• The EU has agreed to pay Mauritania € 210 million to curb the number of migrants who pass through the country en route to Europe in its latest migration deal with a third country.
  • Journalists from the Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports have published evidence that the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) shared the locations of migrant boats with the Libyan coastguard thousands of times in recent years despite knowing about the latter’s abusive practices.

The EU has agreed to provide € 210 million to the government of Mauritania to help it to curb irregular migration to Europe. The funding was announced by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen during a visit to the country on 8 February. In a press statement following a meeting with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould El-Ghazouani and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, President Von der Leyen commended the fact that Mauritania was “hosting some 150 000 refugees from Mali, fleeing the violence in their country” and praised its “remarkable commitment to saving the lives of migrants taking the Atlantic route, one of the most dangerous in the world”. She also stated that the EU and Mauritania needed to “step up their cooperation in this area and in the management of borders, returns and assistance for refugees, but also (…) to create more opportunities for young people”. Prime Minister Sánchez stated that he would work to strengthen co-operation on border control between Mauritania and Spain and “explore possible pathways to enable migration”. Commenting on the deal, Katarina Barley MEP described it as a “model” for partnerships that are “based on the principles of rule of law and human rights”. Several civil society organisations were less enthusiastic about the deal. ECRE member organisation the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance (CEAR) posted on X: “Europe and Spain continue to relapse into their border externalisation policies, which have the effect that when one route is closed, other more dangerous and deadly ones are opened.” The Catalan Refugee Action Committee (CCAR) wrote: “It is unacceptable that Spain and the EU pay € 500 million to Mauritania in exchange for controlling migration. With these agreements, the EU forces people fleeing their countries to take more dangerous routes and put their lives at greater risk.”

The Mauritania deal is the latest migration agreement between the EU and an African country. It follows the deal that the EU struck with Tunisia in July 2023 and which has the been the subject of considerable criticism from various NGOs, including ECRE (and here) and most recently Human Rights Watch. According to Al Jazeera, it  may also be the first of several that the EU is looking to make in 2024. One such potential future EU migration partner that Al Jazeera has identified is Egypt. Following the latest EU-Egypt Association Council meeting on 23 January, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Olivér Várhelyi, said that the EU had “laid the foundations of the new phase of our partnership, the deep and comprehensive partnership that we hope to sign very, very, quickly with Egypt.” According to EUobserver, “the EU is spooked by some nine million refugees hosted in Egypt plus a war in Sudan that has displaced millions towards the country.” ECRE member organisation Amnesty International was critical of the Tunisia deal and any future deal with Egypt. “Both governments are weaponising hate speech against migrants and refugees to pressure the EU for receiving more money,” said the organisation’s foreign policy advocacy officer, Hussein Baoumi.

Leaked documents have revealed that the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) gave the locations of boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean to Libyan officials more than 2000 times between 2021 and 2023. According to the German magazine Spiegel and the public interest journalism organisation Lighthouse Reports, Frontex shared the coordinates of the boats despite being aware that the Libyan coastguard had shot at them and physically assaulted the migrants it intercepted. Frontex told Spiegel journalists that it had passed on the information “with a heavy heart” as it was aware of the conditions that the migrants would endure in Libya but that it was required to do so under international law. It claimed that “If the position of migrants boats had not been supplied to all responsible Libyan authorities, it is possible that the coast guard would have carried out very few rescues” and “Other countries’ coast guard authorities – notably those in Malta – have increasingly tended to ignore distress calls, and the Libyans have since become responsible for emergencies in the Maltese search and rescue zone.” The Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports journalists also highlighted several recommendations that Frontex’s human rights officer, Jonas Grimheden, had made, including that Frontex should “only send coordinates to Tripoli in future if at the same time the UN agencies UNHCR and IOM are asked to make sure that the migrants are not placed in detention camps”, push EU member states to “step up rescue activities close to the Libyan search and rescue zone” and “caution” the Libyans if they use violence. Grimheden also urged Frontex to “share the coordinates of migrant boats in the Libyan rescue zone with private sea rescue organizations.”

The revelations about Frontex did not come as a surprise to the various organisations that undertake search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Commenting on the report, the Spanish NGO Open Arms wrote on X: “In our last mission in international waters we have observed and reported to the authorities the connivance of the so-called Libyan “coast guard” with human trafficking networks, which would have the complicity of the European authorities”. The French organisation SOS MEDITERRANEE accused the EU of violating fundamental human rights through its co-operation with the Libyan authorities and echoed Jonas Grimheden’s recommendation writing: “Frontex must step up co-operation with NGO rescue vessels”. The Alarm Phone initiative went even further in its criticism: “There is only one solution: Abolish Frontex!” was its reaction on X.

For further information: