• The EU plans to provide €164.5 million to the Tunisian security forces despite their mounting record of refugee rights violations.
  • 65 bodies were discovered in a mass grave in Libya amid the ongoing interception of migrant boats and abuse of intercepted migrants.
  • The European Commission (EC) has decided to skip the European Parliament’s scrutiny of EU funds to Egypt because it takes “too long” while hoping for another “cash for migrant control” deal with Lebanon.
  • The EC has called for an immediate implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The EU plans to provide up to €164.5 million over three years to Tunisian security forces, the Financial Times (FT) has reported. Figures seen by the FT show that the EU will significantly increase its spending on migration under different funding streams over the next three years, with about two-thirds of a projected €278 mn allocated to security and border management. EU-funded programmes involving Tunisian security officers include a training academy for the country’s national maritime guard, implemented with the German federal police while some money will be used to finance equipment such as radars and boats for the national guard, and land border posts. Meanwhile, an activist named Jihed has been reporting on the role Tunisia plays as “Europe’s border police”. On 26 March, he reported that the national guard had conducted 48 operations between 23 and 26 March resulting in the interception of 1328 refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa and the deaths at sea of nine people. “This stark reality underscores Europe’s complicity in fostering a merciless border regime, prioritizing deterrence over dignity. The cost of Europe’s border violence is human life. We are not “mere statistics” for reports,” he concluded. On 25 March, Tunisia’s coastguard reported that it had recovered the bodies of five migrants off the country’s coast, bringing the death toll in one week to 11 following multiple shipwrecks. On the same day, the national guard reported that it had “stopped” 633 people from setting off by boat from Tunisia towards Europe without mentioning exactly how it had done so.

On 22 March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported the discovery of 65 bodies in a mass grave in Libya. The organisation noted that “the circumstance of their death and nationalities remains unknown, but it is believed that they died in the process of being smuggled through the desert”. While the IOM stressed that the Libyan authorities had launched an investigation into the deaths, in order to “ensure a dignified recovery, identification and transfer of the remains of the deceased migrants” and notified and assisted the victims’ families, the organisation also underlined that “without regular pathways that provide opportunities for legal migration, such tragedies will continue to be a feature along this route”. Additionally, the IOM reported that 579 migrants had been intercepted and returned to Libya between 17 and 23 March. On 25 March, the NGO Refugees in Libya posted footage on X showing an 18-year-old young man from Ethiopia half-naked and tied to a wall upside down while a man beat him with a spade. The organisation stated that the video demonstrated a “clear failure” of the Libyan government to fight human trafficking and kidnappings throughout the region.

Ahead of the €7.4bn cash-for-migration-control agreement with Cairo, a letter dated 15 March and seen by EUobserver, shows that the Commission “is officially sidelining the European Parliament’s scrutiny role when it comes to €1bn of loans being sent to Egypt”. EC President Ursula Von der Leyen wrote in the letter that the urgency of transferring the money to Cairo required her to bypass the assembly. “For reasons of utmost urgency and highly exceptionally, the recourse to Article 213 TFEU is considered as appropriate legal basis for the first operation of EUR 1 billion,” she wrote to EP President Roberta Metsola. Von der Leyen added that Egypt was in dire need of funds due to the “current crises” and that normal parliament scrutiny would have taken too long. Meanwhile, the Refugees Platform in Egypt (PPE) published a statement criticising the EU-Egypt partnership. “Over the decade governed by Sisi, Europe has succeeded in reducing the exit of irregular migrants from Egyptian territories through robust security partnerships with Egypt. However, it has not cared about the oppressive manner of migration control or addressing its causes in the first place, nor has it prevented the departure of Egyptians. Instead, it has succeeded in redirecting their exit routes through other countries, which are even more dangerous than the ones taken before,” the statement read. PPE underlined that “the European partnership with Egypt has both reinforced human rights violations and displayed indifference towards migrant boats simultaneously”. Additionally, 27 civil society organisations signed a joint statement calling on the Egyptian authorities to immediately stop the serious abuses against Sudanese people seeking refuge in Egypt. “After issuing Decree No. 3326 of 2023, end of August 2023, authorities have arrested and detained Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in inhumane conditions, subjected them to unfair trials, and forcibly returned them to Sudan in violation of Egypt’s international obligations, well-established human rights principles and agreements, and Egypt’s constitution,” the statement read.

