04 November 2021
Eight draft action plans for cooperation with non-EU states on migration and border control were approved by the European Council in October. Documents dealing with Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq and Nigeria, published here, show a chosen path of intensified externalisation of EU border management, and very little commitment to legal migration pathways.
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The four documents obtained by Statewatch date from the start of October 2021; it is possible that the documents approved by the European Council at its meeting on 21 and 22 October were updated, although no further versions are listed in the official register of documents.
Approving the action plans, the European Council called on the Commission to provide "concrete timelines and adequate financial support" to pursue the measures envisioned. Three other draft action plans (for Libya, Morocco and Tunisa) were recently published by MigrationControl.info, while the latest draft action plan for Niger was published by Statewatch in September.
Each draft action plan outlines "Lines to take", "Measures", and "Timelines for action" to reduce migration to the bloc, and includes an opening request that "the text of the draft action plan be handled with discretion."
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The draft "Action Plan responding to the events in Afghanistan" covers a long list of overall "lines to take" for the EU. These include:
The plan notes that engagement with Taliban-appointed caretaker government "will depend on the fulfilment of the five benchmarks agreed by the EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Gymnich) on 3 September". The final point on overarching EU objectives notes:
"Any instrumentalisation of migrants or refugees for political purposes is unacceptable to the EU."
Under "Goals for managing migration and addressing forced displacement", lines to take cover protection, humanitarian assistance, development support, and the pursuit of a regional/whole route approach to irregular migration and migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
The document maintains the intention of its predecessor to suspend deportations to Afghanistan, but continue deporting Afghani nationals to other non-EU states, where permitted by readmission agreements.
The draft plan envisions political engagement with regional partners already hosting many Afghans, and recognising the support the EU can provide "for migration and border management, and actions to counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings", deploying tools to monitor and "further improve... crisis management capacity". The latter will particularly rely on the exchange of information and intelligence and "the sharing of regular threat assessments".
Funding under the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will primarily be via the Neighbourhood and Development Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), provisionally allocating €1 billion for Afghanistan, though this work is currently on hold. A regional programme to address migration, forced displacement and mobility is also foreseen, which will continue giving support to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran until April 2022. From 2022, a special measure of €79 million is expected to continue support and contribute to a proposed "Team Europe Initiative" on regional displacement of Afghans. "Other EU instruments, notably the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI), and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) may under strict conditions provide complementary funding opportunities for the external dimension of migration."
The "possibility to develop a Regional Development and Protection Programme" (RDPP) for Silk Route countries will also be explored.
Annex I outlines EU cooperation and areas of engagement under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, including on protection and humanitarian assistance, addressing root causes of migration, migration governance and management, returns, readmission and reintegration and legal migration and mobility.
Annex II outlines member states' bilateral agreements with Afghanistan, and includes Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Spain, Luxembourg and Poland.
Annex III covers key figures and trends in the areas of irregular migration, returns, asylum, legal migration, visas and forced displacement.
See: NOTE from: Commission Services to: Delegations: Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit: Draft Action Plan : Afghanistan (10472/2/21 REV 2, LIMITE, 8 October 2021, pdf)
Lines to take cover "overall EU objectives" and "goals for managing migration". Bosnia and Herzegovina is discussed as a "potential candidate for EU accession", in particular noting the 14 key priorities the country needs to fulfill to open EU accession negotiations. These include the need to "ensure effective coordination, at all levels, of border management and migration management capacity, and ensure the functioning of the asylum system."
The "lines to take" encourage that Bosnia and Herzegovina pursue regional cooperation in managing migration in the Western Balkans, and explains:
"It is essential to prevent a repetition of a humanitarian crisis during the upcoming winter and the EU counts on Bosnia and Herzegovina to honour its obligations and commitments."
The Draft Action Plan looks to "support Bosnia and Herzegovina in building its ability to manage migration" through reinforcements to the asylum system and reception capacities, countering irregular migration, and "improving the legal framework and operational capacities for return". The EU encourages Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign readmission agreements with countries of origin, following such agreements with Pakistan, which entered into force in January this year, and with Bangladesh, which is still under negotiation.
