• Welcome to the Migration Update July-August 2023. This curated news selection brings together many of the most important developments in the migration policy area over the last month, including recent ones tied to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

    The purpose of these news summaries is to provide a factual base for migration debates within the European centre-right. Vít Novotný is responsible for the selection of information items from the media, governments and social media. The value of these summaries is in the categorisation of information items and in listing those items that readers might have missed. Facts and opinions are conveyed as they are reported. Original comments are kept to a minimum. These news summaries are not subject to a formal editorial process. George Dimakos prepared the cases for the Judicial Observatory. Kristina Lazebna took stock of the Spanish general election campaign. Claudia Masi, Andris Petersons and Théo Larue contributed information items. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Vít Novotný at vn@martenscentre.eu.

    Vít Novotný Migration North Africa

    Migration Update July-August 2023

    Migration Update

    31 Aug 2023

  • Long ago (35 years), on the First of January 1986, Spain and Portugal joined the European Union – the EEC as it was known back then – thereby completing the integration of Western Europe. With this accession, the 12-membered club reached a significant geographical milestone: being present in continental Africa, thanks to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

    With 18.5 square kilometres and 84,000 inhabitants, Ceuta has been part of Spain since 1580 and was previously part of the Portuguese crown for over 150 years. Melilla is 12.3 square kilometres, has roughly 87,000 inhabitants, and joined Spain in 1497. Since the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe has seen many changes and so have Ceuta and Melilla. The only constant has been their belonging to Spain and, therefore, to Europe.

    Today, these cities present a challenge for the Union’s borders and migration policy like no other EU territory. They are the only two physical borders we have with the Sahel, one of the main origins of illegal migration and refugees, along with the Middle East. For years, tens of thousands of migrants from Western Africa have reached the EU by jumping the fence between Spain and Morocco, or swimming to the cities’ beaches. What we saw on television the past few days is nothing new to the residents of Ceuta or Melilla, nor is the accompanying blackmail from the Moroccan authorities.

    For instance, every time the Moroccan government or its Monarchy have had a window of opportunity, they have used border control and migrants as leverage to obtain what they wanted, be it a more beneficial fishing agreement with the EU with respect to the shared waters with the Spanish Canary Islands, investments for Tangier harbour so it can better compete with neighbouring Spanish ports, launching political propaganda about their sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, or boosting their illegal occupation of Western Sahara, as was the case this time.

    A few weeks ago, Brahim Ghali, leader of Frente Polisario – the liberation movement for Western Sahara – travelled to Spain from Algeria under a false identity and was hospitalised with a serious COVID-19 infection (he is 71). Upon discovering this, Morocco’s government expressed their indignation towards Spain for allowing the Sahraoui to enter the country and demanded robust action from Madrid.

    When Spain explained the humanitarian reasons for keeping Ghali in the country, thousands and thousands of illegal migrants suddenly arrived at the border of Ceuta, and we saw the Moroccan police opening the gates of their fence, allowing them to go towards Spain. As a result, ten thousand people illegally entered Ceuta in just 24 hours, many among them children (who were told that they were going to watch a football game with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in Ceuta!).

    Spain had to send the army to control the continuous assault on its territory in the following days and was forced to relocate hundreds of minors in the rest of the country (under international law, they cannot be returned immediately after entering the country alone). Only after a bank transfer of 30 million euros for migration control cooperation did Morocco re-establish order at the border, and the assaults ceased.

    This crisis was covered more by European media because of the calm of the previous months, during which COVID-19 reduced migration flows considerably, and because of the pervasive use of minors. However, the phenomenon has existed for decades. We can expect it to continue for a long time, especially as it depends on the Moroccan government’s interests, just as it happens with Turkey and Erdoğan’s blackmail tactics.

    Given this, what can Europe do against these faraway villains? Europe can do a great deal; for example, deploying Frontex agents, sending economic assistance through the Internal Security Fund, or using the Solidarity Clause. But, in order to assist Spain with these instruments, the national government has to ask for it and, for some reason, Pedro Sánchez and his socialist-populist coalition government hasn’t.

    Why do we have these mechanisms at all if Member States would rather respond individually to the great challenges they face? Many of the aggressions and provocations from neighbouring countries would probably not happen if we showed unity and strength.

