Thematic and regional developments

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The summaries below concern documents produced or discussed by five working parties of the Council of the EU:

  • External Aspects of Migration Working Party (EMWP)
  • Strategic Committee on Frontiers, Immigration and Asylum (SCIFA)
  • Visa Working Party
  • Working Party on Frontiers
  • Working Party on Integration, Migration and Expulsion (IMEX)

It also contains documents produced or discussed by the Operational Mechanism for External Dimension of Migration (MOCADEM).

All the documents summarised here, and more, are contained in our document archive, which also contains sections on the European Council and the Justice and Home Affairs Council.


  • Border management
  • Deportation and readmission
  • Migration partnerships
  • Budgets and funding

Border management

Fundamental rights monitoring at EU external borders was discussed at the Working Party on Frontiers meeting on 6 June, as part of the implementation of the Screening Regulation. This requires that independent national mechanisms be set up, for two purposes. Firstly, to “monitor compliance with Union and international law,” and secondly to “ensure that substantiated allegations of non-compliance with fundamental rights are dealt with effectively, and Member States launch investigations into such allegations and monitor their progress”.

National level mechanisms that are independent, adequately funded, with unlimited access to sites and documents (appropriate security screening notwithstanding) may be used. These bodies should “conduct on-the-spot, random and unannounced inspections and... issue annual recommendations.” The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency must draw up general guidance for member states to set them up and operate them, and is available to offer advice on methodology and training. Member states have two years to comply.

A paper on information campaigns in member states in preparation for the entry into operation of the Entry/Exit System (EES), expected for autumn 2024, was discussed at the same meeting. Such campaigns “to inform the public and third-country nationals about the objectives of the EES, the data it will store, the authorities that will have access to it and the rights of the persons concerned.” The campaigns should target third country nationals wishing to visit EU territory, and member states should divulge information “as widely as possible, particularly in transport hubs, consulates, carriers’ offices,” accompanied by a social media campaign. At the meeting, the European Commission gave a detailed presentation about the Artificial Intelligence Act and border management.

The External Aspects of Migration Working Party meeting on 17 May heard presentations from UNHCR and IOM, and was provided information by the Commission and the European External Action Service concerning the “Migration situation on the Eastern Mediterranean route”. Other issues touched upon at this meeting relevant to border management included information from the presidency on “Local and regional networks of the European Network of Immigration Liaison Officers” and updates on cooperation frameworks with Libya, North Macedonia, Pakistan, and in the context of the Khartoum Process (see Partnerships, below).

Documents on the agenda of MOCADEM meetings since last September have extensively covered border management, police action against migrant smuggling, and search and rescue operations in countries ranging from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Libya, Senegal and Turkey, amongst numerous others.

Tunisia is one of those other countries where, in the wake of the agreement signed last July, extensive EU and member state activity is ongoing. Relations with and projects in the country have been discussed at almost every MOCADEM meeting since last September. In relation to border management and related topics, a document from the 16 February meeting released to Statewatch details the extensive financial support being provided by the EU: well over €100 million is being spent on projects for search and rescue, border controls and international police cooperation. The International Centre for Migration Policy Development is implementing many of the projects listed.

In Morocco, the EU has provided at least €200 million for projects on “border management in respect of international human rights standards, the institutional governance of migration and asylum and the integration of migration and refugees,” according to a document from the 16 February meeting. In Mauritania, over €50 million is being spent by the EU on border control and policing projects. One law enforcement project, GARSI 3, has been in the spotlight recently where its implementation in Senegal saw police vehicles paid for by the EU being used to quell popular dissent. The document on Mauritania says that GAR SI 3 has received €10.5 million from the NDICI budget.

The Western Balkans was on the agenda of the MOCADEM meeting on 19 April, with a document released to Statewatch indicating that Frontex deployments in the region are a high priority, with renewed and upgraded status agreements aiming to expand the possible range of deployments. Under Frontex’s 2019 legal basis, the agency can be deployed at borders between two non-EU states, instead of just at the borders between a non-EU and an EU state. Extensive work is already ongoing in the region using the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) funds (see also the analysis on budgets in this issue of the bulletin), including training by Frontex on surveillance, screening, debriefing and fundamental rights.

Police cooperation against migrant smuggling and trafficking in the Western Balkans is also covered by the document, which notes that all Western Balkans states now have at least one liaison officer stationed at Europol. An anti-smuggling programme under the IPA budget worth €36 million was due to be adopted in June 2023, and the paper also notes: “Interoperability missions planned to take place in all Western Balkan partners to assess the needs at the border crossing points.”

