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Europe tries to buy its way out of the migration crisis

New “incentives” pile pressure on third countries

Tom Westcott/IRIN
Young Somali migrants who were transferred to Al Khoms detention centre after being rescued from a foundering vessel

This week’s European Council meeting was dominated by reactions to Britain’s referendum result, but on Tuesday EU leaders took a decision that has far-reaching consequences for people forced or wishing to migrate from more than a dozen countries in Africa and Asia.

Under the Partnership Framework with third countries, which the council adopted, 16 countries of origin and transit for migrants will be pressured to cooperate with the EU’s goals on curbing migration. Their compliance is to be rewarded with various “incentives” including development aid and trade deals. Non-cooperation will be met with unspecified “negative incentives” – presumably the withholding of aid and trade.

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting, 124 NGOs issued a joint statement condemning the proposed policy and urging EU leaders to reject it in favour of more sustainable and long-term strategies for migration management and the delivery of development aid.

“This new Partnership Framework risks cementing a shift towards a foreign policy that serves one single objective, to curb migration, at the expense of European credibility and leverage in defence of fundamental values and human rights,” noted the statement.

A new low

Sara Tesorieri, a Brussels-based policy advisor with Oxfam, one of the NGOs behind the statement, described the council’s decision to “swiftly implement” the framework as “short-sighted” but not unexpected.

“It’s the logical and unfortunate nadir of a trajectory that’s been there for some time,” she told IRIN.

Most recently, the EU promised Turkey various incentives in return for its cooperation in accepting migrants and refugees returned from Greece. And at the Valletta Summit last November, the multi-billion-euro Trust Fund for Africa was launched with the aim of tackling the “root causes” of irregular migration from Africa through an assortment of development and migration management programmes.

According to Tesorieri, the Partnership Framework goes a significant step further by recasting “the entire relationship with a third country around the single objective of stopping migration”.

“For us as a development organisation, we’re extremely disturbed that all instruments of the EU and its member states are going to be leveraged to achieve this,” she said.

“If it’s really implemented in the way described, it’s a huge blow to the EU’s credibility. We’re already seeing other refugee-hosting countries citing the attitude of Europe as an example perhaps they’ll follow.”

The knock-on effects

Last month, the Kenyan government referenced the EU’s deal with Turkey as part of its justification for closing down the Dadaab refugee complex by November, and returning nearly 350,000 Somalis to a highly insecure and uncertain future back home.

Aspasia Papadopoulou of the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles said that EU pressure could result in “partner” countries with already patchy human rights records such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, increasing the use of measures such as detention and border enforcement.

“We’re very worried,” she told IRIN.

The conclusions from the council’s meeting on Tuesday list the first priority as rapidly increasing returns of irregular migrants “by applying temporary arrangements” where readmission agreements are not in place. In the past, a lack of readmission agreements with countries of origin in Africa and elsewhere has been one of the major barriers to ramping up deportations.

The next priority is: “to create and apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade”.

Bargaining chips and crackdowns

Partner countries will be well aware that they have their own leverage in the form of would-be migrants and asylum seekers hoping to reach Europe. Papadopoulou said it was unlikely they would accept “any offer that’s going to be thrown to them”.

“They’ll negotiate hard to get what they want out it,” she told IRIN.

According to Tesorieri, a project launched this summer to better manage migration through the Horn of Africa with 40 million euros in funding from the Trust Fund for Africa, has already seen “countries coming in with shopping lists”.

The Sudanese government, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, a man charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, has reportedly requested vehicles and equipment to help police its border with Eritrea, as well as assistance in constructing two closed reception centres in Gadaref and Kassala.

Last month, Sudanese authorities launched a crackdown on Eritreans living in Khartoum or making their way towards Libya. Hundreds of Eritreans were arrested and deported to Eritrea where they were imprisoned for leaving the country without permission.

The European Commission’s communication on the Partnership Framework provides no details on the content of country “packages” and mentions that Sudan and Eritrea are among the 16 partner countries only in a footnote. But a leaked commission document that IRIN has seen mentions a number of incentives that could be leveraged to gain Sudan’s cooperation on migration. They include debt relief and an easing of economic sanctions, but there is also a warning that “the EU should carefully consider the high reputational risk associated with its engagement with Sudan if exclusively focused on migration”.

Where’s the money coming from?

It is still unclear where eight billion euros in funding for the Partnership Framework over the next four years is going to come from, particularly in the context of multi-billion-euro funds the EU has already committed to in the past year, such as the Trust Fund for Africa, the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, and the EU Trust Fund in Response to the Syria Crisis.

A fact sheet released by the European Commission earlier this month suggests that some money will be redistributed from the Trust Fund for Africa and the Syria Trust Fund. At least two billion euros will also be drawn from the European Development Fund, Europe’s main instrument for channelling overseas development aid.

“We’re concerned about the emptying of EDF reserves,” said Tesorieri. “It’s unclear and extremely opaque how things are being redistributed in order to cover all this. Will poor people in these countries be taking the hit?”

Photo of young Somali migrants at a detention centre in Libya by Tom Westcott/IRIN

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