16th Apr 2024

Gaza war 'pressing' EU on Egypt anti-migrant deal

  • Thousands of residents in Gaza are sheltering at UN-run schools (Photo: UNRWA)
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The prospect of Palestinians fleeing the Gaza Strip into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula appears to have spooked the European Commission into fast tracking a possible migrant-busting deal with Cairo.

"After this weekend's events, the need to engage with Egypt is even more pressing," said Margaritis Schinas, the vice-president of the European Commission, on Tuesday (10 October) at a migration conference in Vienna.

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Schinas made the comment while referencing a non-binding agreement signed over the summer with Tunisia. "We are also stepping up now in this same area of cooperation with partners with Egypt. We will work with Egypt in the same vein," he said, in a nod to the Tunisia agreement.

When pressed, a European Commission spokesperson did not respond as of publication to a request to clarify and confirm the substance of Schinas' comments.

The Israeli siege in Gaza has so far internally displaced around 270,000 Palestinians. With the Rafah border crossing closed with Egypt, few if any, of Gaza's 2.3 million residents will able to flee.

Securing a Tunisia-like deal with Egypt is likely to raise eyebrows given the country's autocratic leadership under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his efforts to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood, while eroding basic political rights and freedoms.

The EU commission had already last year launched the first phase of an €80m border management programme with Egypt.

But the Tunis agreement has also come under intense scrutiny by human-rights defenders amid numerous reports of abuse against black African migrants by Tunisian authorities.

Although the so-called memorandum of understanding includes everything from energy to job creation, the primary objective is to stop people from leaving Tunisia on boats towards Italy.

Tunisia priorities

An internal document from the EU's delegation in Tunisia, seen by EUobserver, breaks down several funding streams for migration.

And it shows priority is given to secure Tunisian borders, while other measures to protect refugees receives significantly fewer funds.

Tunisia is set to receive a combined total of €253m to deal with migration, spanning €148m in ongoing projects as well as €105m linked to a 16 July memorandum of understanding.

Of that only six percent or just over (€15m) is for the protection of migrants and refugees, while 57 percent or (€144m) is for shoring up border security.

A further breakdown of the €105m, linked to the memorandum of understanding, offers additional insights.

Some 62 percent of that money has been set aside for police dealing with search and rescue (€17m), border patrol boats (€18m) and border management like radars (€30m).

Another 17 percent or €18m is to counter migrant smuggling, while a combined 16 percent is for returning Tunisians back to Tunisia (€4m) and sending people back to their home countries from Tunisia (€13m).

Meanwhile, only €5m or around 5 percent has been budgeted for the protection of migrants and refugees in Tunisia.

Another funding stream of some €127m had also been announced in late September, following a sudden large arrival of people on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Of that — €67m is linked to migration, including €25m in immediate support and another €42m in medium term support.

The €25m in immediate support is spread out among international aid agencies, as well as equipment and spare parts for the Tunisian coast guard.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) got €13m to help with returns, while the UN refugee agency €8m for protection measures. The remaining €4m goes to the Tunisian coast guard.

The €42m in medium term support deals with contracts to be signed this year for money to be dispersed in 2024. And it covers everything from equipment, boats, and engines for Tunisia's coast guard and navy.

Earlier this month, Tunisia's autocrat president Kais Saied said he rejected the EU's "charity" money after having received €60m of budget support from an on-going EU programme to support the country's economic recovery from Covid.

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