The EU's border agency Frontex is planning new operations in both Senegal and Mauritania. According to an NGO, Statewatch, Frontex will be going to the two African countries to try and block "irregular migration."
Frontex is planning to deploy "vessels, surveillance equipment and carry out operational tasks" in Senegal and Mauritania, claimed a non-governmental organization, Statewatch, in a press release on July 21.
The NGO, which aims to "monitor the state and civil liberties in Europe", also said that the EU border agency is due to "open a risk analysis cell" in the capital of Mauritania Nouakchott in the autumn.
Statewatch said its information was taken from two "action files" it obtained from Frontex, which put a "heavy emphasis on the prevention of irregular departures towards the Canary Islands" as well as "increased cooperation on border management and anti-smuggling activities."
Both Senegal and Mauritania are source countries and transit points for migrants hoping to make it towards the Canary Islands, and on, further north, across the Mediterranean to Europe. Up until now, according to a reform of the law dating from 2019, Frontex could only operate in third countries when they shared a border with an EU Member State.
Now, with these action plans, it appears that the border agency can operate anywhere it wants, as long as it is based on legal agreements in those territories. According to Statewatch, the new agreements could confer legal immunity on Frontex employees operating in these countries, regardless of the circumstances of any problems which may arise, reports German news agency EPD.
Details: Status agreements underway
Statewatch claims that the EU began negotiating status agreements in both countries earlier in July. These would reportedly allow Frontex to operate in both countries, by providing a legal basis by which to do so.
In the lead-up to these status agreements, Frontex wrote two action plans, says StateWatch, which publishes the main points on its website. The first is with Senegal and is dated June 7, 2022. Both plans contain four main actions which essentially involve sounding out the authorities in each country, what their national priorities and needs are and working out how Frontex could start working with their authorities to combat migration.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioners visited Senegal between February 9-11, 2022. This visit is mentioned in Frontex's document, and, acccording to them the talks held between EU and Senegalese officials were geared towards the "fight against irregular immigration."
Following this visit, Action 1 in the Senegal plan mentions a comprehensive EU-Senegal partnership on migration and mobility, by taking "stock of Senegal’s political context and suggestions in order to agree on next steps and a calender."
Action 2 proposes a "working arrangement with Frontex in the short term, depending on the will and the interest of the Senegalese authorities to conclude such an arrangement."
Depending on that response from the Senegalese authorities, notes the file, Action 3 would then be to "initiate steps towards the negotiation and, in the medium term, the conclusion of a status agreement allowing direct operational support from Frontex to Senegal, particularly in terms of prevention of crime and irregular migration, including in the fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings." The EU has now approved the negotiation of that status agreement.
Lastly in Action 4 of the first document, the paper suggests working on joint programming. This appears to be about what the EU can offer to Senegal and vice versa, in return for tighter cooperation on migration policy. Suggestions included offering Senegal the possibility of a "Talent Partnership" with voluntary EU Member states, and implementing "an anti-smuggling operational partnership and explor[ing] possibilities to strengthen cooperation and exchange of information with Europol."
In the document, Frontex would hope to "make use of the Team Europe Initiative (TEI) on the Western Mediterranean and Atlantic route to frame cooperation projects on migration issues." It would also "promote cooperation with Frontex on border management also in the broader framework of cooperation and exchanges with the Senegalese authorities.”
On July 4, the European Union agreed to authorize the "opening of negotiations on a status agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Senegal on operational activities carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in the Republic of Senegal."
In the second action document, Mauritania is the focus of strategy. The document is dated June 7, 2022. Here, Frontex hoped to identify what the main priorities were in the migration relationship between the two parties.
The EU then hopes to "support the National Migration Management Strategy, and continue its maritime strategy actions, as well as the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, support for reintegration, fight against smuggling networks, deployment of an additional surveillance and intervention unit, creation of jobs for young people, [and] involvement of the diaspora in the development of the country."
Action 2 involves proposing "to the Mauritanian authorities the holding of an informal migration dialogue between the EU and Mauritania, focusing notably on the fight against migrant smuggling and border management." This would, according to the document, identify possibilities for Frontex support.
'A working arrangement'
Action 3 details how, on the basis of these informal talks, Frontex would expect to "finalize the exchanges on a working arrangement" that already took place in the first semester of 2022. If the Mauritanian authorities show interest in this step, Action 4 would be to begin diplomatic steps and conclude a status agreement "allowing direct operational support from Frontex at Mauritania’s borders, in particular in the area of prevention of irregular departures, but also in the fight against migrant smuggling and other areas of interest to Mauritania, in the framework of the Frontex mandate."
Again, the EU authorized the opening of a status agreement between the EU and Mauritania, including operational activities carried out by Frontex in Mauritania, on July 4, 2022.
Although there are no fixed dates when, and if, Frontex might begin operations in the two countries, there are already a wealth of agreements between the EU and both Senegal and Mauritania, which would appear to set the stage for the ones identified by Statewatch.
For instance, the EU and Mauritania have been working together in various ways since the signing of the Cotonou agreement in 2000. In 2014, the EU became Mauritania's first international donor, stated an EU document on the relationship between the bloc and Nouakchott. At that point, the EU "allocated €195 million to Mauritania, to enable the implementation of access projects in various areas."
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