Migrants in Niger, one of the nations the EU has been partnering with to stem migration
Migrants in Niger, one of the nations the EU has been partnering with to stem migration

The EU has partnered with the Egyptian and Libyan governments, among others, to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. How does this policy work and whom does it benefit?

In 2015, over a million migrants entered the European Union. Since then, European authorities have been working with countries in the Middle East and Africa to try and prevent migrants from reaching the continent. The European Union has entered into agreements with countries such as Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Tunisia to help manage their borders and has been economically and politically supporting these countries, as well as providing them with border management equipment. The policy of transferring border management to third countries outside the EU is called "border externalization."

The organization, OpenMigration, says the main issue with the externalization process "is that, within its context, negotiations begin with third countries without first assessing the human rights standards in those places or the way local governments handle immigration issues." OpenMigration points to EU dealings with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose human rights abuses led the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant for his arrest. OpenMigration later said that, "countries like Eritrea, Sudan and Niger: dictatorships that had been previously excluded from negotiations with the European Union have suddenly become key actors in the management of migration issues."  

Other nations that the EU deals with include Libya, a divided country stuck in a civil war whose authorities often detain migrants in appalling conditions. Egypt is another main EU partner in preventing  migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Italy or Greece. It has a military controlled government that allegedly killed hundreds of ex-president Mohmmad Morsi's supporters in August 2013. And in 2015 and 2016, the EU made deals with Turkey to stem the flow of migration, a country that has arrested thousands of civilians and silenced journalists since a military coup in July 2016.

Who profits from this policy?    

The EU provides extra development aid as an incentive for these countries to strike agreements with the EU. In 2015, a summit between European and African countries established a 3.39 billion euro Trust Fund for Africa. This aid was to be divided between countries such as Libya, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. It is based on a policy of providing conditional aid if these countries deter migration. If not, the EU can withdraw the funds.

Big companies also benefit from the EU border externalization policies. In May 2018, the Transnational Institute released a report by Mark Akkerman called "Expanding the Fortress: The policies, the profiteers and the people shaped by EU's border externalization program" which details the companies profiting from border externalization, namely companies that are paid by EU border agency Frontex to deliver military equipment to nations such as Tunisia and Turkey. French arms company, Thales, profits by providing these countries with border surveillance technology. Airbus received money from the German government to provide border security equipment to Tunisia. Turkish company Otokar also receives EU money for reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles for border security.

Is the policy in line with EU values?

The European Union's fundamental values, according to the European Parliament, are "respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law." But many question whether such a border externalization policy is upholding these rights.

Susi Dennison, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is very critical. "I don't think that EU states are doing much to protect the rights of migrants," she told InfoMigrants. "I think migrants have been deliberbately dehumanized in the political discussion. This is a tactic that most EU countries have chosen to deploy as they think this needs to be a conversation about numbers of people in order to keep it manageable."

Dr. Raphael Bossong, from the German Institute for International Politics and Security, told InfoMigrants that EU governments are using numbers to measure the effectiveness of these policies. They are also politically driven, as European governments worry about reelection chances if they are not seen to be taking a tough stance on migration. "There is political pressure to bring the number of migrants entering the EU down," he told InfoMigrants.  "There has to be some type of cooperation with third countries. The question is how far you go in this cooperation." 

Bossong says methods such as closing borders and working with third countries are effective in bringing migration numbers down to some degree. But believes it is "unrealistic" for European policymakers to think they can bring the numbers down much further than they currently are.  


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