The EU's migration cooperation with North Africa: will the carrot and stick approach work? – Blog 1

On 2 March, the European Union published the third progress report on actions carried out under the Migration Partnership Framework to manage flows along the Central Mediterranean route. In light of the EU’s plans to enhance engagement with third countries, particularly in North Africa, this series of blogs sheds light on the ongoing multilateral and bilateral discussions on migration with these countries.

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      Seeking to avoid a new influx of irregular migrants from the Southern shores of the Mediterranean next spring or summer, the European Union has turned to North Africa. Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Libya are not included in the five priority countries for the Migration Compacts as part of the EU’s Partnership Framework. The Migration Compacts particularly concern Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia.

      Yet, over the last few months, a series of statements and actions by European leaders have hinted at other types of cooperation aimed to curb the arrival of irregular migrants into Europe. The EU is paying particular attention to Libya, as 90% of the migrants reaching Europe’s shores via the Central Mediterranean route are departing from the Libyan coast. Thus the European Union is taking steps towards closer cooperation with Libya’s neighbours in North Africa.

      What does the EU want to achieve in its cooperation with Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia?


      The renewed engagement with North African countries is part of a broader plan to prevent irregular migration flows upstream, before they reach the European borders. It also ensures that asylum seekers can either be hosted in North Africa, where they can receive protection and apply for asylum to Europe, or be returned to their countries of origin when possible.

      The EU points out that other routes could develop in neighbouring countries if the cooperation with Libya to curb migration bears fruit. At the same time, countries like Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia already host a substantial number of migrants. Moreover, since it may be difficult to justify returning migrants to Libya due to the serious threats to the safety of migrants in the country, the EU is looking at safer third countries in the region where readmission might be possible.

      Hungary, Austria and Germany have called for resettling migrants in North Africa. Egypt has been promoted as a likely candidate for resettlement by Germany and some efforts have already been made in this direction. Also, Tunisia has emerged as a viable destination for readmitted migrants.

      What is the EU’s aim in cooperating with Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia?


      The cooperation with any of these partners on migration, including incentives that the EU may provide, is specific for each country. Yet, the key elements to halt and intercept migrant smuggling and incentivise better cooperation on readmission and return are broadly related to three areas of cooperation.

      Stepping up cooperation concerning border management

      This includes providing more equipment and training for border authorities and systems in North Africa, with a particular emphasis on Libya, where the key objective is to monitor and target the supply lines of smugglers. The plan includes the creation of a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center to intensify cross-border coordination and exchange of information between Europe and North Africa as well as among North African countries.

      Ensuring a comprehensive asylum and migration policy as well as protection

      This includes assisting North African countries in developing their migration policies and boosting their capacities to offer protection and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers. In Libya, the EU seeks to increase cooperation with the UNHCR and IOM as well as with Libyan authorities, in order to improve the conditions and treatment of migrants in the centres where they are being held. It also entails assistance to migrants to facilitate their reintegration into the local economy by creating alternative sources of income in those Libyan communities that are hosting migrants.

      Ensuring better cooperation on return and readmission

      The EU also aims at increasing cooperation with Libyan authorities and international organisations in order to promote assisted voluntary returns from Libya – and other concerned countries in North Africa – to countries of origin. The EU Commission has recently presented proposals for its action plan on return and revisions of the EU return directive, which has been heavily criticised by civil society. The EU, in return, will be able to offer incentives through financing the above-mentioned activities, giving trade concessions, facilitating the procedures for visa application and so on, in accordance with the Partnership Framework.

      This new plan of the EU has been approved by European leaders in the Malta Summit of early February. Yet, the recently proposed engagement with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has met criticism from a number of analysts.

      Germany and France put forward another document, which recommends a new crisis mechanism for the Common European Asylum System. which equally received criticisms. The document notes that the EU-Turkey deal will be “a blueprint for future European asylum policy” – thus basically stipulating that all new arrivals would be directly removed to third countries. The main criticism towards these new proposals is that they reveal a discord between the EU’s avowed respect for human rights and procedures that show little consideration for these rights.

      Challenges for EU-North Africa cooperation: political and economic realities and incentives


      What the EU describes as a “new results-oriented Partnership Framework” is likely to encounter a number of obstacles in North Africa. These include concerns about human rights and technical challenges to implementing these plans as well as political resistance. The incentive structures that underlie migration dynamics in the region, as well as factors that influence the authorities’ decision-making on these matters, need to be well understood in this context.

      Past constraints hampering cooperation will not easily be overcome with the promise of greater capital inflow or a greater emphasis on capacity building for border or migration management, nor by granting more resources to carry out such activities. Larger incentives offered by the EU for more immediate cooperation could help to achieve some objectives in the short term but may do little to provide long-term solutions to migration and development dynamics.

      The following blogs of this series will discuss some of the North African country contexts and dynamics that play a role in regards to their willingness, or lack thereof, to cooperate with the EU on stemming flows. In our next blog, the focus will be on how this new cooperation is operating in the case of Tunisia.


      The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

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