10th Dec 2023

Auditors: EU migrant return deals 'encourage' arrivals

  • Most people ordered to return are not, in fact, sent back to their home countries (Photo: Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI))
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Ineffective EU deals to return migrants to home countries are "encouraging" others to come illegally, say EU auditors.

"The current EU return system suffers greatly from inefficiencies that lead us to the opposite of the intended effect," said Leo Brincat from the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors.

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"To be practical, and down to earth, rather than encouraging or discouraging, they end up actually encouraging illegal migration," he told reporters on Monday (13 September).

Brincat's conclusion appeared to be more of an assumption, citing a 2015 European Commission report on migration , as supporting evidence.

But his comments also came on the back of a wider report by the EU auditors on EU Readmission Cooperation with Third Countries, also published on Monday.

They also follow a tense summer standoff with Belarus, whose dictatorial regime suspended its 2020 readmission agreement with the EU while sending thousands of mostly Iraqi migrants across its border into neighbouring countries like Lithuania.

Similar standoffs with Turkey last year, as well as with Morocco and the Ceuta and Melilla Spanish enclaves, have further framed migration in the EU as a security threat and risk.

With limited progress on the European Commission's proposals to overhaul migration and asylum laws, the focus has turned to shoring up external borders with fences and walls while outsourcing responsibility to other countries.

Brinket's audit looked at the 10 countries with the highest absolute numbers of so-called "non-returned irregular migrants" during the 2014-2018 period.

It also noted that talks over the past five years have resulted in "limited progress in concluding negotiations of EU readmission agreements."

One of the biggest stumbling blocks, according to the report, is the inclusion of "third country national clause" in the agreements.

The clause allows the return of people to a country which they transited before entering the EU. Brincat said many oppose it, with some saying it has no basis in international law.

EU tough stand likely to backfire

The EU has some 24 agreements around the world.

Most are not working as intended, pushing the European Commission to threaten visa restrictions as the EU toughens its approach on returns.

The point was made repeatedly by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson over the past year.

"We're using the political pressure, we're using the legal pressure to a third country to have them to comply with cooperation on readmission," she said in August.

Johansson is currently renegotiating several readmission agreements, which have since been linked to a revised visa code.

It had also reviewed return cooperation by 39 countries in an internal document, leaked by the London-based civil liberties organisation, Statewatch.

Similar comments were made by European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas.

He linked EU billions in development aid, under the so-called Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) with returns in order "to make sure procedures are respected and working in practice".

But Brincat's report drew a more complex picture of why readmission agreements are not working as intended. He said the less formal the agreements are, the better the chance they have of succeeding.

"It gives the engaging parties much more flexibility," he said.

"You cannot force cooperation by threatening a country to fall into place," he said, noting that there is an "element of trust" that must be respected.

The EU has concluded readmission agreements with: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Georgia, Hong Kong, Macao, Montenegro, Moldova, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine.

It also has non-binding readmission agreements with Afghanistan, Guinea, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Gambia and Ivory Coast. And it has been in talks with Morocco since 2000, Algeria (2001), China (2002), Tunisia (2014), Jordan (2015), and Nigeria (2016).

EU commission calls Frontex its new 'Return Agency'

The EU's law enforcement agency Frontex has been helping member states return unwanted migrants. The European Commission now wants it to take a lead role, while hoping to boost the number of voluntary deportations.

Internal paper lays out EU splits on 'returning' migrants

An internal document from January outlines the divisions among EU states when it comes the European Commission's proposal on "return sponsorships". Although positions may have since shifted, the document provides a glimpse into the Council's thinking.

EU mulls visa restrictions over migrant returns

The European Commission drafted a confidential report outlining the cooperation of migrant returns in 39 countries. It is now ready to start imposing visa restrictions for those that don't take back their nationals.

EU sends mixed message on Turkey as 'safe' haven

Greece has declared Turkey a safe country for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria and Somalia. But the European Commission appears to have shed doubt on the claim, saying individual cases still need to be assessed.

Auditors slam EU Commission on green investments

The European Court of Auditors called for more consistent EU action on sustainable finance. The European Commission, by its own estimation, will need to invest €1 trillion a year to transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.

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