febr. 2017/ West African Observatory on Migrations
The island of Malta’s geographical location makes it an ideal link between the European and African coasts. In recent years, its location has encouraged thousands of migrants to brave the 340 km of waters separating the archipelago from the Libyan coast to get to Europe. Groups of migrants can, therefore, be seen wandering the streets of Valletta, the Maltese capital, awaiting a hypothetical regularization of their status which will allow them to continue on their way to other countries situated on the old continent.
It was this symbol of Euro-African migration that was chosen by the European Union (EU) as the venue for a summit meeting between the governments of the two continents in November 2015, with the aim of stemming the flow of African migrants arriving off the Mediterranean coasts. This summit gave rise to the Valletta process and its action plan. The Valletta process would redesign development cooperation between the European Union and Africa by making European aid conditional on the control of African migration to Europe. A five point action plan would be adopted to address the root causes of irregular migration, promote legal migration and mobility, protect and ensure the right of asylum for people fleeing conflicts, combat human trafficking, and finally, to improve the return, readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants living in Europe. A trust fund of 1.8 billion Euros was also to be set up to finance “Emergency” projects to be implemented under the Valletta Action Plan in order to block the “clandestine” arrival of African migrants in Europe.
A little more than one year after the Valletta Summit, it was time for an assessment of the situation. Thus, on the 8th and 9th February 2017, senior African and European officials returned to Malta for a meeting to evaluate the implementation of decisions taken in November 2015.
An atmosphere of security
The island of Malta was particularly suited to this follow-up meeting, almost totally closed to the outside world, and characterized as it was by its insularity. Far from their continents’ respective coasts, protected from prying eyes and any trouble, senior civil servants were left in peace to discuss the action taken to curb migration during the previous months. Although they had withdrawn to the small Maltese city of St Jullian to hold the meeting, the Westin Dragonara Resort was, nevertheless, under high surveillance. To access the meeting rooms, the hundred or so European and African delegates had to undergo security checks that included scanning their badges and a visual control of badges.
The few journalists that had had the audacity to come and cover the meeting were banned from entering the room. The lack of openness surrounding the meeting led to the impression that the parties present were extremely worried about the extent to which public opinion in their respective countries might receive negative accounts of the issues under discussion within the four walls of the hotel. Four African and European civil society organizations managed to hurdle the political, diplomatic and security obstacles and find a seat at the discussion table. Up until the very last minute, there were doubts as to whether this was going to be possible due to opposition from certain countries.
An imbalance in implementation
This was the opinion expressed by the African Union and some other African countries about the implementation of the Valletta Action Plan. From the start of the meeting and in its introductory speech, the African Union condemned the fact that its European partners were keen to place the emphasis on funding projects aimed at combating migrant trafficking and repatriating irregular migrants. It also criticized the European Union’s lack of effort in proposing legal channels for African citizens’ mobility into Europe while, on the contrary, encouraging a brain drain from Africa by promoting grants via ERASMUS plus. This imbalance was proven by the number of senior African officials denied visas and consequently prevented from participating in the follow-up meeting. Certain senior African officials condemned the way in which they had been treated in their countries’ European consulates. They had only been granted four-day visas for an official mission to Europe, placing them in a difficult situation should there be flight cancellations. The issue of legal mobility was to be the subject of bitter discussion between the European and African parties throughout the meeting.
For their part, the senior European officials congratulated themselves on having respected their commitment to increase the amount of the Emergency Trust Fund to 2.5 billion Euros in addition to the upcoming launch of the European External Investment Plan in the amount of 40 billion Euros. Each of the European countries reminded the Africans of their expectations concerning the migration policies to be implemented on their continent. Germany insisted on the need for its African partners to make more efforts to accept the readmission of irregular migrants. As for the United Kingdom, it withdrew its initial proposal to see the refugees confined to areas closest to their country of origin, near conflict zones. And all of the countries of the European Union expressed their approval for Niger’s “good policy” in fighting irregular migration. As defined by the new principle that directs how development cooperation between the European Union and Africa will pan out, the good pupils will get the most funding from the emergency trust fund: “More For More” (“You Do More, You get More”).
