Thursday, April 18, 2024


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The EU’s fixation on migration is undermining its dedication to protecting human rights.

Claudio Francavilla is a high-level representative for the European Union at Human Rights Watch.

For a long time, Tunisia has been depicted as the sole successful example of the Arab Spring. However, this is no longer the case.

After orchestrating a “constitutional coup” in 2021, President Kais Saied has dissolved the nation’s parliament and dismissed its prime minister, consolidated authority within his position, imprisoned those who oppose him, and suppressed desires for democracy.

Unable to address the country’s severe economic crisis, Saied turned to textbook populism by targeting scapegoats.

Saied’s actions have negatively impacted Black African migrants and asylum seekers, who are often targeted by Europe’s far-right. These individuals are unfairly blamed for Tunisia’s problems and are subjected to dehumanizing hate speech, sometimes spoken by Saied himself. As a result, Black Africans in Tunisia face widespread mistreatment, including violence, discrimination, and mass deportation at the country’s land borders, resulting in numerous deaths.

Upon examining the numerous promises made by the European Union to advance human rights and democracy in its overseas endeavors, it would be reasonable to anticipate a robust response to the violations and appeals for Tunisia to restore its democratic system.

What actually occurred was the opposite.

During a visit to Tunisia in July, a contentious group known as “Team Europe” promised to provide hundreds of millions of euros to aid in the country’s economic growth. The only request in return was cooperation in deterring migrants and refugees from migrating to Europe.

The representatives of “Team Europe” did not mention Saied’s authoritarianism or the need to address mistreatment of Black Africans in the country in their public statements, and this was also not addressed in the deal.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence when it comes to Europe.

In 2008, the Italian conservative government under Silvio Berlusconi made an agreement with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, resulting in the detention of numerous migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. As Libya became more unstable after Gaddafi’s downfall, the center-left government under Paolo Gentiloni, with approval from the EU, made another deal with the former Libyan Government of National Accord with the sole purpose of limiting migration.

European governments made the decision to stop their search and rescue missions and instead invest resources into the “Libyan coast guard,” which is primarily composed of militias and warlords known for their mistreatment of migrants. This decision was made due to legal constraints that prevent the return of rescued individuals to Libya. This situation, aided by Europe’s involvement, still persists today.

The EU Commission and its member countries are currently attempting to use the Generalised Scheme of Preferences as a means to pressure Asian and African governments for migration control. | Image by Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP via Getty Images

In 2016, despite the growing authoritarianism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the EU entered into an agreement with Turkey to return Syrian refugees who had crossed into Greece. The EU also offers monetary aid for border control to countries such as Egypt and Morocco, whose leaders are often welcomed by the EU despite documented human rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers.

There is speculation that these nations will be the next to receive agreements similar to the one made with Tunisia, which was praised by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as a model for the area.

The EU’s strong desire to limit migration comes at a high price, extending beyond the Mediterranean coast and affecting other aspects of the EU’s external actions, such as trade and development aid. In 2015, at the Valletta Summit, the EU and its member states made a pact to tie development funding for African countries to their ability to enhance border control.

At present, the Commission and EU member countries are attempting to manipulate the Generalised Scheme of Preferences as a means to pressure Asian and African governments for migration management.

Individually, these instances may seem pessimistic, poorly planned, and lacking foresight. However, collectively, they demonstrate a well-established approach that has shifted the focus of the EU’s foreign policy away from prioritizing rights and values.

The consequences of this intentional decision are catastrophic.

The European Union has demonstrated that it does not uphold its human rights obligations when it comes to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those from Africa or the Middle East. Sadly, they believe that allowing them to die, be mistreated, or suffer is preferable to having them on European territory.

Furthermore, despite being the largest contributor of humanitarian aid globally and holding a prominent position in advocating for human rights within multinational forums, the EU’s unwavering backing of authoritarian regimes that promise to restrict migrant movements highlights the significant inconsistencies in its foreign policies. As a result, this diminishes the bloc’s reputation as a moral player in upholding human rights, creating obstacles in garnering global support for its proposed initiatives.

The EU’s actions, which favor oppressors over the oppressed, betray the efforts of numerous activists, journalists, critics, and human rights defenders who risk their safety to expose government corruption and mistreatment. These individuals are striving for a transition to democracy and respect for human rights in their respective countries.

Ultimately, the decision made by the EU presents a significant threat to the bloc’s existence. Despite efforts to promote integration and establish legal means for controlled migration, there is still inadequate investment in these initiatives. Sadly, EU institutions and mainstream party leaders have begun to adopt extremist rhetoric, depicting migration as an uncontrollable security issue.

This position has played a role in the increased dominance and impact of far-right groups throughout Europe. As the bloc continues to make important decisions through unanimous agreement, the potential for inaction is clear. Additionally, the growth of far-right ideologies jeopardizes the rights of not only migrants and asylum seekers, but also women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other marginalized groups across Europe. It also undermines the commitment to upholding the rule of law in a growing number of EU nations.

Choosing to prioritize short-term political gains over the rights of migrants and refugees is not only morally wrong, but it also sets off a series of events that could have devastating consequences for the bloc and its core principles. The EU may ultimately become a victim of its own fixation on migration.