The European Union (EU) on October 30, 2022, signed an agreement with Egypt for the first phase of a border management program in an effort to limit the flow of irregular migrants entering Europe. Through an 80 million euro project, the European Union wants to address the issue of growing irregular migration along the Egyptian border which has increased significantly in the past few months.
2022 saw an increase in migration across the border between Egypt and Libya and from Libya’s Mediterranean coast to Europe. In recent years, similar border management measures have been taken by the European Union and its member states with other countries in the African region as an attempt to limit irregular migration from the region. Against this background, this paper explores and analyzes the new border management deal with EU policies in the region on border management and tackling irregular migration.
Externalization of EU border
Externalization of border management is not a new thing. Over the past few decades, the European Union and its member states have partnered with third countries to address matters related to migration and border control policies. However, since the migrant crisis of 2015, this cooperation has been further strengthened.
As part of the border management strategy, an increasing number of political tools are being used, including non-EU countries’ re-entry agreements, building reception and border management capabilities. In the years following the adoption of the EU Agenda on Migration in 2015, unprecedented financial and technical support was made available by the EU and its Member States, particularly to the Southern Mediterranean neighbourhood to implement this strategy.
Egypt has, over the years, been a country of immigration and emigration as well as transit for expatriates. It is an important transit or immigration country for large numbers of forcibly displaced migrants from African countries, mainly Sudan and Somalia, as well as other countries such as Iraq and Syria. Egypt is also strategically important to the European Union due to its important geopolitical location at the crossroads of Africa, West Asia and Asia. Consequently, cooperation on cross-border mobility is intrinsically linked to wider issues of mutual concern, including security and energy cooperation.
A comprehensive framework for the EU-Egypt partnership in the management of irregular migration from the region Given the broad contours of this cooperation at the regional level, Egypt has been a member of initiatives such as the Rabat Process and the Khartoum Process, which focus on irregular migration, smuggling and trafficking.
The Egypt-EU Migration Dialogue, launched in 2017, provides a forum for diplomatic exchanges between the two and has strengthened cooperation on irregular migration. The dialogue deals with all aspects related to border management and immigration control such as preventing irregular migration, combating human trafficking and smuggling, promoting legal migration and mobility channels, and protecting refugees and asylum seekers. It also includes the exchange of information, best practices and experiences and capacity building.
In addition to cooperation at the EU level, several EU countries have complementary bilateral arrangements with Egypt. For example, Germany signed an agreement with Egypt in 2016 on security cooperation and committed to training and equipping the Egyptian police. Both countries presented the agreement as necessary to counter crime and terrorism and included border security as an integral component. As part of this collaboration, assistance was provided in the form of information exchange and knowledge sharing, training and provision of equipment, such as document verification readers and technical support for incorporating biometric features into travel documents. The two sides also established a bilateral dialogue on migration in 2017.
In addition, Italy, which has been a main destination country for migrants from the region, signed a re-admission agreement with Egypt in 2008, as well as a memorandum of understanding to control irregular migration in 2009. . Both Germany and Italy have expanded their bilateral development cooperation in Egypt through projects and initiatives and are increasingly linking this to their foreign and security policies.
In addition, EU-funded projects are being implemented that aim to strengthen the capacities of the Egyptian authorities to manage migration. These projects are funded by European governments as well as by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) for Africa and the European Union Regional Trust Fund (AID) for Syria, which was established in 2015. For example, in 2016, the EU Emergency Trust Fund granted 11.5 million euros to a project to strengthen migration management in Egypt, and to the then-newly established National Commission for Countering and Preventing Illegal Migration and Smuggling in Persons. Endorsed by the Coordination Committee (NCCPIMTIP). In 2017, to manage migration, counter the root causes and an additional 60 million Euros were provided to improve the capabilities of Egyptian authorities to support host communities in the country.
At the operational level, Egypt is a member of the Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community, a capacity-building project to reduce irregular migration, launched in 2018 by Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency). From 2005 to 2020, the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah Border Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah) worked with the Egyptian authorities to monitor border crossings between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Currently, various EU agencies and member states provide regular training to Egyptian police forces.
A new border management deal
As a result of increased monitoring and surveillance capabilities, irregular crossings from the Egyptian coast were significantly reduced between 2017 and 2019. In 2016 the number had dropped to only 267 out of about 4226 irregular arrivals of Egyptians through the central Mediterranean route.
2019 European governments attribute this reduction in irregular arrivals to their cooperation with Egypt to Purchase Search and rescue (SAR) equipment through its new border management Programme. Seeks to address this issue by building the capacity of the Egyptian Coast and Border Guards through support and providing specialized training to enhance knowledge and skills in border management.
It also seeks to incorporate a ‘rights-based, conservation-oriented and gender-sensitive approach’ into Egypt’s border management Programme. The program forms part of €300 million in short-term and long-term EU funding for Egypt, and a key part of the European Commission’s plans to adopt a multi-year multi-country Migration Action Order for the Southern Neighborhood for 2021-2027 Creates components.