Competition for the crumbs from the Trust Fund
Competition between the African countries for funding was to get the better of their cohesion during the meeting. Although the way in which the trust fund functions appears very much like blackmail to the African Union, on the contrary the African countries that are considered to have priority by the EU and thus benefit most from the allocation of funds showed their satisfaction. Once again, it was left up to the African Union to explain that the real beneficiaries of funding are first and foremost the development agencies of the various European countries. This was clear in the analysis presented by the department responsible for the management of the trust fund within the EU (DEVCO) that showed that the French Development Agency, the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ), the Spanish Cooperation Agency for International Development, etc. are the primary recipients of the money from the trust fund. As is usually the case in international development, the money will be used to employ experts and European operatives to come and develop Africa in the name of Official Development Assistance. The representatives of the African Union condemned this practice, stating: “What you give to us with one hand, you take with the other”.
Nevertheless, this situation doesn’t seem to weigh heavily on some of the African countries who are happy enough to accept the crumbs offered from the trust fund, as long as they receive some money, and to implement the policies that will put a stop to migration of their citizens. Thus, presentations were made to their European partners by various African countries illustrating some of the action that their particular country had taken to block the irregular migration of their citizens in order to prove their willingness to collaborate. Niger congratulated itself on its legislative reform to curb migrant smuggling and trafficking, its arrest of several of its citizens and seizure of a hundred cars used to transport migrants from Agadez to the Libyan border. As for Ethiopia, it had arrested more than five hundred of its citizens accused of human trafficking. Other countries spoke of their efforts to install a biometric system for travel documents (passport, identity card…) and of their exchange of information with European security services. Finally, certain African countries presented missions carried out in Europe by their immigration officials to identify irregular migrants’ country of origin as proof of their commitment to combat irregular migration. Ultimately, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Guinea were the ones to receive the good news from the EUthat they were the three new African countries to be granted priority status and would now, therefore, be the recipients of the Trust Fund’s generosity. A senior African official from a country that was not considered a priority later confided to me in an informal discussion after the meeting: “It’s clear that the more irregular citizens you have in Europe, the faster you’ll be eligible to receive funding from the trust. So we’ll let them leave”. The irregular migrants belonging to the African diaspora have now become bargaining chips in obtaining European Official Development Assistance.
Civil Society was there too
During the meeting, civil society members that were present had no hesitation in condemning the lack of openness surrounding the Rabat Process, Khartoum Process and Valletta meetings during which negotiations on migration between the European Union and Africa were held. One of the major elements criticized by civil society at the very beginning of the meeting was the recent declaration of the European Council of heads of state of the 3rd February 2017 in Malta. The Council had announced their decision to support the Libyan coast guards in order to prevent departures from the Libyan coasts. This decision, intended to save lives in the Mediterranean, in fact condemns the migrants to hell in Libya. It leaves them trapped in a country that has been condemned in human rights organizations’ reports for its attacks on migrants and its detention conditions worthy of concentration camps.
Although the European Union is aware of the situation of the migrants in Libya and the atrocities to which they are subjected, it does not hesitate, for electoral reasons, to condemn them to a certain death in Libya. They tend to forget that the majority of migrants taking the Libyan route are asylum seekers that benefit from the principle of non-refoulement recognized by the Geneva Convention.
The meeting also provided civil society with an opportunity to reiterate their concerns regarding the impact that the projects financed by the Emergency Trust Fund are having on the free movement of Africans on the continent. Thus, civil society, made its voice heard in denouncing the hypocrisy of Europe that wants its own area of free movement without borders while ensuring that border management is reinforced in regions of Africa that also aspire to the free movement of people. The question of the European laissez-passer, also a source of friction between the European Union and African countries, was another sensitive subject put on the table by civil society. Unfortunately, no comment on this issue was forthcoming from any of the government parties. And to finish, the delicate questions of access to Trust Fund funding and citizen follow-up of the implementation of the Valletta Action Plan were raised. Delicate questions which also remained unanswered.
The presence of civil society around the discussion table represents a breakthrough and should be greeted by all as a victory. However the upcoming elections in Europe presage uncertain times for the Euro-African dialogue on migration. There is no doubt that EU countries will continue to reinforce security mechanisms within their migration policy to the detriment of their African partners. And that is why it is more important than ever to make sure that civil society has a strong presence at the next meetings on the various processes of Euro-African dialogue on migration.