• Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have repeated their criticism of the European Commission for signing migration agreements with North African countries.
  • Three aid organisations are suing the Dutch government over its involvement in the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal.
  • An Italian search and rescue NGO has reported being shot at by the Libyan Coast Guard during a rescue mission in the Mediterranean.
  • The United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has launched an appeal for donations while the USA has announced that it will resume its funding.
  • An EU official has revealed that the EU is preparing a migration agreement with Morocco.

MEPs have criticised the European Commission for signing controversial deals that give North African countries huge sums of money in return for curbing migration to Europe. “Throwing money at dictators is not migration policy,” said Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP. “These kinds of agreements are against the European values, to be frank. The question mark would be: Are we helping the people or are we helping the regime?”, said Matjaž Nemec MEP. The MEPs’ criticism follows the signature in March of the EU’s latest externalisation deal: a €7.4 billion agreement with Egypt. “Egypt’s migration deal comes at a time of immense economic stress, and experts argue Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi himself is culpable for running Egypt’s economy into the ground,” said Humza Khan from Carnegie Europe. “Europe wants to ensure Egypt’s stability as it also absorbs shocks from war in Gaza and Sudan. But Europe’s externalization strategy funnels cash into the security apparatuses of flailing authoritarians who have failed to offer the only sustainable answer to irregular migration: meaningful local economic opportunity,” he added.

In another example of the growing scrutiny of the EU’s externalisation deals, Amnesty International Netherlands, Boat Refugee Foundation and Defence for Children are jointly suing the Dutch government over its involvement in the 2016 EU-Turkey migration agreement. “At the time of the adoption of the so-called European Union (EU) – Turkey deal in 2016, despite the abundant evidence that human rights would be at risk if the deal went ahead, the Dutch authorities endorsed and implemented it. As such, the Netherlands should be held accountable for violating Dutch, international and EU law,” they wrote in a press release. “As a result of this disastrous deal between EU member states and Turkey, tens of thousands of asylum seekers were stuck on the Greek islands in appalling conditions in camps and closed reception centers,” said Dagmar Oudshoorn, director of Amnesty International Netherlands. As revealed in a report by Boat Refugee Foundation, that includes findings from several ECRE member organisations, including Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, the Greek Council for Refugees and others, the situation for asylum seekers in Greece “rapidly deteriorated” after 2016.

In Libya, the Italian search and rescue NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans reported that its vessel the Mare Jonio had been attacked by the Libyan coastguard while it was rescuing people from a distressed boat in international waters in the Mediterranean. “Libyan militiamen shot into the water and air, creating panic and leading to several people falling into the water,” the organisation said in a statement. Commenting on the incident, Pietro Bartolo MEP urged the Italian government and the EU to “intervene to restore the protection of the human rights of those requesting assistance at sea, before having to cry over more deaths  – not only among migrants but also among those engaged in rescue efforts at sea”. In 2023, the United Nations found that Libyan security forces and armed militias, including some that had received EU funding, may have been involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the detention, enslavement and torture of migrants and asylum seekers. The NGO Refugees in Libya X posted the incident and criticised the EU’s continued funding to Libya, saying: “In front of all the cameras and the law, they kill people publicly and get away with it. Thanks to EU funding of these Libyan gangs called the Libyan coast guards”.

More than 30 Tunisian and international NGOs have expressed “concern about the serious and systematic violations of human rights suffered by migrants, as well as systematic campaigns to incite hatred and violence” in the North African country. “As well as intercepting migrants in national territorial waters, the Tunisian national maritime guard also chases them within the territory, in particular arbitrarily relocating them without taking into account their humanitarian situation nor the international agreements signed and ratified by Tunisia,” they wrote in a statement. Despite these and other concerns, the EU is planning to provide up to €164.5mn over three years to Tunisian security forces, some of whom have been accused of human rights violations. “The priorities for the EU are clear: it’s to minimise departures from Tunisia, no matter the humanitarian damage,” said Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).

On 3 April, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) launched a $414.4 million appeal for Palestinian refugees in Syria and those who have fled to the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Jordan. “UNRWA will soon struggle to maintain the level of humanitarian assistance it can provide, and that level is already at minimum,” said Natalie Boucly, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General for Programmes and Partnerships. “As the Palestine Refugee community faces even greater existential challenges across the region, UNRWA’s role has never been more vital,” she added. More than 75 per cent of Gaza’s population, some 1.7 million people, have been displaced since the current hostilities began on 7 October. Most have been uprooted more than once. On 8 April, UNRWA USA announced that it would resuming funding the agency. “This decision to resume funding at this time is informed by, among other things, the actions of the European Union (EU), Canada, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, and Japan, all of which have resumed their own funding for UNRWA in recent weeks,” wrote UNRWA.

According to Morocco World News, despite ‘significant efforts’ by Moroccan authorities to curb migration to Europe, 6600 irregular migrants crossed the Canary Islands route in January. This is a tenfold increase on last year’s figures. On 4 April, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borell, praised the EU-Morocco partnership, describing it as “more crucial than ever in the current geopolitical context”. Despite the ongoing backlash from MEPs and civil society organisations about the existing migration deals, the EC is reportedly keen to boost efforts to finalise agreements with other neighbouring states in North Africa and the Middle East. On 1 July, Hungary will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU and will play a key role in setting the political agenda for the second half of 2024. According to Euractiv, the Hungarian government is interested in continuing to work on externalisation agreements. Furthermore, an EU official who was granted anonymity to discuss non-public deliberations has told POLITICO that the EU is currently preparing a migration deal with Morocco.

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