EU-Africa Summit in Valletta must not dress up border control as ‘co-operation’

As European Union (EU) leaders and African heads of state prepare to meet in Malta on 11 and 12 November for a ‘Summit on Migration’, Amnesty International is issuing a stark warning to all leaders in attendance of the dangers posed by border and migration management agreements that fail to include human rights safeguards.

At the Summit, EU and African leaders are expected to agree on a joint declaration ostensibly focusing on saving lives and the protection of refugees, development, and legal migration and mobility. So far, however, the response of the EU and its member states to the influx of refugees and migrants has focused on keeping people out, by preventing their arrival and facilitating their return, with no meaningful steps taken to increase mobility nor safe and legal routes for refugees. Little change is expected at the Valetta Summit, or the ensuing European Summit on 12 November.

“Stated commitments to human rights at Valetta will be nothing more than hollow words unless the Summit concretely results in an increase in the availability of resettlement places and watertight safeguards for human rights in any agreements made on border and migration management,” said Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions office.

“Clear and concrete proposals on safe and legal routes are glaringly absent from the Valetta agenda and declaration, and backroom bilateral agreements in the margins risk having serious adverse human rights impact. The lack of transparency around so many of these agreements is already a red flag.”

Clear and concrete proposals on safe and legal routes are glaringly absent from the Valetta agenda and declaration
Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International's European Institutions Office

The EU and its member states have entered into a range of cooperation arrangements with neighbouring and African countries over the last decade aimed at strengthening border control systems and facilitating the return of migrants. Some of these have exposed asylum-seekers and migrants in co-operating countries to arbitrary detention, refoulement and ill-treatment.

In addition, negotiations leading to co-operation agreements with third countries are largely not transparent, and details regarding operational cooperation arrangements, for example the cooperation between Spain and Morocco during Spain’s summary expulsions from the Spanish enclaves to Morocco, are rarely made public. There is also no mechanism to assess the impact of EU or member states’ co-operation with third countries on people’s ability to access asylum procedures.

Those who do make it to Europe are often subject to returns through EU or bi-lateral re-admission agreements, which set out expulsion procedures for non-EU citizens who are in the EU without authorization, returning them to their country of origin or co-operating countries of transit. Although readmission agreements should only cover irregular migrants, there are serious concerns that asylum-seekers are also being caught up in the procedures, and are being sent back without access to asylum procedures. This is a particular concern at border areas where accelerated procedures are applied and individuals have less chance to appeal against their expulsion. For people being returned to transit countries, they risk being stranded there without legal status, and at risk of violations of their rights, such as the right to asylum, the right to liberty, and the right to work.

“With the EU seemingly intent on enlisting African nations as proxy gatekeepers, the Valletta summit is likely to result in a one-sided border control contract dressed up as a cooperation agreement. Refugees and migrants deserve and are entitled to better,” said Iverna McGowan.

With the EU seemingly intent on enlisting African nations as proxy gatekeepers, the Valletta summit is likely to result in a one-sided border control contract dressed up as a cooperation agreement
Iverna McGowan

Amnesty International is calling on EU leaders to increase safe and legal routes to Europe, including through resettlement, family reunification and humanitarian admissions. This is particularly pertinent in the context of the Valetta Summit given that almost 50 percent of people arriving in Italy from North Africa are coming from the top 10 refugee-producing countries according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Safe and legal routes must feature on the agenda of the following European Summit in Valletta and in the EU’s response to the global refugee crisis without delay.

Background

Although the human rights of migrants, including the protection needs of asylum-seekers, are described as a key component of the EU’s external migration policy, many co-operation arrangements focus on preventing irregular migration and returning people through readmission agreements rather than, for example, opening up more legal channels for migration or promoting the human rights of migrants and refugees.

Co-operation arrangements take various forms such as bilateral or regional policy dialogues, agreements on visa facilitation and readmission, and funding or operational support from EU Agencies such as Frontex. They involve financing of border surveillance equipment, training of border guards and coastguards, and setting up information-sharing networks so that migrants and refugees can be stopped by third countries before they reach Europe.

In 2011, the European Commission submitted an evaluation of the readmission agreements the EU had entered into and made concrete recommendations to exclude third country nationals from these agreements and include suspension clauses in the event of persistent and serious risks of human rights violations of people who had been readmitted. The Commission also recommended the participation of international and non-governmental organisations in “Joint Readmission Committees” to monitor the implementation of EU readmission agreements. None of these recommendations were observed in, for example, the readmission agreement EU signed with Turkey in December 2013.