Last year, meanwhile, a document circulated for a MOCADEM meeting in November looked at the Eastern Mediterranean route, with - unsurprisingly - a significant focus upon Turkey. The “action file” noted that the EU would be providing €220 million to support surveillance and controls at Turkey’s border with Iran, and cited the importance of setting up an “International Migration Cooperation Centre” in Istanbul. According to a document posted online by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, the “primary role” of this centre would be "to foster operational cooperation in the area of border management, with a regional focus along the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route, particularly Türkiye, Western Balkans, Central Asia and Middle Eastern countries.”

The Visa Working Party meeting on 24 April included a discussion on the future of visa policy and its internal dimension, which was predicated on a need to stop third-country nationals “misusing legal entry channels” to lodge asylum applications. Tackling “abuse of visa policy” is viewed as crucial “for the sustainability of Member States’ asylum systems.” A renewed visa suspension mechanism is under discussion in trilogues and is deemed important to tackle problems with visa-free countries, though it should only be triggered as a “last resort”. Meanwhile, Regarding the Visa Information System (VIS), “the absence of statistics regarding the number of persons misusing a visa to enter the Schengen area and then lodge an asylum application” was raised as a problem that may require improved VIS checks by national authorities in the context of asylum applications.

Regarding “innovative solutions” concerning visa fraud and the EU legal framework, more than 20 EU and Schengen member states treat visa fraud as a criminal offence. The EU legal framework does not provide for the prosecution of visa fraud, so punishment for this offence and for overstaying on a visa is limited to administrative measures (including entry bans). Delegations wish for additional measures to be envisaged, drawing on punitive measures introduced for the Visa Code article 25a mechanism (see the analysis in this issue for more on article 25a). The Belgian presidency argued that “no avenue should be overlooked, including the strengthening of the legal framework,” while the German delegation has produced a handbook on visa fraud.

There was a focus on the “external dimension” of visa policy at an informal SCIFA meeting in May, according to the same document, for which we have not yet obtained the corresponding documents.

Deportation and readmission

Deportation, readmission and related topics have been dealt with by various working parties in recent months, particularly IMEX (Expulsion). Topics include a plan to make the returns system more efficient, to harness the potential of liaison officers deployed abroad by member states and EU bodies, and to work on the recast Schengen Information System regulation and return alerts.

At the IMEX meeting on 23 April 2024, presentations by the presidency and the Commission preceded an exchange of views on “Making the EU return system more effective: a continuation of the reflection towards the future of the EU return policy”. There was also some follow-up to the Fedasil (Belgium) conference held on 19-20 March 2024 on voluntary return and reintegration. Discussions on the Visa Code Article 25a “exercise” looked at its state of implementation, discussion on cooperation by priority countries not targeted by restrictive visa measures, and continuation of the discussion on the mechanism’s effectiveness and development, including presentation by the Commission of its staff document evaluating the Visa Code reform. The presidency also reported back on its presentation on “best practices in the field of returns” given at the Working Party on Schengen Matters.

Among the topics discussed at the 7 June meeting was a presidency discussion paper  on improving return statistics. The paper includes a critical assessment of existing parameters and ideas to improve and vastly expand the existing data collection framework. The parameters include the effectiveness of returns; the link to negative asylum decisions; human rights during returns; sustainability (to avoid re-migration);and return costs (human and financial resources), amongst other things.

The return data collection framework includes Eurostat collection of return data since 2008 and Frontex’s growing involvement since it began data collection on returns in 2011, through the Frontex Risk Analysis Network (FRAN) and the Irregular Migration Management Application (IRMA). Calls to improve data collection have also been formulated in the EU Return Coordinator’s Operational Strategy for more Effective Returns, in the Multiannual Strategic Policy for European Integrated Border Management (March 2023) and by the Commission and Council.

This has led to concrete actions, including the EU Asylum Agency suspending its data collection and relying on Frontex data since 2023; a Eurostat Task Force on Return Statistics bringing together member states, Frontex and DG HOME; a 2023 Frontex roadmap to enhance analysis of returns and return situational picture; the “annual exercise under the Article 25a Visa Code” for a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative collection of data on readmission cooperation with the key third countries at the EU level; and a variety of other activities. Statistics on deportation will also be aided by the EU’s interoperable databases, with a Central Repository for Reporting and Statistics to “provide cross-system statistical data gathering from EES, VIS, ETIAS and SIS.” The forthcoming European Annual Asylum and Migration Report will also contain return data.

Persistent challenges include the validity of return rates to assess effectiveness (a method which “has shown its limitations”), which means that “additional information is needed”. The identified limitations include data from return alerts in the Schengen Information System (SIS) showing that:

“...a considerable proportion of return decisions issued are not enforceable; different national administrative and judicial practices might impact the number of return decisions issued, reducing comparability; only reliably recorded voluntary returns are accounted, which means that in reality the number of effective returns might be higher...”

