations on the political declaration at the last EU-AU Summit, no agreement was reached on the subject of enforced returns, and in view of the final text, which only refers to voluntary return, how does the Council explain the sudden cooperative attitude of Ethiopia over enforced returns?
18 June 2018
In June 2017, the European Council called for further efforts to achieve real progress in return and readmission policy, including through the negotiation and conclusion of well-functioning readmission agreements and pragmatic arrangements with third countries that should be put in place at EU level without any further delay(1).
In October 2017, the European Council restated as part of the comprehensive, pragmatic and resolute approach of the EU and its Member States to ensure full control of the external borders the importance of ensuring significantly enhanced returns through actions at both EU and Member States level, such as effective readmission agreements and arrangements(2).
The negotiation and conclusion of admission procedures for the return of Ethiopians from European Union Member States (hereafter, the admission procedures) is part of this overall approach of the EU and its Member States and fully in line with the objectives set by the European Council.
The Council notes that the importance of Ethiopia with respect to migration is clearly reflected by the fact that it has been identified as one of the five African priority countries (along with Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) in the context of the development of a Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on migration. These Partnership Frameworks are not international agreements.
They are political frameworks which bring the different partners together to better manage various aspects of migration, including return. In its Conclusions of October 2016, the European Council stressed the importance of establishing an effective Partnership Framework which would make it possible to deliver results in terms of preventing illegal migration and returning irregular migrants(3).
The EU has furthermore engaged with Ethiopia through the financial instruments aimed at promoting and facilitating the implementation of the Partnership Framework, in particular the EU Trust Fund, and more generally in developing its relations with the country.
The Honourable Member's attention is drawn to the fact that EC law and acquis provide the necessary safeguards and guarantees for persons falling within the scope of the admission procedures. The return decisions are individual ones taken by Member States, and compliance with the principle of non-refoulement must be checked on an individual basis before the return decision is enforced. The Return Directive provides for a number of harmonised standards in this respect.
(1) EUCO 8/17.
(2) EUCO 14/17.
(3) EUCO 31/16.
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