• The President of the European Commission has expressed support for proposals made by the European People’s Party to offshore asylum procedures amid concerns.
  • The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) continues to report the presence of migrants at sea to the Libyan Coast Guard despite mounting evidence of violations of migrants’ rights.
  • The European Commission continues to face scrutiny over its deal with Tunisia amidst reports on migrant children experiencing various forms of violence in the North African country.
  • Egypt expects to receive between €4.6 and €6.5 billion through the latest EU “cash for migrant control” pact.
  • Amidst constant mass killing, displacement and starvation in Gaza, a ship carrying humanitarian aid departed from Cyprus towards the Strip.

Ahead of the European Parliament (EP) elections which will take place between 6-9 June, the president of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, expressed her support for the centre-right European People’s Party’s (EPP) proposals to offshore asylum.  “We have to lower the number of arrivals,” EPP leader Manfred Weber said, adding that “This message is important for our political campaign”. The EC President, who is also the EPP’s lead candidate in the EP elections, defended her evocation of the third country concept despite concerns by civil society organisations. “Whatever we do will be in full respect of our obligations under EU and international law. The concept of safe third-countries is not new. It is already established in the EU law,” she said. However, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said that the reform of the EU’s migration policy will not lead to Rwanda-style plans. “Do we need to work with third countries to manage migration? My answer is definitely yes. We are already doing that and it’s necessary to do it even more. Nobody can manage migration alone,” she said. She added: “Should we send away people that are on the EU territory applying for asylum to a third country? My answer is no. (We’re) not open for that in the Pact.” Meanwhile, Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), commented on the EU’s expansion of third country concept: “They keep standards low so that Europe does not outsource its responsibilities to them”. “The third country concept undermines the Refugee Convention and is incompatible with the EU treaty requirement article 78, which requires the EU’s common policy on asylum to be “in accordance with” the Refugee Convention”, Woollard explained.

Following criticism recently made by SOS Humanity, which reported on a Libyan patrol boat obstructing a rescue operation causing the death of a migrant on 2 March, Hans Leijtens, the executive director of Frontex defended his agency’s co-operation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. He told the Associated Press that the agency is required by law to inform Libyan authorities of the presence of boats carrying migrants in difficulty in the search and rescue (SAR) area of responsibility of the country. “We must inform them: not doing so would mean playing with the lives of migrants […] and it is a game I will never play”, he said. Leijtens added that under international law, Frontex is required to report the presence of ships in difficulty to the “competent authorities: if [the ship] is in Libyan waters, this also includes the authorities Libyans”. Despite years of scandals, criticisms, and allegations of inaction, complicity in illegal pushbacks, and other issues related to rescuing or protecting migrants, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson stated in a conference that she was “quite satisfied with the way Frontex works”, adding that “a major reform of Frontex” was not needed. Meanwhile, Amnesty International published a report to highlight the responsibility of powerful military and political actors in Libya in the catastrophic death toll resulting from the Derna floods and in the mismanagement of response to the victims’ needs. According to the report, the Libyan authorities excluded refugees and migrants affected by the floods from financial compensation. The authorities also failed to address the specific needs and circumstances of refugees and migrants after the floods, including by failing to facilitate their evacuations from disaster-hit areas and returns to their countries of origin, or to provide information to the families of the dead or missing. As 521 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard on 3-9 March, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights together with representatives from the NGO Refugees from Libya were in the International Criminal Court on 12 March to follow up on the investigation into crimes against humanity, including enslavement, arbitrary detention and sexual violence, committed by the Libyan authorities against migrants and refugees.

In Tunisia, almost 1,500 unaccompanied children approached the offices of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to seek support and asylum after fleeing conflict in Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Eritrea in 2023. According to the Guardian, 12% of migrant arrivals to Italy from the North African country in 2023 were unaccompanied minors. Reportedly, the vast majority of children experience a variety of abuses, including arbitrary detention, trafficking, sexual violence and labour exploitation during their journeys. Benjamin, a migrant who had walked from Algeria back to Al Amra in Tunisia after being expelled to the Libyan border, said: “I saw a boy on the bus and as soon as I saw him, I felt uncomfortable. He was a Guinean and told me he was 14”. “The police beat us with batons and chains as we got off the bus at the Algerian border, but they caught [the boy] and tortured him. When we were in the Algerian desert, I didn’t see him again”, he added. Fatmata, a 23-year-old migrant, also living in Al Amra, said women and girls ha=d been sexually harassed: “You’re begging so they use their advantage over you and ask for sex. Some girls do it for food”, she said. Meanwhile, after the EC transferred €150 million to Tunisia on 4 March, the EP adopted the proposal from Tineke Strik MEP on 14 March to reject the Commission’s decision. Strik told the EC President on X: “I expect you to listen to this crystal clear resolution by the EP. Stop sacrificing human rights to pursue your migration agenda”. In addition, a group of MEPs have accused the EC of refusing to answer questions on the Tunisia-EU deal and have expressed concerns that it is looking at a series of “ad hoc” deals with other African countries without regard to the state of democracy and rule of law in those countries. “It seems that we are bankrolling dictators across the region. And that is not the Europe that we want to see. That is not the place which the EU should be holding in the world,” said French MEP, Mounir Satouri.

