• The European Commission has transferred €150 million to Tunisia and launched a €210 million new migration partnership with Mauritania despite concerns over human rights violations.
  • The European Ombudsman has reproached the European Commission for a lack of transparency over its ‘Do No Harm’ policy amid ongoing interception of migrant boats.
  • After four months of brutal violence in Gaza, the European Parliament has called for a permanent and immediate ceasefire, and the European Commission has allocated additional funding to Palestinian refugees and released €50 million in funding to the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA).

The European Commission (EC) has disbursed €150 million “to support economic reforms and financial stability” as agreed under the controversial EU-Tunisia Memorandum of Understanding. EC President Ursula Von der Leyen described the release of this money to the Tunisian authorities as a “significant step” in the partnership, especially after Tunisian President Kais Said returned €60 million of EU funding in October 2023, denouncing it as “charity” and “derisory”. Tineke Strik MEP was quick to criticise the EC’s move. “The Commission is much aware that Parliament is very sceptical about the disbursement of this funding. Yet, instead of awaiting our resolution, Von der Leyen totally disregards the democratic house of the EU and happily funds the election campaign of a Tunisian dictator”, she wrote on X. Meanwhile, Italy’s Council of State has accepted the precautionary appeal from the Spazi Circolari association and ECRE member organisation the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) regarding the Italian authorities’ financing of “voluntary” repatriations to Tunisia. Consequently, the Regional Administrative Court will now have to arrange a hearing to verify the legitimacy of the €3 million that is almost exclusively dedicated to “voluntary” repatriations to Tunisia, which “although defined as voluntary, take place in a context of increasing violence and discrimination, violating the rights of migrants, including vulnerable people and minors”. Meanwhile, a group of Tunisian NGOs issued a press release in which they revisited President Kais Saied’s anti-migrant speech from 2023 and condemned its content. “Today the high political and moral cost of this speech is evident,” wrote the NGOs in a joint declaration. “Tunisian authorities have become the symbol for discriminatory attitudes toward migrants and have thereby joined Europe’s far-right policies, which are spreading fear of migrants, and have utilized the policies of Tunisian authorities as a pretext to further violate the human rights of Tunisian migrants in Europe, and have worked to limit their presence and have them expelled,” they added.

Amid increased arrivals to the Canary Islands from Mauritania and following a visit by the EC President to the West African country in February, the European Commission announced in a press release published on 7 March the launch of a new migration partnership with a new “strategic partner”, Mauritania. Under this partnership, €210 million will be given to the Mauritanian government to create jobs, support protection and asylum, cooperate on prevention of irregular migration and strengthen border management. According to the Financial Times (FT), €60 million will be explicitly dedicated to migration management, including supporting the Mauritanian authorities to better patrol the country’s territorial waters and to stop migrant boats from embarking on the more than 1000km Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands. The rest of the funding will be allocated to areas such as security, economic development or humanitarian aid. A number of human rights organisations have likened this agreement to the recent EU-Tunisia deal. ECRE Director Catherine Woollard told the FT: “We see again the efforts to co-operate with repressive regimes”, adding: “The likely impact of that will be further violations of the rights of people who are on the move in Mauritania”.

While  have been intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coastguard so far in 2024, on 27 February, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Libya posted a picture on X with a caption reading “IOM concluded a 5-day training on Human Rights at International Borders for Libyan Border Guards in Tripoli, including the responsibilities of the state and key human rights law mechanisms dedicated to safeguarding and advancing the human rights of migrants on the move.” The post received an almost immediate backlash from refugee advocates. David Yambio from the NGO Refugees in Libya, who experienced torture and abuse at the hands of the so-called Libyan Coastguard, asked IOM Libya to take the picture down, stating “Most of the officers in this picture are torturers who tortured many of us in detention centres like Al-Mabani, Tariq Al-Sekka, Tariq Al-Matar, Ainzara, Abu-Salim and many more”. Separately, the European Ombudsman has reproached the EC for a lack of transparency over its ‘Do No Harm’ policy in Libya after a two-year-long wait for a response to a request from EUobserver for the EC to provide evidence that its policies complied with it. According to EUobserver, the request was made after a senior EC official claimed in early 2022 that no violations had occurred, following a report by a contractor whom the EC had hired to monitor human rights in Libya. “A freedom of information request to obtain a copy of the report, in order to verify the claims, was refused by the commission. And an appeal was also broadly rejected, leading this website to file a complaint with Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman,” EUobserver added.

After four months of “brutal violence perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people”, the European Parliament has, for the first time, called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, by adopting an amendment from The Left group on 29 February. On 1 March, the EC allocated an additional €68 million to “support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent” and proceeded to pay €50 million of previously suspended funding to the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA). “We remain fully committed to addressing the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people”, the EC wrote on X. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini welcomed the EC’s decision, saying “The EU is a longstanding partner of UNRWA in bringing aid to Palestine Refugees in the region. The full disbursement of the EU contribution is key to the agency’s ability to maintain its operations in a very volatile area.” EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy/EC Vice-President Josep Borrell wrote on X “In line with the request by many EU Member States, I expect the next tranches to be disbursed with the urgency required by the humanitarian crisis within the coming weeks”. Meanwhile, ahead of the meeting of the UN General Assembly on 4 March, a number of NGOs, including ECRE member organisations the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council, released a  joint statement in which they urged EU member states to restore funding to UNRWA. On the same day, EC President Ursula Von der Leyen wrote on X that she had had an “excellent” call with the President of Cyprus on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and efforts to tackle “migration challenges”. “The Commission will support the implementation of Cyprus’ maritime corridor initiative”, she wrote. In New York, UNRWA Commissioner-General Lazzarini told delegates at the UN General Assembly about the financial crisis confronting UNRWA. “The repeated calls by the Government of Israel to eliminate the Agency are not about neutrality. The campaign against UNRWA is intended to shift the long-standing political parameters for peace in the occupied Palestinian territory set by the General Assembly and the Security Council, without consulting either body”, he said, adding: “Attacks against UNRWA seek to eliminate its role in protecting the rights of Palestine Refugees and acting as a witness to their plight.” The European Parliament is scheduled to discuss on 13 March an emergency resolution on the immediate risk of mass starvation in Gaza and the attacks on humanitarian aid deliveries. Meanwhile, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is preparing “potential scenarios” to assess how it might provide additional support, if needed, at the borders with the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s intensifying attacks and mass displacement efforts. A Frontex spokesperson told Euractiv that it was “too early to discuss any details” but that the agency would be preparing for additional support and scenarios of different “border sections”, bearing in mind the “sensitivity of the situation on the ground, including possible war crimes”.

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