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27th Feb 2024

EU seeks migrant deal with Egypt in January

  • Syrians in Egypt in 2017 told EUobserver they had no other option but to transit through the country (Photo: euobserver)
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The European Commission is hoping to reach a new agreement with Egypt in January as it steps up efforts to curtail irregular migration towards Europe.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the date in a letter ahead of the ongoing EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (15 December), telling leaders they aim to adopt a joint-statement on "a strategic and comprehensive partnership" with Egypt.

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The Brussels-executive had already hinted on a possible anti-migrant deal with Cairo, on par with the controversial agreement signed with Tunisia over the summer, only days after war broke out in the Gaza Strip.

The latest manoeuvre comes as the European Union appears increasingly determined to get countries of origin and transit to shoulder much of the work when it comes to preventing people from arriving in Europe through irregular means.

And the announcement comes only days after Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won a sweeping victory and a new six-year term — in the absence of any real opposition.

The victory in Cairo came amid reports of stepped up repression and crackdown on supporters of a rival former presidential hopeful. Human rights organisations say more than 3,700 people have been arbitrarily detained between April 2022 to May 2023.

The EU now is set to deliver a list of equipment at the request of the country's interior ministry.

Cairo also stands to receive an additional €115m in EU funds to shore up its border and fight against smugglers.

The money is also slated to help Sudanese refugees and support others who are willing to return home on a voluntary basis, according to von der Leyen's letter.

This comes on top of some €110m already allocated last year for Egypt's border and coast guard, with a delivery of the first of three boats sometime in December.

Egypt is not alone.

The commission is also seeking to lure in Mauritania with special deals to tackle migration, including millions of EU funds as part of financing agreements.

And it has listed Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tunisia, Nigeria, Senegal and The Gambia as top destinations to return rejected asylum seekers with the help of the EU's border agency Frontex.

Contacts are also being discussed to deliver 14 patrol boats, five large rescue boats, a radar system, and an electronic maintenance centre to Tunisia.

New deadline of 18 December

The whole comes as pressure for an agreement on asylum rules continue to mount.

The co-legislators are now hoping for a breakthrough on 18 December following years of closed-door talks and intense political pressure.

"We cannot go to the European elections in June without an agreement on migration," said European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, earlier in the week.

The view was echoed by von der Leyen. "Agreement on the key planks of the pact by the end of this year will allow essential proposals to be in law before the European elections," she said.

Co-legislators had hoped for an agreement on some of the files when they gathered for morning to midnight crunch talks on 7 December.

But nothing was announced, moving the latest crunch talks to 18 December as a possible final date for an agreement.

The plan is get a majority in the Council, representing member states, leaving any consensus agreement by the wayside given objections — primarily led by Hungary and the outgoing government in Poland.

Fears are mounting among rights defenders that the European Parliament is ready to make major concessions when it comes to prioritising relocations of asylum seekers arriving on EU territories.

Civil liberty defenders at the London-based Statewatch had also earlier leaked an EU presidency paper that claims the parliament had already given into most of the demands made by EU states.

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