In Attempt to Manage Refugee Crisis, E.U. Seeks to Work With Repressive African Gov’ts

James Carstensen | May 17, 2016 | 10:54pm EDT
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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and genocide. (AP Photo, File)

Berlin ( – European Union proposals to stem the flow of migrants from Africa by cooperating with African countries – including those ruled by despotic governments known for human rights violations – are causing controversy here.

Plans emerged after minutes from a “secret” March 23 meeting were obtained by German news outlet Spiegel and the ARD public television network.

The plan would be coordinated by the German development agency (GIZ), and involve working with eight African countries including Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia – all ranked “not free” by democracy watchdog Freedom House.

The E.U. would provide funding of 40 million euro ($45 million) over three years, supply equipment such as cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees, assist with the construction of two refugee camps, and train their border police.

The foundations of the plan were first established during a 2015 E.U.-Africa summit in Valletta, Malta, where African and European leaders signed a 16-point action plan aimed at preventing irregular migration and combatting human trafficking.

However, due to the negative reputation of some of the involved African countries’ governments, ranging from rights abuses to war crimes, the plan has met with criticism.

Eritrea is responsible for the third largest influx of migrants fleeing to the E.U., behind Syria and Afghanistan. Sudan, a key route for refugees from Eritrea, is suspected of collaborating with criminal human trafficking networks.

A U.N. inquiry into Eritrean human rights last June reported that its one-party government is “responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear,” and noting that “the population is subjected to forced labor and imprisonment.”

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, meanwhile is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, arising from the Darfur conflict.

Marina Peter of the German relief organization Bread for the World criticized the plan, saying working with Sudan meant that “a regime that destabilized the region and drove hundreds of thousands of people to flee is now supposed to stem the refugee problem for the E.U.”

The E.U. has been facing scrutiny as it struggles to find solutions to a growing migration crisis, with record numbers of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East.

After Germany took in more than one million migrants in 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel under growing political pressure brokered a controversial agreement with Turkey to return all asylum seekers and refugees who had crossed the Aegean Sea into Greece.

The pact has so far succeeded in reducing the numbers of refugees entering Europe through Greece, but recently reached an impasse over another element – visa-free travel for Turks.

Talks on that aspect stalled over E.U. concerns about Turkey’s anti-terror laws, which allow journalists and academics to be labelled as terrorists.

The German government denied having a secret “Plan B” if the Turkey agreement should fail, but the government is nevertheless actively looking at additional methods to stem the tide of migrants.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper that there was “a search for solutions in case of possible alternative routes, such as via Libya and Italy.”

“If, once more, more people come via this route, we will need to search for similar solutions as we did with Turkey and also enter into negotiations with North African countries,” he said.

In further steps aimed at blocking migrant flows from Africa, Germany’s Bundestag, effectively the lower house of parliament, approved a proposal last Friday to add Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to a list of “safe countries of origin.”

If approved by the upper house, this would mean that citizens of those countries would have no legal right to apply for asylum, allowing Germany to speed up the process of sending Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian asylum-seekers back to their nations of origin.

Greens foreign affairs expert Jürgen Trittin criticized the proposal, telling the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper that “human rights in the Maghreb are in a bad way.”

“These are not safe countries of origin. Period,” he said.

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