Wednesday

19th Jan 2022

Analysis

Will EU keep paying to keep migrants away?

  • Migrants in Libya. The EU has made deals with Libya, Turkey or Niger, to keep asylum seekers away from Europe. Now, the EU is planning to evacuate 500 migrants in Libya and send them to Rwanda (Photo: ECHO/M.Eick)

Four years since the peak of the migration crisis in Europe, member states still have not found a coordinated solution to tackle migratory consequences in an effective way.

Since populist and anti-migration governments succeed entering into European politics, the EU has made deals with several countries, such as Libya, Turkey or Niger, to keep asylum seekers away from Europe's shores.

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In February 2017, EU leaders agreed on increasing cooperation with Libya to reduce irregular immigration - providing the country with €237m to fund programmes addressing migration challenges.

But, after deadly airstrikes hit detention centres this summer around Libya's capital, Tripoli, the EU is now following plans set up by the African Union to evacuate vulnerable migrants and refugees to Rwanda.

The east African country will receive some 500 migrants evacuated from Libya, although it is unclear when this will happen, according to the New York Times.

However, the domestic situation in Rwanda concerning its own human rights abuses has not changed in recent years and according to a European Union's 2018 report, there are still "serious civil and political rights violations".

In addition to the Libyan facilities, the EU set up asylum centres in Niger in 2017, designed for the processing of refugees' status and, ultimately, for their resettlement to Europe and other countries.

Since then, Niger has accepted over 2,900 migrants.

But, as Niger heads into a presidential election in 2021, their "willingness to cooperate with Libya and the EU seems to have reached its limit," according to Camille Le Coz, policy analyst for the Brussels-based think tank Migration Policy Institute Europe, in an opinion article published by The New Humanitarian.

Turkey's dubious deal

On 18 March 2016, the EU reached a migration agreement with Turkey aiming to control the flow of irregular migrants arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands.

However, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened the EU with reopening the routes to Europe if Turkey does not receive more economic support for a resettlement plan.

"This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates," Erdogan said this week.

The new Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated on Sunday (8 September) that Erdogan "cannot threaten Europe and Greece on the question of refugees to try and obtain more money" because Turkey has received about €6bn to deal with this issue.

Within that amount, €5.6bn has been committed, with €3.5bn contracted via 85 projects for humanitarian assistance, education or health care.

Discussions with Turkey "should not take place with threats" but rather with "language used by good neighbours," Mitsotakis said.

According to a commission's spokeswoman, the EU will continue to fulfil their commitments under the EU-Turkey agreement, that has already provided "a safe and legal path for over 23,000 Syrian refugees".

"We trust that we can continue this rock in good faith with our Turkish partners," she added.

According to the EU commission, Turkey hosts almost four million registered refugees - out of which nearly 3.6 million are Syrians.

The economic support was spent throughout Turkey and especially the ten most affected provinces - Istanbul, Sanliurfa, Hatay, Gaziantep, Mersin, Adana, Bursa, Kilis, Izmir, and Kahramanmaras.

The total number of arrivals from Turkey into the EU in 2018 was 50,789 compared to 41,720 in 2017 - a 22 percent increase.

Italy's new migration approach

More than any other EU country, Italy invested during recent years significant resources to try to maintain away the flow of migrants coming to the Italian costs, mostly from Libya.

Italy took the lead in providing material and technical assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard, whose aim is to intercept migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean sea and return them to Libyan arbitrary detention centres.

According to the Human Right Watch (HRW), the EU in cooperation with Libya (a country with no refugee law and no asylum system) is contributing to a cycle of "extreme abuse".

Migrants returned to detention centres in Libya "face inhuman and degrading conditions and the risk of torture, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labor," reported HRW.

Italy's far-right League leader Matteo Salvini toughened his anti-migration policy during his 14 months as the interior minister, closing ports to migrant rescue boats, creating laws which threatened charity vessels with high fines or posting racist commentaries on social media.

However, the new Italian government, a coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), is expected to adopt a different approach.

The announcement of the new interior minister Luciana Lamorgese could be read as a sign of a break from the era of Salvini, as she has no party affiliation.

The issue of migrants is likely to be the first item on her agenda, specially since the PS has pushed for "new law on immigration is needed".

"This turning point is good. Now it's time to change Italy," said the PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti. "We have stopped Salvini and the mere announcement of this phase is making Italy a protagonist again in Europe."

This article was updated at 11:54 on 10 September, 2019 to note that the EU is following plans by the African Union to evacuate migrants to Rwanda.

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