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25th Jan 2021

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EU development aid used to put European police in Senegal

  • Police in Senegal deal with a street disturbance - they will soon be joined by European officers, paid for by EU development aid, to tackle people-smuggling (Photo: Serigne diagne)

In a matter of weeks, some €9m of EU development aid will be used to shore up the police in Senegal, West Africa, to help crack down on migrant smuggling.

While such EU-funded development projects on security are nothing new, the latest effort in Senegal is a novelty.

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  • Senegal and foreign police following an anti-terror training exercise (Photo: Republic of Senegal)

The EU call it "COP", a project acronym short for 'common operational partnerships', that aims to get police in Europe on active service on the continent.

But aside from the broader question of using EU development aid to boost African police patrols, the COP in Senegal is viewed by EU policy-makers as a stepping stone towards establishing so-called "joint investigation teams".

Some joint investigations teams between African and European counterparts do already exist. Spanish and French police officers, for instance, have been operating in Niger since 2017.

But convincing other, and often poorer and less developed countries, to repeat the Niger experience can be tricky.

To help ease the hesitation and build up trust, EU policy-makers designed the COP.

Managed by the European Commission's Directorate-General for development, the COP can be anything from job mentoring to providing technical equipment.

In Senegal, it means fine tuning Dakar's ministries of interior, defence, finance, and justice so that they better share and manage information dealing with migrant smuggling.

But its final objective is always the same.

Over time, a COP will become a joint investigation team whereby police from Europe can work on African soil to crack down on migrant smuggling.

The Austrian connection

The plan is to then share intelligence with other capitals in Europe through a so-called "regional joint operation platform".

Based out of Vienna, the first joint operation office was set up in 2016 and then promoted under the Austrian EU presidency.

The office is run by a unit inside the Austrian criminal intelligence service.

EUobserver has learned that late last year, a brigade general from that same Austrian unit personally appealed to Italy's far-right interior and deputy minister, Matteo Salvini, to set up a similar branch in Sicily.

Salvini agreed. The second platform, based out of Catania, an eastern port city in Sicily, is scheduled for a September launch. Tunisians are mulling a third platform and Turkey may also join up.

The plan is to then merge and expand the initial network of three, joining up with the COP in Senegal that was first funded by EU development money.

The Austrian criminal intelligence service is ambitious and effective.

Earlier this month, they dispatched two agents to North Macedonia to collect 47 mobile phones from suspected migrant smugglers.

In three days, they cracked 30 of those phones and handed over the data to Skopje.

The whole points to a multi-agency approach spanning internal security and development aid when it comes to counter migrant smuggling and the money is flowing.

In March, Neven Mimica, the European commissioner for development, announced €115.5m to tackle a spate of violence and terrorist attacks in the Sahel and Lake Chad region.

Some €5.5m of that money will being going to the joint-investigate team in Niger, who had dismantled 33 criminal networks in the past two years.

Mimica wants to see similar results elsewhere but critics warn that development aid risks being instrumentalised as a political tool to stem migration flows.

In one study, the European confederation of Relief and Development NGOs (Concord) found that development aid support in Niger was often conditioned to migration control.

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