Friday, June 21, 2024

The EU’s outsourced migration control is violent, expensive and ineffective

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The EU’s approach to managing migration flows depends heavily on outsourcing border control to non member countries, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Many far-right politicians enthusiastically back this policy: 19 nations recently signed a letter calling to go “beyond the EU’s migration pact” and further externalise migration control.

This is, theoretically, a two pronged approach: the EU sends money to MENA governments in order to prevent the number of departures from their own borders and improve living conditions within them, thus discouraging people from leaving in the first place.

However, much of the money is funnelled instead into violent, even deadly, anti migratory measures that take place outside the EU’s jurisdiction. These outsourced humans rights violations contravene the EU values of freedom, justice and dignity, and jeopardise its influence as a values based power.

This short sighted, costly and inadequate strategy ultimately undermines the EU’s credibility and effectiveness on the global stage, damaging the bloc’s regional and international standing by underscoring its ingrained hypocrisy. It has also failed to reduce the number of irregular arrivals or address the root causes of the problem – instead, it has endangered, ruined and ended tens of thousands of lives.

The loss of life is staggering: according to 2023 research commissioned by the EU itself, five migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean per day in the period of January to June 2022, and 29,734 people have been recorded as missing since 2014.

An expensive, ineffective strategy

Europe’s externalised border control can be traced back to the early 2000s, but gained real momentum during the 2015 migrant crisis. Since then, huge sums have been sent to neighbouring countries under the guise of “migration management”. Chiefly, this includes the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, which amounts to €9.9 billion for the period of 2021 to 2027, a significant increase from the €3.137 billion allocated over the 2014-2020 period.

Specific deals and partnerships have also been made. These include the 2016 EU-Turkey Deal, a €6 billion agreement aimed at curbing migration but effectively increasing Turkey’s leverage over the EU. A €210 million package was also paid to Mauritania to encourage it to curb migration, €7.4 billion was paid to Egypt in financing until 2027, and €1 billion in financial aid was promised to Lebanon for the period 2024-2027.

Despite these financial commitments, the number of irregular entries into the EU continues to rise. As of November 2023, the International Organization for Migration had recorded a total of 264,000 irregular entries, a clear increase from 2022 (190,000) and 2021 (150,000).

Cruelty and suffering

Investigative reports have recently been published on “desert dumps” in Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. This practice involves driving migrants (including children and pregnant women) into remote desert areas and leaving them to fend for themselves.

While Brussels denies any involvement, articles state that “two senior EU sources said it was ‘impossible’ to fully account for the way in which European funding was ultimately used”.

By outsourcing to autocratic regimes who are prepared to carry out such cruel methods instead of addressing the root causes that drive migration, the EU has compromised its values, fostered internal divisions, and damaged its human rights reputation. It undermines the EU’s ability to advocate for principles like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, diminishing its moral standing and strategic autonomy.

One example of how this has played out is the EU’s cooperation with Libya to stem migration across the Mediterranean. Despite well documented human rights abuses in Libya’s detention centres – including torture, forced labour, and sexual violence – the EU has provided funding and training to Libya’s Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats and return them to these abusive conditions.

Over the last few years, reports have emerged of severe abuses against migrants in Libya – including men being sold at slave auctions – highlighting the extreme cruelty faced by migrants trapped there. However, the EU has continued its partnership, justifying it as a way to save lives at sea while turning a blind eye to the nightmarish reality migrants face once returned to Libya.

Weaponising migration

Entrusting key security functions to unstable or autocratic regimes also leaves the EU vulnerable to political crises and manipulation of migration flows.

During the 2011 Arab Spring, for instance, embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi threatened to unleash a “flood” of migrants into Europe if it kept supporting protesters. Since then, Turkey has also adopted a similar strategy, despite receiving an additional €3 billion on top of the 2016 migration deal. Outside the Mediterranean, Belarus has been accused of similar practices on its border with Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions.

EU funding is therefore easily manipulated by governments seeking financial aid. The belief that money alone can dissuade people from leaving their countries overlooks the fact that fundamental changes are needed from within these countries. Once the money is sent, there is little to prevent authoritarian governments from using the funds to consolidate their regimes rather than implementing reforms that benefit citizens.

The EU’s self sabotage

By compromising its values, creating dependencies on undependable powers and exposing itself to risks, the EU diminishes its ability to act as a strong and convincing leader on the international stage. If the EU is to maintain its credibility, uphold its principles, and enhance its global influence, it needs to take a principled and holistic approach to migration management.

The idea that harsh, externalised migration deals can appease or keep a lid on far right sentiments may also prove delusional: rather than addressing the root causes of migration or upholding its liberal values, these reactive measures risk further damaging the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens and the international community. This deflated power, coupled with a blatant inability to uphold its values, is fuel to the fire for far right parties and their allies.

To uphold its values and enhance its global standing, the EU needs a more balanced and principled approach to migration management. There are many ways it can do this: backing meaningful democratic reforms in MENA states; establishing stronger accountability in migration management, and, crucially, opening up safe routes in order to reduce migrants’ reliance on irregular routes and human smuggling networks.

The current strategy is failing dismally on all counts. It amounts to little more than throwing money at the problem, money that could, if applied properly, prevent loss of life, improve the living standards and economies of MENA countries, and reduce the incentives to leave them in the first place.

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