The importance of statistics and data collection to the EU’s deportation machinery, and its migration control initiatives more broadly, was emphasised in a Statewatch report published last year, which noted:

“At root, then, statistics is about the collection of data by public authorities in order to better understand a given situation and, in response, to formulate or influence policies to better exercise control. The nature of statistical work also relies on the continuous production of categories and constituencies of people who are often hierarchically ordered, giving rise to the possibility of various discriminatory practices and effects.”

A paper on “making the returns system more effective” was submitted by the presidency for the IMEX meeting on 7 June. A key plank of this is the proposal for a recast Return Directive, on which the Council has reached a negotiating position but the European Parliament has not. The paper discusses member state needs in this area, alongside the proposal’s future, despite admission of discordant views: “Some felt that work [to modify and update] the recast directive should be in parallel to a deep reflection on revision of the legal framework.” Parallel tracks were proposed:

...working on the recast Return directive to introduce the most urgent changes, including adapting the legislation with the recent European Court of Justice rulings, while further reflecting on the future European return decision. At the same time practical cooperation and increased use of mutual recognition should continue.”

Nonetheless, some delegations would prefer mutual recognition of national return decisions to remain optional, and the presidency described work towards a European return decision as a “long-term objective.” Statewatch has previously reported on the proposal for such a legal framework.

According to the presidency paper, most member states did not feel it necessary to “further legislate on alternatives to detention and conditions of detention”, questioning the idea of establishing “minimal detention capacities” at the EU and member state levels. The document also includes information on the removal of individuals posing a security threat, “the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice regarding the Return Directive, the improvement of identification, the use of European laissez-passer, the definition of the concept of voluntary return, the situation of illegally staying third country nationals who cannot be returned, and the accessibility of Schengen Associated States to the readmission case management system (RCMS)”. The paper notes that implementation of the Pact should lead to closer links between asylum and return procedures.

The “cooperation of third countries on readmission remained essential for an effective EU return policy,” the document also notes. Leverages include: strategic use of the Visa Code article 25a procedure, or the use of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) to establish a “trade leverage”. Some delegations called for innovative solutions and “out-of the box” ideas to ensure effective returns, and some considered that Frontex should be able to help with deportations between third countries.

In preparation for the IMEX meeting on 7 June, a paper summarising “the discussion on liaison officers as partners to build a stronger common European return system” was submitted by the presidency, as “an important tool whose potential be maximised for returns”. The IMEX expulsion meeting had three dimensions: strategic, operational and attractiveness.

The first heading underscores a need for EU delegations in third countries to offer political support to EU and member state liaison officers. Existing needs include a clear vision and member states prioritising deployments (pointing to the Iraq post being vacant), a need for flexibility and a twin-track approach: “long-term deployments for structural priority third countries, and short-term deployments for cyclical situations related to migratory flows.” Different practices among member states are identified concerning their use of liaison officers for “reintegration, the swift return to those who pose a security threat and the fight against migrant smuggling”.

The other dimensions focus on coordination for the sake of effectiveness and on improving conditions for the different types of European liaison officers to encourage their deployment. Forward-looking proposals include establishing a pool of return liaison officers in Frontex, and providing funding to support deployments in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (that is, the EU budget).

With regards to the theme of “post-return, reintegration assistance and sustainable reintegration: coordination between actors and engagement of partner countries”, for which a strategy was agreed under the Pact in April 2021, meetings were held in IMEX (Expulsion) (“return and reintegration assistance”) on 23 April and in EMWP (“sustainable reintegration”) on 17 May. The goal is “to move forward on a structured and sustainable approach as regards activities focusing on the sustainability of reintegration support and ownership of partner countries”, including a “commitment to enhance the EU’s development actions’ contribution to sustainable reintegration.”

Persisting challenges include different interpretations and understanding of what stages the strategy entails, encompassing “post-return assistance”, “reintegration assistance” and “sustainable reintegration”. The themes addressed include, division of roles, responsibilities and labour among stakeholders and support to deportees from NDICI-funded development actors (shifting from a previous south-south focus).

A paper on the recast Schengen Information System (SIS) and alerts for return was circulated for the Working Party on Frontiers meeting on 6 June. It concerns the immediate “entry of new alerts on third-country nationals subject to a return decision.” Through this, positive “hits” at external borders mean that a member state will inform the one which issued the alert and transfer information; the issuing member state will delete the alert and, if necessary,“immediately” issue an alert for prohibition of entry and stay. However, the paper notes that there are some issues with this system, and goes into these in more detail.

Deportations to and from non-EU states have been a regular topic in documents discussed at MOCADEM meetings, with the EU and its member states putting significant emphasis not just on pushing states to accept deportations from the EU, but providing funds and assistance so that non-EU states can reinforce their own deportation machinery.

