Concerns are growing in Brussels over July’s migration deal between the European Union and Tunisia, with analysts saying European aid is increasingly being used to prop up authoritarian and autocratic leaders in North Africa.
The European Ombudsman’s office asked the European Commission how it intends to monitor the rights of data subjects and what assessment was made of its impact on rights before signing.
The agreement provides that the EU will grant Tunisia 100 million euros ($106.6 million) to combat illegal immigration.
However, the Tunisia deal, touted at the time as a major breakthrough in the bloc’s fight against irregular immigration, has instead benefited leaders who actively restrict the rights of their citizens in exchange for the promise of deals. energy and draconian, and often violent, restrictions on human rights. refugees and migrants, analysts say.
“Look at the facts,” said Amine Ghali, director of the Al-Kawakibi Democratic Transition Center in Tunis. “Residents of the region are facing more difficulties today than in the last 20 years. Their leaders and governments have contributed nothing to their social and economic well-being.
The evidence provided by rights organizations is overwhelming. Human Rights Watch reports show that Egypt, currently struggling to implement reforms demanded by its latest International Monetary Fund bailout, maintains an authoritarian regime where enforced disappearances and torture remain commonplace.
In Algeria, after the COVID-19 pandemic ended massive anti-government protests that erupted in 2019, a rights crackdown is well underway. Journalists, lawyers and rights defenders, as well as their families, have all been targeted by the state apparatus.
In Morocco, rights groups point to systematic harassment of activists, with the state regularly using the country’s penal code to imprison its critics.
In Libya, wracked by chaos since the 2011 revolution, warring militias exert control over the lives of its citizens, while in Tunisia – seen as the success story of the Arab Spring – President Kais Saied has called off many of the gains made since the revolution. overthrew former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Lack of freedom
There appears to have been a shift in perspective since 2011, when European leaders seemed to accept that post-politics relied too much on maintaining stability.
“In 2011, there was this kind of mea culpa,” Ghali said. “Europe admitted its mistakes and seemed determined to create this feeling of a new era, of integration of democracy and rights in the region… It is now only about security and stability. “
According to ARTICLE 19, a human rights group, North African societies are among the most restrictive in the world when it comes to freedom.
Nevertheless, the EU continues to help governments through energy deals and aid in return for helping to stop the flow of refugees and migrants.
“A growing dichotomy is emerging between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ in Europe’s relations with North Africa,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19 Senior Program Director. “If the EU can talk about its values, for North Africa, it is simply a question of stopping migration. Essentially, through aid and energy deals, the EU gives the region’s leaders permission to do whatever they want.
“By treating them in this way, the EU gives legitimacy to their leaders. They are normalizing their diet,” Diaz-Jogeix concluded.
Earlier this year, amid growing international concern over widespread violence suffered by black sub-Saharan asylum seekers and refugees following a speech by the Tunisian president in February, the EU distributed millions aid, with the promise or more, if conditions could first be agreed with the IMF.
Libyan authorities have been accused by rights groups of complicity in systematic abuse and torture against refugees and migrants. According to Amnesty International, thousands of people are arbitrarily detained by various militias, armed groups and security forces.
In Algeria, rich in energy resources, the EU and Italy have already actively strengthened their presence while turning a blind eye to the demands of former pro-democracy protesters, many of whom are now languishing in prison.
Sources within the EU reportedly said that Morocco and Egypt were in the bloc’s sights for an expansion of the agreement with Tunisia.
Nevertheless, EU states find themselves facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis, with individual households facing the very real choice between heating and feeding themselves.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also put a strain on the EU’s energy strategy, with Africa’s energy resources now literally a matter of life and death for many.
It is true that the European attitude towards North Africa has changed radically, as has the character of the EU.
“The influx of millions of people during the 2015 migration crisis really changed everything,” said Susi Dennison of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
At that time, more than a million refugees, mostly Syrians, fled to Europe, deepening lingering resentment over immigration within the bloc and appearing to justify far-right claims that the European way of life was threatened.
“After that, the EU began to look at its foreign policy in a more pragmatic way,” Dennison said. “The idea was to provide aid on a quid pro quo basis. In other words, aid would be provided in exchange for democratic reforms,” she said of Europe’s first attempts to help improve the lives of many people living in the countries of origin of refugees and migrants.
“However, increasingly, controls on migration and energy deals have taken precedence over democracy and rights in EU aid,” she added.
Politically, far-right governments have already taken power in many European member states, notably in Italy, where the conservative Georgio Meloni is Prime Minister.
“Across Europe we see that the nature of human rights and who is entitled to them are being debated and redefined. This is especially true for Georgio Meloni, who seems to focus on what she calls legal migration in exchange for aid and energy. There is no real place in this conversation for refugees or asylum seekers,” Dennison told Al Jazeera.
“His views, which we would previously have described as far-right, are finding traction across Europe, as at least the most relevant parts of his vision each find an audience with different European leaders, depending on their needs” , she said.
The European Commission, for its part, insists that its migration policies are designed in collaboration with various NGOs and the UNHCR.
“(The migration pact) aims to create a fairer, more efficient and more sustainable migration and asylum process for the European Union,” an EU spokesperson said. “It is designed to manage and normalize migration over the long term, providing certainty, clarity and decent conditions for people arriving in the EU. It also seeks to establish a common approach to migration and asylum based on solidarity, responsibility and respect for human rights.
However, this will do little to appease the hungry and desperate who continue to undertake weeks-long journeys across Africa for a chance at a new life, or simply to survive, in Europe.
More than 170,000 people have crossed the border irregularly into the continent this year, according to the United Nations. As far as we know, around 2,700 people died in this attempt. The real number is probably much higher.
Very few of them have probably thought much about European politics.