By EU Reporter
The controversial issue of Mediterranean migration promises to be top of the Maltese government’s EU agenda. One of the key questions concerns how to manage migration flows in the Mediterranean, which have reached record levels in the last three years.
According to the EU border agency Frontex, migration to Europe by Africans has climbed in 2016 as the number of migrants using the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy has increased by 13%.
To tackle this, the last 12 months have seen a flourishing of new initiatives, starting with the EU Trust Fund, plus the Migration Partnerships Framework.
Within this scheme, today the EU today announced financial support to Niger in the amount of € 610 million in 2016. This includes €470m under the 2016 Annual Programme of Action (PAA), comprising six financing agreements, three of which are in the form of budget support. The Emergency Trust Fund for Africa will also be boosted to the tune of €140m. Among the first beneficiaries of the Trust Fund have been priority countries identified by the European Commission. Other than Niger, Ethiopia (€97m) and Mali (€91.5m) are the largest recipients of funds.
Such generous financial support is generally seen as a noble objective. But the respected European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) points out that the danger of “migration partnership funding, despite good intentions, is that the current conditionality, based simply on the exchange between money and keeping migration flows as close to zero as possible, risks creating the circumstances for violations of the human rights of migrants.”
There is also the risk of “refoulment”, or the forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they could be subjected to persecution.
As the ECFR argues, tying refugee flows to aid is a recipe for potential disaster that will dent the EU’s reputation in Africa and do precious little to address the image that the West is more than happy to work with dictators despite its human rights grandstanding. Worse, throwing money at the problem will do precious little to address the deep structural issues that have created the refugee crisis in the first place, which stem from poor governance, high unemployment, conflict and paltry living conditions.
Accusations don’t end there. The EU’s pursuit of trade deals with the African continent, ostensibly aimed at the betterment of African lives, suffers from similar problems.
Recently, and after nearly a decade of negotiations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the 28 member states of the EU.
The granting of free access to the vast EU market is lauded as a coup for the continued economic progress of the developing nations involved.
But whether it will have the intended effect is still very much unclear. It is argued that instead of pursuing trade deals, Europe should work to help address the African continent’s deepest structural problems.
The fishing industry in Mozambique, one of the signatories of the EPA, serves as a poignant example. The country is suffering from rampant illegal fishing practices and wracked by civil war.
Mozambique, disproportionately reliant on its fisheries for both foreign reserve income and feeding its citizenry, is losing up to US$65 million from its economy every year because of illegal fishing. The country is currently battling criticism over the way a government financed a deal to buy patrol boats, essential to improving the lives of its coastal communities. An EPA offers little hope of alleviating the plight of fisheries, whereas a joint initiative on fishing would instead have the potential to increase export revenue and serve as a catalyst for job generation. Mozambique’s failure to properly deploy the patrol boats adds to the plight.
Ethiopia is another case in point. The country is one of the largest recipients of donor aid in Africa, receiving almost $3 billion in 2015 despite allegations of human rights abuses associated with some development programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that in 2015 there were continuing government crackdowns on opposition political party members, journalists, and peaceful protesters, many of whom experienced harassment, arbitrary arrest, and politically motivated prosecutions. A HRW spokesman said: “There are no indications that donors have strengthened the monitoring and accountability provisions needed to ensure that their development aid does not contribute to or exacerbate human rights problems in Ethiopia.”
By bankrolling regimes like Ethiopia, the EU is becoming complicit in keeping in power the very causes that have bolstered the waves of refugees fleeing to Europe.
Niger is in a similar situation. A country rich in natural resources, including uranium and oil, Niger is far from stable, and corruption, food shortages and porous borders remain serious problems. It currently sits in last place on the U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Index.
Just a few days ago, Malian and EU officials signed a deal to expedite the return of migrants to the North African country. More than 10,000 Malian migrants have so far illegally entered Europe since the start of 2015 and the deal is the first time the EU has established such a precise mechanism with an African country with regards to returning failed asylum seekers.
Leading MEP Gabriele Zimmer, who leads the GUE group in the European Parliament, is critical of the process of relocating refugees and agreements with third countries in stopping people from crossing the Mediterranean.
The German MEP said: “Member states are pushing for agreements and partnerships with third countries modelled on the dirty EU-Turkey deal. This deal is inappropriate if the EU wants to respect its own values and rules like human rights. Furthermore, this is the EU outsourcing its own responsibilities to weaker and poorer countries.”
Looking to the future, Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow on the European Council on Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa programme, has authored a report on migration and EU funding and has issued a list of five recommendations for the bloc, including:
Increase intra-African mobility and support local absorption capacity;
work towards processing asylum requests in third countries;
allow for some legal circular migration to Europe;
use remittances to promote development, and;
support voluntary rather than forced returns.
All eyes now turn to 1 January and the incoming Maltese presidency of the EU and the actions it will initiate to address what is one of the most pressing issues facing the European Union.