Council of the EU: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EU’s migration partnership with African countries


On 2 June, the Croatian Presidency circulated to member state delegations a document intended for discussion at an "informal videoconference" of the secretive High-Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration on 12 June.

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NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EU’s migration partnership with African countries (8490/20, LIMITE, 2 June 2020, pdf)

The note remarks that the pandemic has had "a significant impact on all aspects of migration, including visa, resettlement and return policies," and warns that in African states "the expected economic downturn is likely to influence sectors where large numbers of migrants are employed, such as agriculture and construction, and those in precarious jobs, especially in the informal sector."

The EU's response, says the Presidency, "must encompass the humanitarian, migratory, health, social and economic consequences of the crisis."

It warns of an increase in migrant smuggling and human trafficking into the EU as lockdowns are lifted, which means that:

"the EU must continue its constructive dialogue with, targeted support to and cooperation with third countries of origin and transit in Africa, including as concerns anti-smuggling efforts and border management."

It cites Frontex's 'Risk Analysis for 2020', which apparently paints a grim picture:

"Some third countries’ governments may be unable to maintain order and the outbreak of internal and interstate conflict could occur, potentially creating new displaced populations or irregular migration, possibly also moving towards Europe."

The EU and its member states should therefore monitor "socio-economic factors and possible political destabilisation as well as growing insecurity and conflicts," which may be "push factors" for outward migration. At the same time, however, "the pull factors from the labour market may evolve due to the general economic slowdown."

Humanitarian efforts are seen as essential to contain possible movements of people:

"The consequences of emergency measures and restrictions are likely to be even more severe in African countries hosting a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons, affecting their living conditions and their access to essential healthcare services. The EU should play an important role in re-establishing these services."

The report remarks upon:

"an increase in activity on the Central Mediterranean route, with departures from Libya and Tunisia, and a spike in arrivals via the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands, although overall numbers on that route remain low, with just over 2 000 migrants between 1 January and 15 May 2020. On the other hand, since the beginning of the pandemic the Western African route has seen a decrease in arrivals (31.7 % drop from 1 January to 15 May as compared to the same period in 2019)."

Since the onset of the pandemic, arrivals along the "Western Mediterranean route" have apparently also increased, "with migrants departing from the Western Sahara region.

Arrivals from Morocco, on the other hand, "decreased by 53% in the first quarter of 2020, thanks to effective cooperation between the EU, Spain and Morocco."

The report does not mention that this cooperation has had deadly effects, with Spain neglecting its search and rescue obligations. Equally, the ongoing attempt to outsource 'rescues' to the Libyan Coast Guard, resulting in pull-backs to the appalling conditions in Libya, does not receive any comment.

New pandemic response funds

"In its broader response to COVID-19 (including both EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) funds), the Commission has earmarked a total of EUR 1.2 billion for ongoing re-allocation to existing/planned new programmes in North Africa," says the document, and "the EUTF is developing a new fast-track COVID-19 emergency response facility to cover emergency needs in North African countries, focusing on the most vulnerable populations."

The Presidency argues that the EU's planned "comprehensive strategy" with Africa, on which the Commission published an unremarkable paper in March this year, "needs to take into account the current context of COVID-19."

Given the threat posed by the pandemic to people with little to no access to healthcare, the Presidency says "the protection of those in need, such as refugees, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable displaced persons should remain a joint priority."

Further down the line, "the COVID-19 crisis is likely to shape new migration and mobility dynamics both from and within the African continent," calling for "pan-African and regional cooperation and partnerships with Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Horn of Africa".

Current funding from the EU Trust Fund for Africa is focusing, amongst other things, on implementing rather confusingly-named "humanitarian corridors to organise returns." Can it be considered humanitarian to deport people to countries that, the Presidency argues, citing Frontex, do not have "proper governance, adequate healthcare systems or an appropriate economic arsenal to deploy against the pandemic"?

The Presidency calls on member states to "focus on countries and regions in Africa which are of particular importance in the context of migration and where they recognise pressing needs to re-launch the implementation of established cooperation frameworks."

The paper closes with questions for delegations:

"1. The EU Strategy for Africa outlines a general framework for partnership, including a balanced, coherent and comprehensive approach in the area of mobility and migration. Migration and mobility will also be discussed at the next EU-AU Summit. Given the current exceptional circumstances, to which areas of migration policies with Africa should the High-Level Working Group give priority in its upcoming discussions?

2. What kind of adaptations are needed to EU funds and programmes (particularly to the EUTF North of Africa window) in the context of the COVID-19 crisis? Should more support be allocated to emergency needs, such as healthcare services, and to regions hosting refugees and internally displaced persons in precarious situations, etc.? To what extent can the ‘Team Europe’ support package help address needs in Africa?"

NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EU’s migration partnership with African countries (8490/20, LIMITE, 2 June 2020, pdf)

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