    As in most old tales, evil takes advantage of the weaknesses of good-hearted characters, but then there is a brave hero that puts the cowardly bullies in their place. Who will that hero be for Ceuta and Melilla, for Lesbos, for Malta, for Lampedusa? Furthermore, who will become the hero for the thousands of families destroyed by human trafficking, loss of life, and poverty in their home countries?

    We all know the answer: the EU could be that hero. But, in order to become it, Europe needs more competencies in various areas including migration, the ability to act quickly, and real understanding and solidarity from the Northern Member States, even if the problem seems distant to them. Let’s do what we do best: take one step after another and start by letting some of the issues of foreign affairs be decided by enhanced majorities instead of unanimity. Let us become heroes for Africa, let’s put a “happily ever after” at the end of this tale.

    Álvaro de la Cruz Immigration Migration North Africa

    Álvaro de la Cruz

    A Tale of Two Cities in Africa


    27 May 2021

  • Neighbourhood Policy North Africa

    Net@Work Day 2 – Panel 1: The EU’s Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    20 Apr 2021

  •  This week, we had with us EU Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, Riina Kionka. She and Roland Freudenstein discussed Africa – EU relations, colonialism, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Apartheid, and China’s influence in the continent, among other things.

    Roland Freudenstein North Africa

    The Week in 7 Questions with Riina Kionka

    Multimedia - Other videos

    24 Jul 2020

  • On Thursday 28 June 2018, the European Council gave its endorsement to the concept of ‘regional disembarkation platforms’. These centres would be built in non-EU countries (presumably in North Africa) in cooperation with those countries. They would serve as facilities to which migrants rescued in the Mediterranean would be brought. Thus, a new option would be open to the EU, not to bring the rescued migrants automatically to one of the EU’s coastal member states.

    This point from the Council conclusions elaborates one aspect of the broader trend to externalise EU migration controls. This trend is being promoted by the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Earlier in June, Kurz suggested sending immigrants back to the countries of transit and origin. These measures would stem mass migration and prevent drownings in the Mediterranean.

    The idea of reception centres outside the EU borders has been circulating for decades now, without much tangible progress. The reason why implementing the idea has been so slow is the daunting scale of the challenge. The security, humanitarian, legal, political, diplomatic and financial aspects of the problem are multifaceted and interdependent in unexpected ways.

    Agreement by a high number of institutions is necessary but the predictability of many players (national governments in and outside the EU and sub-national authorities and assorted tribal, religious and political groups in North Africa and the Middle East) is low.

    Unlike Australia and the US which, each in a different way, have partly externalised migration controls, Europe is surrounded by several highly unstable regimes. Migration flows into the EU are notoriously mixed, including refugees and economic migrants from different countries. This increases the scope of the challenge that lies in front of the EU.

    Main elements in externalising migration controls

    The main elements in externalising immigration might be:

    • significantly improved EU external border management, in cooperation with third countries
    • determining asylum status of migrants as close to the country of origin as possible; this could be done at EU consulates or at reception centres set up by the EU
    • guaranteeing safety, security and basic welfare in the reception centres
    • encouraging voluntary returns to countries of origin
    • offering (positive and negative) incentives to governments of non-EU countries, especially for accepting their own nationals
    • potential resettlement of the most vulnerable individuals into the EU (resettlement means accepting selected refugees after security screening)
    • decoupling of life-saving operations in the sea from bringing refugees into the EU.

    Implementing these measures would herald a major step in tackling irregular migration. Thanks to common efforts, the migration crisis of three years ago is under control. No masses of refugees and migrants are crossing the Balkans into Western Europe, and the EU’s border management is now better than ever – although there is still a lot of room for improvement.

    The EU is still searching for a recipe for cooperation with third countries on migration. The bloc is still struggling to mobilise finance, police the Mediterranean,  agree on internal distribution of asylum seekers, implement returns and fulfil its resettlement pledges.

    Develop expertise by starting small

    Some EU members are conducting pilot schemes in externalising migration controls. We should look closely at, and learn from, these experiments. They promise to result in much-needed European expertise that can serve the larger goal of bringing migration controls closer to the sending countries:

    • The EU-Turkey deal of 2016 should serve a major source of learning.
    • In Niger, an EU-financed ‘multi-purpose centre’ in Agadez provides information and assistance to migrants, registers migrants and allows opportunities for safe and voluntary return and reintegration in the home country. Military presence has proved necessary. In January this year, the Italian government sent some 500 troops to the country to suppress migrant smuggling and exploitation.
    • Also in Agadez and in other African cities, the French government has begun interviewing asylum seekers on a small scale. These individuals are typically returnees from Libya who have been pre-screened by the workers for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
    • Certain EU members, for example Denmark, have been allowing asylum applications at their consulates, although only in a third country, not in a country of the asylum seeker’s origin.