Europe’s policy of externalisation (i.e. pushing its “migration problem” back to neighbouring countries) is not new despite an “obvious clash” between the EU’s supposed principles and those of the North African states with which it is co-operating, according to an op-ed by Al Jazeera. The push to keep Europe’s border concerns on the southern shores of the Mediterranean “has left refugees and migrants caught in the jaws of militias, human traffickers, North African racism, and authorities who move them around to keep them out of sight, even if it means their deaths in desert border zones”. “Europe must stop seeing its southern neighbourhood as a security threat and handing power to warlords and autocrats, ultimately with very little control or oversight. “It effectively just serves to give them control, as they’re able to threaten Europe with a wave of migrants whenever they want to extract more money, or other political concessions from them,” wrote Tarek Megerisi, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

On 24 March, the Israeli Authorities informed the United Nations  Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) of its decision to reject the Agency’s food convoys into northern Gaza. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote on X that the decision was “outrageous” & made it “intentional to obstruct lifesaving assistance during a man-made famine”. “These restrictions must be lifted,” he continued. On 25 March, the UN Security Council (UNSC) finally passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict in Gaza during the month of Ramadan, which ends on 9 April. While EC President Von der Leyen and EU High Representative Josep Borrell welcomed the resolution, they both stressed the need for its immediate implementation. The executive director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Avril Benoît,  described the resolution as a “constructive step” that must be “followed by action” after “months of delay and at immense cost to the more than two million civilians living in Gaza”. “A two-week ceasefire is not nearly enough time to respond to the overwhelming humanitarian needs. We repeat our urgent demand for a sustained ceasefire now,” she added. On the same day, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories Francesca Albanese published a report concluding that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met”. Amidst mounting criticism, in an act which has been described as the “largest confiscation since the Oslo Accords”, on 22 March, Israel declared that 800 hectares of land in the West Bank were now property of the state in an expansion of the Yafit settlement. On 24 March, the European External Action Service published a statement denouncing the decision. “Settlements are a grave breach of international humanitarian law. At this week’s European Council, EU leaders condemned Israeli Government decisions to further expand illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank,” it read. Three days after the UNSC resolution, EU High Representative Borrell wrote on X: “enough food for the people starving in Gaza is stockpiled & waiting to enter through land routes. Airdrops help, but cannot replace hundreds of trucks. EUCO & UNSC asked for increased urgent & safe humanitarian access. Allowing it is a legal duty”. Meanwhile, Ireland is preparing to intervene in South Africa’s International Court of Justice case against Israel under the 1948 Genocide Convention. “The situation could not be more stark; half the population of Gaza face imminent famine and 100% of the population face acute food insecurity. As the UN Secretary-General said as he inspected long lines of blocked relief trucks waiting to enter Gaza during his visit to Rafah at the weekend; ‘it is time to truly flood Gaza with life-saving aid. The choice is clear: surge or starvation’. I echo his words today,” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Micheál Martin said in a statement. On 28 March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued two new provisional measures in response to a recent request made by South Africa which submitted a genocide case against Israel amidst the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Strip. The court unanimously ordered Israel to “take all necessary and effective measures” to ensure the “unhindered” flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, including food, water, fuel, medicine and sanitation supplies. It stressed that Israel must do so in coordination with the UN “without delay” and specified that this necessitated Israel opening more land crossings into the territory. The ICJ also ordered Israel to ensure that its military does not take actions that could violate the Genocide Convention, including “any action” that prevents the distribution of aid.

Elsewhere, EC Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said that the EU could strike another deal with Lebanon to stem arrivals of migrants following complaints by Cyprus that it was being “inundated”. “We had worked with Egypt for quite some time, but I consider that it’s absolutely realistic to move in a corresponding manner with Lebanon,” he said during a visit to Cyprus.

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