Lomé Convention used to impose repatriation on the world's poorest countries

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The negotiations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) on a new Lomé Convention, begun in 1998, were completed in February. The agreement contained, for the first time, draconian rules on the repatriation/expulsion of people "illegally present" in the EU. The ACP countries had little choice but to accept the EU terms as these proposals were only introduced into the negotiations, involving £8.5 billion aid and trade, at the last minute.

The European Commission, which conducted the neogtiations, described this proposal of the new Lomé agreement as:

"a balanced agreement enshrining the principle of cooperation on this issue." (Information Memo no 10)

How were the clauses in the agreement obliging some of the poorest countries in the world to take back people expelled from the EU agreed? How was it that the EU could lay down that these "readmission agreements" covering not only nationals of the third country but also: "an obligation for the readmission of nationals of other countries and of stateless persons"?

The Lomé negotiations

The negotiations began in 1998 and four meetings were held. At the second, on 29-30 July 1999 in Brussels, there were substantial disagreements on many of the central issues on the table - aid, the "liberalisation" of trade (which unequally benefits the EU over the ACP countries), return of cultural goods etc. It was officially described by the EU as: "All in all a disappointing conference". The only mention of the issue of readmission was: "An exchange of views was held on migration and negotiators were asked to look into the issues involved in greater detail." (Information Memo 8, 1999).

The first mention of readmission/repatriation was at the EU-ACP meeting on 7-8 December 1999, just two months before the agreement had to be signed - as the Guardian commented one of the "sticking points" was "the immigration clause which the EU threw in at the last minute." The Commission reported:

"A thorny issue still has to be settled, however: in the cooperation on migration, the clause on the readmission or return of illegal immigrants is still under discussion." (Information Memo 9, 1999).

At the fourth and final meeting of EU-ACP countries the Commission's view was:

"Remaining on the agenda for the February meeting was the new dialogue on migration, and in particular the proposed EU arrangement to repatriate illegal immigrants to the country of origin. The ACP were willing to accept readmission of their own citizens, but rejected readmission of non-nationals or stateless persons who transit their territory. They held the view that the proposed clause had no basis in international law.

The European Community was mandated by the Tampere European Council in October 1999, and by the recent Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council's decision to include standard clauses in agreements with third countries on the question of readmission. This issue gave rise to protracted bargaining, delaying discussion on other remaining questions. The Commission was firm on the principle, but not inflexible. Agreement was finally reached on a framework agreement - which provides a basis for negotiated bilateral agreements with each ACP state." (EU-ACP Bulletin, 10.2.00, emphasis added)

In other words, to get the overall deal through the world's poorest countries had to accept the "EU arrangement" on readmission/repatriation.

The ACP's view that the obligation to accept non-nationals and stateless persons had no basis in international law is almost certainly correct. Indeed, the opinion of the Council's own Legal Service, dated 10 March 1999, goes further, it says:

"it is doubtful whether, in the absence of a specific agreement to this effect [readmission] between the concerned states, a general principle of international law exists, whereby these states would be obliged to readmit their own nationals when the latter do not wish to return to their State of origin." (par

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