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Surrendering human rights for migration control

On the eight-year mark of the signing of the EU-Türkiye Statement, the migration control arrangements with third countries are an ingrained part of the EU’s policy approach. At the same time, evidence of fundamental challenges with such an approach – including from a human rights perspective – continue to mount.

Posted on 18 Mar 2024

The strategic and comprehensive EU-Egypt partnership agreement signed this Sunday is the latest of a long list of similar cooperation agreements on migration – most often of dubious and informal character circumventing democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament. The agreements should be seen in the context of EU’s intensified extraterritorial migration cooperation with third countries since 2015. The enhanced cooperation with Egypt follows on from the controversial EU-Tunisia MoU concluded in July 2023. An arrangement that, amidst widespread criticism, has been touted by the European Commission as a template and blueprint for EU-migration arrangements with third countries. 

External asylum and migration cooperation is an integral part of the EU’s policy approach. Its successful implementation constitutes a prerequisite and backbone of the agreed EU Pact on Asylum and Migration. The intensified collaboration and arrangements with third countries are however far from a panacea to achieve the expressed objective of better managed and safer migration and ultimately reduced arrivals of refugees and migrants to European shores.  

Human rights violations resulting from EU cooperation on migration 

The importance of supporting asylum capacity and expanding protection for refugees and migrants along migratory routes through a “whole of journey” approach was reiterated at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2023 – including by the EU - as a way of improving global asylum governance and migration management. However, the underlying objective and main driver of the EU-third country cooperation agreements of stemming and reducing arrivals to European shores counteracts these objectives.  

Increasing evidence, including research commissioned by the EU, point to fundamental challenges characterizing the EU’s external asylum and migration policy. Analysis indicates that the reliance on third countries to curtail migration towards the EU contribute to detrimental human rights effects for displaced populations in the targeted partnership countries not solely as an isolated unintended consequence, but across different country contexts.  

The EU’s cooperation with third countries promotes a securitized approach to migration and border management. It is an approach that restricts access, strengthens border controls and criminalizes mobility hereby pushing refugees and migrants into invisibility and leading to increasingly precarious, insecure and dangerous journeys. A restrictive and securitized approach to mobility is also generally increasing refugees and migrants’ dependence on smuggling networks. 

Compliance with international law and treaty-based obligations is not optional 

While there can be multiple objectives of EU’s third-country policy engagement, the outcomes of policy measures on asylum and migration must be measured on the extent to which these contribute to an expanded protection environment and to safer and better managed mobility. And they must be compliant with international and European legal frameworks, including the EU’s Charter for Fundamental Rights.  

Lack of transparency, democratic control and scrutiny are symptomatic of the informal and non-binding nature that are characteristic of EU-third country arrangements – such as in the case of the EU-Tunisia MoU and the EU-Egypt strategic partnership agreement. The rationale seems to be that when there are no real and binding partnerships, there are no real legal obligations to be upheld or accountability required.  

The dubious and informal arrangements and consequent lack of democratic scrutiny, however, put the coherence and consistency of the Union’s external action at risk. The trade-off with third countries, with questionable human rights records and restricted civil society space, with the view to stem arrivals to the EU’s borders undermines the EU as a value-based global actor and risks legitimizing suppressive states.  

Increasing human rights monitoring and accountability for rights violations 

The EU and Member States must assess the impact of its actions through systematic monitoring and evaluation and address protection implications of its external actions from the outset of rolling-out new migration partnerships. 

The integration of human rights monitoring and oversight in extraterritorial migration cooperation with third countries must be a priority. This must be accompanied by increased accountability for violations of international law, including effective and accessible complaint mechanisms and pathways to justice. Appropriate scrutiny by the European Parliament of financial support related to forced displacement and migration, particularly focusing on human rights compliance across all EU funding instruments is critical. Improving the safety and dignity of the people affected by these migration agreements is a legal and moral obligation.  

While evidence of the negative consequences of the EU’s policy approach to extraterritorial migration cooperation are well-substantiated, there has been little change in approach. Analysis on the implications and the effectiveness of the cooperation is persistently competing with politically convenient discourses that intent to display tough action on migration and short-term results in diverting routes and impeding arrivals.  

It is imperative, that we learn from current approaches and not blindly continue policies and practices that puts at risk the safety of refugees and migrants and undermines the EU’s role and reputation. 

Join us in Copenhagen on 20 March 2024 for an in-person event on the EU’s cooperation with third countries – including with Türkiye and Tunisia. Where does the increased reliance on “safe third countries” for refugee protection leave global solidarity and responsibility sharing? And what is the impact on access to asylum? 

More information on the in-person event and registration here (scroll down for English): Asylsamarbejde med tredjelande | DRC Dansk Flygtningehjælp 

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