'If you don't have strong human rights safeguards, what the EU can essentially end up doing is outsourcing human rights abuses'
CAIRO - Between Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of heads of state from across the European Union and the African continent sat down to discuss the refugee crisis in Valletta, Malta.
The Valletta Summit saw the most significant bilateral meeting on the situation around the Mediterranean since the summer, slap-bang in the middle of the world’s most perilous migration route.
The summit will also see two bilateral processes - Rabat and Khartoum, headquartered in Morocco and Egypt respectively - implemented on the southern side of the Mediterranean.
However, perhaps the most concrete result from the summit so far has been the signing into existence of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa - a new economic instrument that has attracted some criticism from both African leaders and rights groups.
Through the fund, the European Commission has allocated 1.8bn euros ($1.94bn) “from different financial instruments under the EU budget” to support African states through economic and development programmes, projects supporting basic services and improving governance, as well as “migration management". The summit’s draft and finalised documents often talk about addressing migration “at its roots”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking at the launch of the fund, said on Thursday: “Through its long-standing development cooperation over the years, the EU has been substantially contributing to tackling the root causes of poverty and migration. Today, we are taking a step further.”
The fund would work to address “the root causes of irregular migration and promoting economic and equal opportunities, security and development,” Juncker said.
While some African leaders have balked at the amounts in the fund, given almost double that figure is headed for Turkey, it is this talk of migration management - considered by some aid and human rights organisations as an EU rubric for measures including everything from legal migration to border control and externalisation policies - that has left organisations concerned that the summit’s intention could be to present a rhetoric of development on the one hand, while pursuing border control on the other.
In a position paper released a fortnight before the summit, Oxfam EU also presented several concerns about the outcome of the summit and how the African trust fund in particular might be used in the future.
Oxfam said that “further aid provided in the context of migration must be in alignment with the development needs of the recipient country and its people … not aimed at addressing a perceived problem for Europe”.
Oxfam’s paper warned that development aid should not be released on conditions that a recipient state should meet, including “agreements on readmission, stronger border control or stifling of mobility within Africa, cooperation on organised crime,” and other areas not directly related to attempts to tackle or eradicate poverty.
However, according to sources party to a string of meetings leading up to Valletta, including a late October drafting session in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, European officials have repeatedly talked about development aid as a tool or bargaining chip in negotiations on migration south of the Mediterranean.
“The pretty clear message from a number of member states is that from their perspective development aid is one of the few tools at their disposal to incentivise other states to cooperate,” said Oxfam’s EU Conflict & Humanitarian Policy Advisor, Sara Tesorieri, speaking to Middle East Eye after attending the summit in Malta.
Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, told MEE: “The EU is using whatever leverage it has in the same way that African countries are using their leverage to try to get concessions from the EU.”
One of EU states’ repeated aims has been to sign off on readmission and return agreements with African states.
Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, said that this insistence on pushing these agreements ran the risk of a “trading off on human rights”.
“If you do not have very strong procedural and human rights safeguards, what the EU can essentially end up doing is outsourcing human rights abuses,” McGowan told MEE.
The various EU financial instruments that make up the emergency trust fund include several lump sums of money from the European Development Fund (EDF), an EU fund designed to fight poverty in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Member states are also being invited to contribute, with a required minimum set at $3.23mn. According to a statement by the European Commission dated 23 September, Italy has already pledged $10.8mn while, so far, several member states including Germany, France, Spain and Luxembourg have met the 3mn euro minimum. This is still way short of the European Commission’s original call: for member states to match the $1.94bn pledged by the Commission itself.
These sources of funding are more flexible in terms of where they can go and what they can fund, whereas EDF money follows strict regulations about funds going towards economic development and welfare. Still, Teseorieri and McGowan both warned that organisations are concerned about the “transparency” of these funding sources and how they will be implemented.
Rights abuses are also a major concern.
Sunderland told MEE that the political aspects of post-Valletta projects are “more salient,” as opposed to the trust fund itself.
“It’s [about] the use of development projects to put a fig leaf over human rights abuses and basically condone otherwise problematic governments all in the name of stemming migration flows,” she explained.
An April 2015 document for the Steering Committee of the Khartoum Process seen by MEE mentions an Italian-led project to establish a “training centre” at the Police Academy in Cairo. HRW has already noted that this centre, intended for law enforcement officers from all of the African states participating in the Khartoum Process, is to be headquartered in “a country whose security forces have pervasive impunity for abuses, including enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions". This autumn Egyptian border guards shot an eight-year-old Syrian girl dead as her family attempted to flee the coast towards Europe.
There are several important case studies that illustrate how this approach has been used in the past. In the 2000s, Europe turned its focus to Mauritania, then an increasingly important transit and departure point for sub-Saharan Africans hoping to reach the other side of the Mediterranean.
A 2009-2010 report by academic and activist network Migreurop argued at the time that, “Following the example of other countries such as Morocco, Mauritania [had to] show that it fights ‘illegal’ immigration effectively in order to continue receiving credits from the EU."
Rights groups have warned that processes like this also do not sufficiently protect rights when border control is outsourced.
A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch, Stemming the Flow: Abuses against Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees, found that the European Union and specifically Italy had outsourced controls to Libya and forcibly returned new arrivals back across the sea without sufficient guarantee of protection or consideration of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.