On October 30, 2022, the European Commissioner for Neighborhoods and Enlargement, Oliver Werley, signed agreements with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian Ministry of Defense for the first phase of the Programme, allocating 23 million euros in 2022 for program support. 57 million euros will be allocated in the second Phase which is planned to be adopted in 2023. According to the European Commission’s working document on Strengthening the operational capacity of the Egyptian Coast Guard and the Egyptian Border Guards, the following outputs and activities are envisaged through this program
For program implementation, an Operational agreement has been signed between the European Union, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and CIVIPOL, the technical cooperation operator of the French Ministry of the Interior. Previously, the EU and its member states have launched similar border management programs with other countries in the region, such as Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. Through this, the EU intends to incorporate these countries into its border management system using existing cooperation frameworks.
Re-entry agreements, patrolling operations and intervention at sea are some of the major measures adopted by European countries to facilitate border exclusion policies. For example, with the financial aid and support of the European Union, Morocco and Spain are engaged in advanced cooperation involving joint patrolling and the use of high-tech surveillance systems to deter irregular migrants. In addition, the EU’s first anti-trafficking operational partnership with Morocco was launched in July 2022.
Libya has also been a focal point. Following the removal of sanctions and arms embargoes, several treaties were concluded to address the issue of irregular migration. A treaty of friendship was signed between Libya and Italy in 2008, under which Italy agreed to pay $5 billion for damages caused to Libya during the colonial era. Part of this amount was to fund deportation flights from Italy to Libya, the construction of detention facilities for migrants in Libya, and technical assistance for coastal surveillance. The treaty was suspended in 2011 due to instability following Gaddafi’s coup, but was renewed in 2018. Re-admission of irregular migrants has also been an important component of migration cooperation between France and the Maghreb countries.
In 2021, the French government decided to tighten its stance on migrant return by more tightly linking it to the country’s visa policy, announcing a drastic cut in the number of visas available to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. To justify the move, France cited the limited cooperation of Maghreb countries in repatriating their citizens living irregularly in France.
The EU’s recent agreement with Egypt on border management is an extension of its securitization approach with countries in its immediate neighborhood to tackle irregular migration. This approach has often been criticized by African governments as well as civil society organizations. Criticism is based on the fact that while such restrictive measures may be able to reduce numbers, they fail to uphold the rights and protections guaranteed to refugees and asylum seekers by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union . In recent years, the emphasis on these border control measures has intensified, because European governments face additional pressure to stop irregular migration due to the growing number of people seeking to enter Europe.
Have these policies been effective in achieving the stated goals?
While it may be too early to provide an assessment of the new deal on border management between Egypt and the EU, on the larger question of border exclusion, it can be argued that the implementation of restrictive border control measures has reduced migrants’ attempts to reach the European continent. has not stopped completely. As seen in the case of Turkey or the Balkans, the closure of migration routes has led refugees and migrants to take other, more dangerous routes. The same applies to Egypt, where bordering Libya has become the main transit route for Egyptian migrants.
Experience has shown that traffickers and human traffickers have a knack for adapting to changing circumstances. So, as long as the conditions that encourage migrants to make the perilous journey persist, new ways and routes are likely to emerge. In the case of Egypt, its economy has been severely affected by the pandemic mainly due to a sharp decline in tourism and now, with the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the situation has escalated.
Cooperation on migration management has been described by the EU as mutually beneficial, yet, it also creates an unbalanced relationship in which European priorities and interests may not always resonate with African interests. In Europe, there is immense political and public pressure to stop irregular migration. As a result, border management policies are adopted as a security imperative to counter exploitative smugglers and smuggling networks or to prevent unscrupulous elements from entering European territory. In this context, development funds are seen as ways to address the root causes of migration and to strengthen cooperation on border management procedures. However, for Egypt and other countries in the region, there are other issues that pose a greater threat to their internal security.
While for the EU, it may appear that adequate training on border management and other incentives will result in governments in the region cooperating to control irregular migration, there are important domestic factors at play, primarily socio-economic and political circumstances. That determine how African states prioritize this cooperation on migration management.
From the point of view of African countries, externalization measures require African countries to restrict movement within their territory in order to prevent further migration to Europe, which also runs contrary to the objectives of the African Union, which are to promote economic growth within the continent. Seeks to promote internal free mobility. Even though Europe has often stressed the need for more legal migration routes, especially given the demographic shifts and labour shortage it is currently experiencing, not much has been done towards creating those channels.
The current social, political, economic and environmental complexities, Europe’s focus on the border security of Egypt and the overall region is likely to increase over time. So far, border exclusion policies have seen limited success in stopping irregular migration, which often has adverse effects, such as encouraging migrants and refugees to take risky migration routes. For an effective long-term solution, an alternative to the EU’s border externalization approach is needed that includes the rights of refugees and migrants, the demands of Europe’s Labour market and more open avenues for legal migration. Finally, it must take into account not only the needs of Europe but also the larger interests of the people on the other side.