60th session ACHPR : Externalization of European borders in Africa: from cooperation to blackmail

Sara Prestianni

In its declaration at the 60th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which took place in Niamey from 8th to 22nd of May 2017, FIDH denounced the cooperation in the fight against migration, negotiated by EU member states with a number of African countries, in order to prevent arrivals to the European continent. The decision of these states to accept to give in to blackmail and to control the movements of African citizens by playing the role of "EU borders watchdogs" has terrible consequences in terms of violations of human rights.

60th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Niamey, 8 to 22 May 2017

Externalization of European borders in Africa: from cooperation to blackmail

Madam President,

More than 30 million of African citizens now live abroad, a right guaranteed by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among them, less than 9 million have settled in Europe while the majority are located in other African countries. In this context, instead of showing solidarity, European states implement restrictive and security-oriented migration policies to prevent arrivals to the continent by all means. To build the walls of this “fortress Europe”, European states tell African states that they will receive economic assistance only if they agree to be in charge of the control of migration flows within their continent. This strategy, called the externalization of European borders, involves the increasing of means of control, the militarization of borders, and the signature of readmission agreements unfavorable to the majority of African citizens wishing to leave their country. This policy prevents free movements within the continent and truly appears as blackmail.

Madam President,

The decision of a number of African states, of origin or transit, to accept to control the movements of African citizens by playing the role of “EU borders watchdogs”, has terrible consequences. Migration agreements, concluded bilaterally with EU member states or with the EU itself, are numerous, negotiated in high opacity and almost always without democratic control.

Because the reasons of the movements of these millions of people remain real and justified, departures are still numerous. With the development of repressive policies, migrants are now forced to use increasingly dangerous routes, with high risks of persecution and violation of their rights, sometimes even leading to their own death. By all means, this situation needs to be put to an end.

The Nigerian government, for example, which will receive 140 million euros from the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, appears really cooperative in the fight against migration towards the North. Disregarding the ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of people, the country has committed itself to setting up detention centers in its territory and to receive African migrants returned from Europe. North African states like Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria or Egypt have accepted to sign readmission agreements that consist in receiving asylum seekers who were expelled from Europe to their territory. Moreover, the EU does not hesitate to engage in partnerships with highly repressive states who therefore enjoy a reinforcement of their capacity to prevent the movement of people they have themselves persecuted. This is the case, for example, in Libya, a country notorious for systematic and cruel violence towards migrants, which will receive 200 million euros to reinforce the control of its borders to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean. Cooperation on migration is also being implemented with Sudan, where the president is currently subject to two ICC arrest warrants for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Madam President,

FIDH and its 40 member organizations in Africa are worried about the multiplication of these agreements, which are not only proof of the persistence of neo-colonial relations with European states, but represent most of all serious warning signals in terms of violations of human rights of African nationals. Agreeing to give in to the blackmail of the EU and to the interests of multinational arms and security corporations in order to prevent Africans from migrating has only one consequence, which is to put people in danger on routes of high risk and in countries that violate their rights.

5,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2016 and already more than one thousand in 2017, making it the most dreadful border of the world. Deaths in the perilous crossing of the Sahara are multiplying. In Libya, migrants from all the continent are victims of rape, torture and slavery. In Morocco, people who try to reach the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are subjected to violence from the police. In Sudan, many Eritreans in transit to the North are intercepted and expelled to their home country, where they are at risk of persecution by an extremely repressive regime. In North Africa, asylum seekers expelled by Europe face the risk of being detained arbitrarily, subjected to ill-treatments or sent back to their country of origin where they are likely to be persecuted.

Madam President,

FIDH has been unceasingly asking EU leaders to stop this security-oriented and murderous migration policy. We know that, in these negotiations, power relations are unequal. FIDH congratulates the positions of a number of African leaders who have denounced this policy at the EU Summit at Valletta in November 2015. We also welcome the recent decision made by Mali who, despite the existence of a readmission agreement with the EU, has refused to receive persons expelled by France because they did not have official documents proving their nationality but only had a European laissez-passer.

FIDH calls on the Commission to:

  • Take a public stand against the policy of externalization of borders and the violations of migrants’ rights that arise from it;
  • Call on states to speak out against this policy and to refuse to play the role of EU borders watchdogs. The states, and especially the five priority states mentioned in the “Migration Compacts” projects of the European Council, namely Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Niger and Nigeria, have to refuse to sign these cooperation agreements that are sources of serious violations of human rights;
  • Call on states to place the issue of the development of safe and legal routes at the heart of their negotiations with the EU and its members states;
  • Remind the necessity for all African states to develop migration policies based on the respect of human rights.
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