    The efforts conducted outside the EU borders have had a negligible influence on the numbers of people trying to cross the Mediterranean. But they send a message. Those with a credible claim have a chance of being granted asylum in the EU. Those without such a claim should not risk their lives with Libyan traffickers and smugglers.

    Also, let us not forget Europe’s operations on its own territory. Italy and Greece have run, with the assistance of the EU and UNHCR, ‘hotspots’ to process asylum claims during the refugee wave of 2105-16. Evaluating this experience should be helpful in setting up similar centres outside the EU.

    The Marshall Plan for Africa

    Migration control always consists of carrots and sticks. A ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, advocated, for example, by Angela Merkel, would represent the former. The existing reincarnation of this plan, the Trust Fund for Africa, has so far been inadequate. Currently worth some €3.4 billion, the Trust Fund lacks public and private funds to make a real impact. But in the long run, helping Africa prosper – also by preferential trade tariffs – would motivate its inhabitants to stay at home.

    On the legal front, two alternatives offer themselves.

    Legal option one: reinterpret the Refugee Convention

    As one option, the EU member states may start reinterpreting the Refugee Convention of 1951. As it is individual states, not the EU, who have signed up to the Refugee Convention, a coordinated approach would be essential.

    Such a reinterpretation might be along the lines of the US and Australia. Australia does not apply the Convention outside its mainland territory. The US does not apply it outside its territorial waters. Both the US and Australia intercept unauthorised vessels. They save lives even outside their territorial waters but remove migrants to remote own or third-country territories, where lives are not in danger.

    The rescued individuals have a chance of obtaining asylum (in the US case, only in a third country). Australia and the US take a punitive approach to ‘spontaneous’ asylum claims launched by those who attempt to cross the sea, but, in collaboration with UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, maintain resettlement programmes for those asylum seekers who enter through via regular channels.

    Option two: encourage third countries to implement the Refugee Convention

    A strategically more promising, although a much more demanding and long-term approach, would be to geographically extend the application of the Refugee Convention. With the exception of the Middle East, most countries in the immediate and distant EU neighbourhood are signatories of the Refugee Convention. Especially in North Africa though, official signatures on the Convention have not been followed up by setting up functioning asylum legislation.

    The EU might incentivise these countries to adopt asylum legislation in line with their commitments under the Refugee Convention.

    As one step further into the future, one can imagine the EU inducing neighbouring countries to buy into the EU’s ‘Dublin system’ of asylum seeker distribution. According to the Dublin rules, the first country of contact has responsibility for the asylum seeker who entered its territory.

    Supported and co-financed by the EU, extending a similar system to Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and North Africa would spread the burden of caring for refugees across many more countries than is currently the case. This would contribute to creating a supra-regional system of refuge governance in Europe and its surroundings.

    Vít Novotný Crisis Immigration Migration North Africa

    Vít Novotný

    Externalising Migration Controls? Think Big, Start Small


    29 Jun 2018

  • In the years to come, Europe will face many difficult challenges related to migration. To cope with the increased flows emanating from the African continent, present policies will have to be adapted and new ones created. The EU must pursue a course that protects the integrity of free movement, secures the external borders and enables it to work with stakeholders, both in Africa and elsewhere, to avoid an unchecked influx of migrants.

    The article reviews important elements of the debate that has been taking place in the EU in recent years and shows that a new basis for the European Migration and Asylum Policy is needed to ensure that it has a more realistic chance of success. It argues that there is a need for a review of EU policies on migration and asylum, and for the development of more useful tools to disentangle the complex web of interests which today is ever present in the debate on the European Migration and Asylum Policy.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Tobias Billström Foreign Policy Migration North Africa

    Tobias Billström

    The end and the beginning: the EU, Africa and the need for a new migration regime


    30 Oct 2017

  • The rising terrorist threats in the region have compelled Morocco to enhance the protection of its vast territory, long borders, 34 million citizens and over 10 million visitors per year. Morocco’s comprehensive security strategy combines a wide range of policies which link the improvement of the socio-economic situation to the capacity to anticipate the risk of terrorism and the operational aspects of the strategy.