It commits the EU to "continue to provide essential humanitarian assistance... to all persons in need and ensure the protection of unaccompanied minors".
Calls are made on the Balkan state to expand the provision of humanitarian access, to consolidate its asylum system and to remove "arbitrary limitations to the human rights of foreigners, including restrictions of movement introduced before and during the pandemic". An annex to the paper notes that the country has received nearly 13,000 asylum requests this year, up to 3 October, but "[o]nly 94 complete asylum claims were registered".
Enhanced cooperation with EASO and Frontex is encouraged, in particular the signing of a Status Agreement on the activities of Frontex on its territory, initialled in 2019. According to the Action Plan, the "ensuing depolyment of a Frontex joint operation at the border with Croatia would help address common migration and security challenges". Bosnia and Herzegovina currently cooperates with Frontex via training in risk analysis methodologies and through participation in the Western Balkan Risk Analysis Network (WB-RAN). Also encouraged is the development of technical capacity to ensure "future interoperability and compatibility" with Eurodac and "any future EU systems".
According to recent press reports, ratification of the Status Agreement with Frontex is being blocked by Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The chief international official in Bosnia recently warned that various recent actions by Dodik, including a threat to pull out of the national army and set up a separate Serb force, risk breaking up the country and a return to military conflict. The Commission's document does not mention the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Little is said about legal migration to EU states, with the EU positioned as "open to discuss... how to ensure mutually beneficial circulation of talents without causing brain drain".
These lines are to be approached via political engagement, including policy dialogue, summits and meetings, and engagement through the EU Special Representative in Sarajevo, as well as through monitoring by the Commission on all matters related to the external dimension of the pact and on the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements by Bosnia.
Funding activities under the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will cover a regional migration programme to support with operational costs of reception centres and a "complementary bilateral programme" is expected to finance equipment and capacity building for migration management. "Other EU instruments, notably the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI), and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) may under strict conditions provide complementary funding opportunities for the external dimension of migration."
Annex I covers existing EU cooperation and areas of engagement under the New Pact, including on asylum/international protection, migration governance and management, and returns, readmission and reintegration.
Annex II outlines member states' bilateral agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Annex III covers key figures and trends in the areas of irregular migration, return, asylum, legal migration and visas.
See: NOTE from: Commission Services to: Delegations: Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit: Draft Action Plan: Bosnia and Herzegovina (Council doc. 11390/1/21 REV 1, LIMITE, 8 October 2021, pdf)
Amongst the overall "lines to take" on Iraq, the draft action plan notes that there will be continued "significant political, diplomatic and financial efforts to promote a stable, sovereign prosperous and democratic Iraq," including by encouraging "implementation of a political, economic and security sector reform agenda." There will also be continued support for the "collection and digitalisation of battlefield evidence, which is crucial for the prosecution of Foreign Terrorist Fighters."
On "managing migration and addressing forced displacement," the EU's lines to take include a continuation of support for "durable solutions for over one millions Internally Displaced Persons within Iraq". On the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement, the document is rather vague, merely saying that these will be addressed through "various policies, instruments and funds."
The document makes clear the efforts the EU has put into trying to prevent irregular arrivals of Iraqi nationals via Belarus:
"Iraq has responded constructively to EU requests for cooperation on helping to solve the situation at the EU-Belarussian border... The EU welcomes the fact that Iraq has temporarily suspended all commercial flights from Baghdad to Minsk and is working with Lithuanian authorities to identify Iraqi nationals. The EU urges Iraq to extend the suspension of flights to Minsk and to swiftly react to prevent any other alternative irregular migration routes that may be developed." [emphasis added]
An annex notes that:
"Cooperation on tackling irregular migration by suspending flights from Iraq to Belarus and facilitating identification of irregular migrants and voluntary returns from Lithuania should be sustained and built upon for further engagement on readmission and addressing irregular migration, including non-voluntary returns."
