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Council Presidency: "progress" in migration cooperation with Libya should be repeated across North Africa
12.3.19
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The Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU has called for increased cooperation with North African countries on migration control, arguing that the "progress achieved in Libya" means "the EU should provide - on a much larger scale and over a longer period - targeted assistance" to other countries in the region.

See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Permanent Representatives Committee/Council: Migration: EU cooperation with third countries (6599/19, LIMITE, 26 February 2019, pdf)

A note from the Presidency to the Permanent Representatives Committee of the Council (COREPER) says that "the number of fatalities in the Mediterranean is unacceptable for all," and the "lack of capacity and resources [of North African countries] to handle large-scale migrant flows" means there is a need for additional funding from EU member states to back up the creation and implementation of enhanced assistance strategies, in particular with the "priority countries" of Morocco and Libya.

Furthermore, because "some North African countries are increasingly becoming destination countries while others, such as Libya and Egypt, have historically hosted a large migrant population," any EU assistance should cover "border control, but also the adoption and implementation of legislation on legal migration, asylum and refugees and return, readmission and reintegration," says the note.

The Presidency suggests increased diplomatic activity and, primarily, more money, for "long-term and structured assistance, not dependent on fluctuating flows… the next MFF [Multi-Annual Financial Framework, the EU budget from 2021-27] should continue providing for significant funds in a way allowing for fast and flexible disbursement."

Crisis?

Despite the urgent tone, there is no apparent 'crisis' that would justify these levels of enhanced cooperation - as the document makes clear, "in 2018, around 150 000 irregular arrivals were registered at the EU external borders, a 25% decrease compared to 2017, and the lowest level in 5 years."

The economic assistance provided to EU partner countries in North Africa is already substantial. The note states that Morocco is due to receive €232m for migration control cooperation, €140m of which was allocated in 2018 alone. Since the creation of the EU Trust Fund for Africa, Libya has received €282 million for projects on migration management. This of course does not include the financial assistance provided by individual Member States.

In this context, the need for more money and additional diplomatic efforts on migration control cooperation are questionable, to say the least.

The European Commission argues that:

"the fact that the number of irregular arrivals has been reduced is no guarantee for the future, considering the likely continuation of migratory pressure. It is therefore essential to pursue a comprehensive approach to migration management and border protection."

Libya: "preventing dangerous departures"

One real area of concern is the situation in Libya, where the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (amongst others) has stressed that people trapped in the country, or taken back there by the 'Libyan Coast Guard', are suffering severe human rights violations perpetrated by the Libyan authorities, armed groups and traffickers.

Despite this situation, the Presidency's note limits itself to the remark that "EU assistance to improve migrant conditions on land has… been and still is impressive, but the impact has been limited due to the difficult political and security situation in the country."

However, "the assistance provided by the EU and key Member States, first and foremost Italy, has helped Libya to have a major impact in preventing dangerous departures" - a particularly disturbing statement given the prospects for those who are prevented from departing or are 'pulled back' to Libya.

The conditions in Libya are so severe that an Ethiopian asylum seeker is planning to sue the UK's Department for International Development (The Guardian, link) for funding detention centres in the country - a legal case which, if successful, has the potential to destablise Europe's migration control strategy in Libya and beyond.

Recently the journalist Sally Hayden has highlighted the situation at the Triq al Sikka detention centre (Al Jazeera, link), where the "majority of those detained in the past 18 months were returned to Libya by the European Union-funded Libyan coastguard after they tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe."

The AU - displeased with the EU

The EU's supposed "partner" countries, however, are not necessarily happy with such plans. In a leaked paper quoted by The Guardian (link) the African Union expressed its disagreement vis-à-vis EU proposals to establish centres "to allow migrants found in European waters to have their asylum requests processed on African soil".

This plan, the leaked paper argues, would violate international human rights norms regarding the right to claim asylum and would foster human right abuses in African countries.

As an AU official declared to The Guardian:

"African capitals worry that this plan will see the establishment of something like modern-day slave markets, with the 'best' Africans being allowed into Europe and the rest tossed back - and it is not far from the truth."

Furthermore, by entering into the kind of bilateral discussions foreseen in the Presidency's note (which calls for "high-level diplomatic efforts in a coordinated manner"), the African Union feels that the EU is trying bypass multilateral cooperation with the AU. The pan-African body is committed "to dissuade any of its coastal states from cooperating with Brussels on the plan".

Next steps

The note was due to be discussed by the committee of Member States' permanent representatives to the Council (COREPER) on 27 February. Asked to comment on the issues it raises, the Council merely pointed Statewatch to the forthcoming "summary record" of the COREPER meeting, which should be published "about 14 days after the meeting". However, those records (Council, link) do not tend to be particularly informative.

The topic was also discussed at the recent Justice and Home Affairs Council - whose proceedings are prepared by COREPER - where it was concluded that:

"The EU, in close partnership with the North African countries, is ready to continue assisting these countries in enhancing their migration management capacities, including on border control, search and rescue at sea, adoption and implementation of asylum and migration legislation, fighting migrant smuggling, reintegration, return and readmission."

The JHA Council also emphasised the need "to ensure the necessary funds are made available."

This issue is also brought up in the Presidency's note:

"The North Africa window of the Trust Fund should soon be replenished with EUR 120 million from the EU budget. However, the current pipeline - including essential top-ups for ongoing programmes in Libya as well as in Morocco - points to a shortfall of up to EUR 86 million for 2019. Member State contributions will be required to ensure the continuation of this work."

See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Permanent Representatives Committee/Council: Migration: EU cooperation with third countries (6599/19, LIMITE, 26 February 2019, pdf)

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