    Security governance and the modernisation of the security forces, religious reform and the promotion of moderate Islam, the involvement of civil society, and close international cooperation, including religious diplomacy, are all key to preventing terrorism and countering extremism. Reforms to improve human security and to lift vulnerable groups out of poverty and exclusion have contributed to enhancing sustainable security.

    An example for many, Morocco still has a few big challenges ahead, especially to provide quality education, both to ‘immunise’ the minds of the youth against extremism and to create jobs so that hope can be restored to an overwhelmingly young population.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui Defence Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy North Africa Security

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui

    Morocco’s security strategy: preventing terrorism and countering extremism


    07 Jul 2017

  • The Libyan conflict is the result of a complex and controversial series of developments, where local political events have been strongly influenced and driven by exogenous factors. A dual set of conflicting interests can be found in both the Euro-Mediterranean and inter-Arab dimensions, with Italy and Turkey struggling against France and Great Britain on one side, and Qatar being opposed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the other.

    Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, which was certainly not an example of good governance and respect for human rights, was quickly swept away by a conflict primarily fought by non-Libyan actors, which eventually caused the collapse of the central institutions in Libya and the creation of dozens of local militias. The failure of both local and exogenous ambitions has caused a crisis in which additional factors have been able to influence the Libyan civil war, making the situation very opaque and extremely difficult to solve.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Nicola Pedde Crisis Mediterranean North Africa Security

    Nicola Pedde

    The Libyan conflict and its controversial roots


    04 Jul 2017

  • As Tunisia continues to move forward on the path of democratisation and pluralism, the problems it may still face remain significant. A comparative analysis of the (failed) Algerian attempt to democratise and the current process underway in Tunisia could shed light on what Tunisia needs to do to avoid a setback in its democratisation process.

    Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Dario Cristiani Arab Spring Democracy Foreign Policy Mediterranean North Africa

    Dario Cristiani

    Consolidating pluralism under the terrorist threat: the Tunisian case and the Algerian experience


    07 Nov 2016

  • Search and rescue (SAR) in the central Mediterranean continue painting a disturbing portrait of European disunity on disembarkations and relocations of the rescued passengers. This research paper provides a more optimistic outlook. It argues that, despite the inter-governmental conflicts, which remain unresolved, the EU states have been developing a two-segment policy which has greatly reduced the numbers of irregular maritime arrivals via the central Mediterranean route. The European policy segment has consisted of SAR operations by the individual South European member states, ad-hoc arrangements following disembarkations and a coordinated withdrawal from the Libyan SAR zone.

    The EU’s Afro-Asian policy segment has been based on the prevention of illegal border crossings and support for Libya and the other North African countries in running their own border control and SAR operations. The EU should be moving towards a policy that balances the traditional rights-based SAR system that primarily guarantees the rights of individuals with a functioning rules-based system that encourages adherence to international norms by all the countries around the Mediterranean. The EU needs to continue addressing the human rights abuses in the Libyan detention centres, without compromising on the imperative that the Libyan coastguard should continue bringing the rescued migrants back to their country.

    Human Rights Mediterranean Migration North Africa

    Rescue Operations in the Mediterranean: Towards a Reliable EU Policy

    Research Papers

    13 Nov 2019

  • Irregular immigration is emerging as a threat to the political stability of the EU. This is because the EU’s asylum and immigration system has been overly tolerant towards irregular migration. Despite a dramatic decrease in the number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe, the need remains to instil in the European public a sense that the EU border is properly guarded and that the number of illegal border crossings—as one aspect of irregular migration—is being reduced.

    In the short to medium term, the EU should help to ensure the protection of the refugees who are hosted in other countries. The EU should resettle the most vulnerable refugees through legal channels at the expense of irregular migration movements. The EU’s external border needs to be vigilantly policed in order to increase public confidence in the EU’s migration policy. Over the long term, the EU should set itself the goal of enlarging the area of functioning migration and asylum governance.

    EU-US Immigration North Africa Security

    Reducing Irregular Migration Flows through EU External Action

    Policy Briefs

    12 Mar 2019

  • Olivier Guitta, a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe, looks at the Muslim Brotherhood – its history, its ideology and its vision of the West as well as at three branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and North Africa region.

    Islam Middle East North Africa

    Muslim Brotherhood Parties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region

    Policy Briefs

    01 Sep 2010