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19th Jan 2020

EP lawyers back EU plans for migrant centres in Africa

  • Estimates suggest around 5,000 people are currently trapped in Libyan detention centres (Photo: UNHCR.org)

Lawyers working at the European Parliament on Tuesday (27 November) struggled to provide a detailed analysis of whether stalled EU plans to offload rescued migrants in north Africa were legal - but ultimately backed the controversial concept.

"It was at least a brave attempt to piece together, sort of like bits of circumstantial evidence from a kind of a crime scene, to see what the hell this is," British centre-left MEP Claude Moraes said of their efforts.

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Speaking at the parliament's civil liberties committee, a lawyer from the legal service was only able to provide an oral summary of their report, citing confidentiality issues.

But EUobserver has obtained a full copy of the 10-page confidential report, which attempted to provide a legal analysis of stalled EU plans to set up so-called 'regional disembarkation platforms' in north Africa and controlled centres in Europe.

The report broadly rubber stamps the legality of both concepts, but with conditions.

It says "controlled centres and/or disembarkation platforms of a similar nature could be, in principle, lawfully established in the European Union territory."

It states disembarkation platforms "could lawfully be established outside of the European Union, in order to receive migrants rescued outside the territory of the Union's member states."

It also says EU law does not apply to migrants rescued at high sea, even with a boat flying an EU-member state flag.

"We can't consider a vessel flying a flag of a member state to be an extension of a member state," the lawyer told the MEPs.

EU law is also not applied if the migrant is rescued in the territorial waters of an African coastal state, states the report.

It also notes that people rescued in EU territorial waters cannot then be sent to disembarkation platforms in an non-EU state.

Morocco and other bordering coastal states must apply the 1951 Geneva Convention and must be considered safe before allowing them to host any disembarkation platform.

Earlier this year, the European Commission tasked the EU's asylum support office to analyse the safety of both Morocco and Tunisia.

But neither country has voiced any interest in hosting such platforms.

The two countries were then presented over the summer by EU heads of state and government as a possible solution to further stem boat migrants from taking to the seas in their efforts to reach Europe.

The concepts, initially hatched by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), were met with disdain by north African states, who viewed them as a veiled attempt by the EU to outsource its problem back onto them.

Furthermore, not a single EU state has expressed any interest to host a controlled centre.

Human rights defenders have also raised alarm given the poor treatment of thousands of refugees and migrants stuck in over-crowded camps on the Greek islands.

Attempting to replicate similar camps or centres elsewhere has only heightened those fears.

But the EU says it is pressing ahead anyway.

"The disembarkation arrangement, the discussion, is proceeding in the Council," said Vincet Piket, a senior official in the EU's foreign policy branch, the EEAS.

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