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24th Jun 2018

EU looks to African dictators for migration solutions

  • Smugglers and irregular migrants gravitate to a Libya in turmoil (Photo: Sebastia Giralt)

The EU is turning to African dictators to help counter a multitude of threats as it steps up efforts to tighten border controls and renew counter-terrorism initiatives.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commission’s top man on migration and home affairs, told reporters last week following a two-day marathon meeting of EU justice and home affairs meetings in Brussels that “we are confronted with increasing pressures at our external borders and inside the European Union”.

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Discussions included the issues surrounding the threat of foreign fighters returning to Europe after fighting for IS, getting the European parliament to sign off controversial data sharing agreements, border surveillance, and migration.

Part of the migration strategy was already hammered out in Rome at the end of November.

The Italian EU presidency had organised and launched the so-called Khartoum Process to try and prevent asylum seekers from going via countries such as Libya to get to the EU.

Around 114,000 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees were detected in the central Mediterranean region in the first eight months of 2014. This represents a six -fold increase from 2013.

Criticized for being a pull factor by its many detractors, the end of Italy’s search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum has not stemmed the flow of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.

Just under 9,000 boat migrants were intercepted within the first week of Triton, the EU-led border surveillance mission that superseded Mare Nostrum on 1 November.

The broad plan now is to step up development projects and crack down on criminal networks by working with some of the countries where people are fleeing from in the first place.

This includes reinforced intelligence sharing, investigation capacities, and information campaigns.

“We have expanded our co-operation with countries outside the European Union, which are either countries of origin or transit countries,” said Avramopoulos.

The Greek commissioner called for respect of human rights when it comes to migration issues. Yet many of the countries the EU will be working with - including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan - are barely functioning states.

All were invited to Rome, along with ministers from other African nations, to discuss migration where they signed the Khartoum declaration.

Sitting at the table was Avramopoulos, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and EU interior ministers.

Mogherini’s presence is significant because it indicates that migration is of equal importance to both foreign and home affairs ministers.

Within the mix is a renewed sense of urgency amid recent reports that the Islamic State has set up training camps in eastern Libya.

“Today, instability in Libya is the main issue that one links to irregular migration, so a lot of things hang on this,” said Italy’s minister of interior Angelino Alfano.

At the same time, he described Libya as a breeding ground for a possible terrorist insurgency, which now poses an indirect threat to Europe.

According to a recent report by the EU border agency Frontex, nine out of ten departures in the Mediterranean during 2014 have so far been from Libya. The average price per head is $1,300.

It notes that around 26 percent of the total nationalities detected in 2014 are Eritreans.

Most are fleeing to evade “compulsory, oppressive, and indefinite military service” in the country, says the report.

It is unclear how exactly the European commission and EU ministers intends to work with countries like Eritrea.

But Alfano floated one possible idea.

“They can apply for asylum there in Africa and then when people are awarded asylum, then we will in Europe, offer reception facilities spread throughout the European Union,” he said.

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