The European Union is finalising a €4.6-€6.5 billion deal with Egypt under the “cash for migrant control” pact. The EC President and a group of national leaders, including Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, are expected to travel to Egypt to sign the agreement. While the deal has been marketed as being primarily about migration control, the number of irregular departures from Egypt has dropped to 1000 per month. “One year on and two agreements — with Tunisia and Mauritania — have been finalised, and a third — with Egypt — is close to completion”, EUobserver wrote in an op-ed, adding: “The main value of these arrangements to the EU is certainly migration control but from a public relations perspective they are not being marketed so crudely, and the funding they offer is very important, particularly to Tunisia and Mauritania.” On 10 March, the NGO Refugees Platforms in Egypt (RPE) published a statement urging the Egyptian authorities to release the Eritrean asylum seeker “S.S” who was arrested on 28 February for deportation purposes. “The RPE has obtained evidence that the detained citizen had submitted an asylum application to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt and had obtained an appointment at the end of next August. Furthermore, she was a refugee in Sudan before the outbreak of armed conflict there and was forcibly displaced among millions of others as the fighting intensified and its scope expanded. The Egyptian authorities ignored such facts in a clear violation of the rights of asylum seekers and international conventions that guarantee the freedom of individuals and their freedom of movement within the country they are in”, RPE stated.

The United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) published a situation report on 8 March on the situation in the Gaza Strip and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. According to the report, up to 1.7 million people (over 75% of the population) have been displaced across the Gaza Strip, some multiple times. Additionally, at least 30,878 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since 7 October. About 70% of those killed are reported to be women and children. Another 72,402 Palestinians have reportedly been injured. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, told the United Nations Security Council on 12 March: “We are facing now a population fighting for their own survival. Humanitarian assistance needs to get into Gaza and the European Union is working as much as we can in order to make it possible. But this is a humanitarian crisis which is not a natural disaster”. He added: “It is man-made. And when we look for alternative ways of providing support by sea or by air, we have to remind that we have to do it because the natural way of providing support through roads is being closed – artificially closed – and starvation is being used as a war arm. And when we condemn this happening in Ukraine, we have to use the same words for what’s happening in Gaza.” Additionally, an unpublished report by UNRWA reveals that some employees who were released into Gaza from Israeli detention have reported that they were pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that the agency had links to Hamas and that staff took part in the 7 October attacks. UNRWA Communications Director Juliette Touma said the agency planned to hand the information in the 11-page, unpublished report to agencies inside and outside the UN that are specialised in documenting potential human rights abuses. “When the war comes to an end there needs to be a series of inquiries to look into all violations of human rights,” she said. Amid Israel’s ongoing blockade preventing humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the Open Arms rescue ship left the port of Larnaca (Cyprus)  on 12 March, towing a barge containing approximately 200 tonnes of flour, rice and protein. The joint mission, mainly funded by the United Arab Emirates and organised by World Central Kitchen, is seen as a test for a planned maritime aid corridor for Gaza that was announced by EC President Von der Leyen and Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides. Reportedly, this delivery will barely make any change in Gaza’s forced famine crisis. Meanwhile, the EC has yet to respond to Irish and Spanish demands to review the EU’s association agreement with Israel due to concerns over possible violations of human rights law by Israel in Gaza. “We are dealing with it. We are analysing, processing it in line with the internal procedures,” the EC’s foreign policy spokesperson, Peter Stano, told the media. On 14 March, the EP adopted a resolution calling on Israel to “immediately allow and facilitate full aid delivery into and throughout Gaza via all existing crossings” and reiterating its call for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire to address the looming risk of mass starvation in Gaza and to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages”.

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