A document produced for the MOCADEM meeting on 19 April notes that a €54 million project under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) includes €13 million for return projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. The same document refers to a €500,000 “pilot project” on forced returns in Bosnia and Herzegovina that “has been extended to Serbia with a similar budget.” The reason for this extension may be because, as the same document states, there have been “[l]imited results on forced returns, except for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The document notes that the Commission, Frontex and EU member states should use the “Joint Coordination Platform,” hosted by Austria, to “inter alia foster exchanges of best practices and strengthen cooperation on return at operational level” with states in the region.

A separate document on Bosnia and Herzegovina, produced for the 25 October 2023 MOCADEM meeting, notes that Frontex should support the state with “capacity building” on deportation, Austria with return processes and procedures, and Poland, Germany and Denmark should offer general support.

Deportations to and from Mauritania feature in a document produced for the 25 March MOCADEM meeting, though the version released to Statewatch offers little detail. One heading in the document is: “Return of Mauritanians from EU to Mauritania, strengthen cooperation in line with Samoa agreement,” with a timeframe of the last half of 2024, but no specific actions are noted down for different agencies or institutions. Elsewhere, a section on “key messages” encourages EU officials to push their Mauritanian counterparts for further cooperation on return and readmission, to insist on improved cooperation in issuing identification documents for Mauritanians due to be deported from the EU, and to propose extending the “good practices” in place with some EU member states to all others: “notably, those with established bilateral cooperation.”

“Team Europe” is also working to step up the Moroccan authorities’ deportation capabilities, with a document from the 16 February MOCADEM meeting stating:

“The EU has been supporting returns from Morocco to relevant countries of origin, first through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative and then with the Migrants Return and Reintegration Programme (MRRP North of Africa). In 2023, over 1 000 people benefitted from assisted voluntary return from Morocco to their country of origin in the framework of the MPRRP.”

However, extensive sections of the part of the document dealing with return and readmission are censored.

Other documents on the agenda of MOCADEM meetings have discussed deportations from and to Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria.


Migration partnerships

EMWP’s 17 May meeting discussed a Hungarian delegation submission on the Budapest Process, detailing the draft Ministerial Declaration and Call for Action 2025-2030 from this 30-year-old platform “for dialogue to strengthen operational cooperation on migration and mobility” that includes eastern EU neighbours, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. Both documents are scheduled for adoption at a ministerial meeting in November in Budapest. The Hungarian government holds the presidency of the Council of the EU for the second half of 2024.

The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) hosts the Budapest Process secretariat. The preliminary observations include:

...the need for continued support to strengthen the capacities of countries of origin, transit and destination, while ensuring the alignment of our interventions with national development strategies, including increased attention to women, youth and diasporas as levers of change

The Call for Action 2025-2030 includes five priority areas for intervention:

  • Prevent and fight against irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings and reinforce the cooperation in the field of border management;
  • Strengthen existing policies and pathways for legal migration and mobility;
  • Strengthen cooperation for safe and effective return and for sustainable reintegration;
  • Strengthen the positive impact of migration on development, as well as address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement;
  • Ensure international protection and the respect of the rights of refugees and persons in need of international protection, in line with international obligations.

The 17 May EMWP meeting also heard a report from the Commission on meetings with Pakistan in the framework of a “talent partnership roundtable”; the Commission and Germany reporting back on the senior officials meeting of the Khartoum Process in Cairo on 17-18 April 2024; on North Macedonia joining the European Migration Network (EMN) as an observer; and on a meeting with Libya in the framework of a technical mission on 16 May. 

At the 19 April MOCADEM meeting, updates on the implementation of partnerships with Tunisia and Mauritania were provided, alongside information on the state of play regarding “the Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership with Egypt”. An analysis in the previous edition of this bulletin examined the EU-Mauritania migration deal.

The MOCADEM “action file” on Mauritania discussed on 19 April offers some further insight into cooperation on migration, with the EU viewing Mauritania’s presidency of the African Union as “an opportunity to build on the EU’s solid partnership with Mauritania to advance the EU-AU partnership, in particular in view to the upcoming EU-AU Ministerial [meeting].” Notably, Frontex opened an AFIC (Africa Frontex Intelligence Community) risk analysis cell in Mauritania in September 2022, for regular knowledge and information sharing in the field of border security (migration flows and cross-border criminality), and the mandate of the Frontex liaison Officer based in Senegal was extended in 2023 to also cover Mauritania and The Gambia.

Budgets and funding

The documents produced and discussed by MOCADEM demonstrate well the scale of EU spending on externalisation. The revised action file on Mauritania from 18 April details expenditure on several projects, coming to a total of at least €75 million. Morocco is the beneficiary of almost 200 million, and Tunisia at least €100 million. An analysis in this edition of the bulletin examines in more detail overall EU budget increases for externalisation.

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