However, on "return and readmission", the document notes that: "A lack of technical know-how and capacity in Iraq with regard to identity/data management systems makes cooperation on returns challenging and should be addressed." Digitised identity systems are crucial to the EU's plans to increase forced and 'voluntary' returns, as a document published by Statewatch earlier this year showed.
That document concerned the possibility of imposing restrictions on visa issuances for countries that fail to readmit their own nationals, and Iraq was on the list to be sanctioned. However, the draft action plan notes that:
"Following... outreach from the Commission and the EEAS, the Iraqi authorities have set up a National Committee on Migration headed by the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs and conduct exchanges with the EU on the subject of migration, including returns."
The first meeting between the EEAS, Commission and Iraq's National Committee took place at the end of July; "a follow-up meeting is foreseen in September," says the draft plan.
There is likely to be significant funding from the EU for Iraq, and "mainstreaming migration in all sectors, is likely to focus on job creation and economic diversification, human development with a focus on education and social protection, and digital and participatory governance and democracy."
Annex I: Existing EU cooperation and areas of engagement under the New Pact
Annex II: Member states' bilateral engagement (not included in this version of the document)
See: NOTE from: Commission Services to: Delegations: Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit: Draft Action Plan: Iraq (Council doc. 11952/21, LIMITE, 20 September 2021, pdf)
Nigeria is described as "a country significantly affecting EU interests in Africa and beyond." The EU's "lines to take" note that a primary focus is "on peace and security, improved democratic and economic governance and the rule of law, better migration and mobility management, and addressing development challenges and the root causes of vulnerability, fragility and conflict." The EU and its member states aim to increase political dialogue with the Nigerian authorities, including bilateral meetings on particular policy areas, including "migration and mobility".
On this point and "addressing forced displacement", the document emphasises EU humanitarian support for displaced persons, noting that: "The EU could play a more prominent role in the governance of internally displaced persons’ issues." The document also states: "The EU plans to cooperate with Nigeria on programmes to improve young people’s prospects and employability, such as Erasmus+, thus reducing migratory pressure."
There is little to say about legal migration:
"The EU will consider further promoting pathways for regular migration, in cooperation with EU Member States and the private sector. Depending on the interest of Member States, it will seek to scale up labour migration pilot projects and eventually a Talent Partnership, as appropriate."
However, there is more enthusiasm for action to prevent "possible increases in migratory movements" - should these occur, "the EU is committed to strengthening cooperation with and support to countries along migration routes from Nigeria towards the EU, including through multi-country Team Europe Initiatives."
Discussions on "migration management" in part depend on the outcome of talks on the EU-Nigeria readmission agreement, and there is enthusiasm for "enhanced cooperation on integrated border management with Nigeria, primarily through the reinvigoration of the current working arrangement with Frontex... The implementation of this arrangement by the Nigerian authorities should be improved." Law enforcement cooperation to tackle migrant smuggling and human trafficking should also be stepped up. This should involve more systematic collaboration with EU agencies, says the document.
It is clear that the EU is willing to use other policies to reach its objectives on migration. Amongst the "measures" available, the document notes:
"Deploying a wide range of policy tools, including development cooperation, security, visa, trade, agriculture, investment and employment, energy, environment and climate change, and education, which are adjustable over time and handled as part of a tailor-made approach." [emphasis in original]
Various high-level meetings are also planned to implement the EU's agenda. Discussions are ongoing on new funding arrangements, with a draft "Multiannual Indicative Programme" providing "opportunities for building on past cooperation guided by the geopolitical priorities of the EU as well as Nigerian development planning".
Annex I: Existing EU cooperation and areas of engagement under the New Pact:
Annex II: Member states' bilateral engagement: not included in this draft
Annex III: Key figures and trends
See: NOTE from: Commission Services to: Delegations: Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit Draft Action Plan: Nigeria (Council doc. 11951/21, LIMITE, 20 September 2021, pdf)
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