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North Africa bears the brunt of Europe’s externalisation policies: Analysts | News

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Tunis, Tunisia – Thirty-two-year-old Edna Mossay left Freetown, Sierra Leone, with her four children three years ago.

“It’s not easy there. There’s no food, no medication, no school,” she said. “The police used to beat and rape our brothers and sisters. I saw this.”

Mossay is among hundreds of thousands who flee Sierra Leone every year to escape corrupt authorities and violent unrest; she now lives in a small tarpaulin and wood shelter in the micro-shanty town that has formed outside the Tunis offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

She has planned her family’s transit to Europe in one of the small, precarious metal boats that carry the poor and desperate to Europe.

“The children will cost around 1,000 Tunisian dinars [$320]. I will pay around 2,500 dinars [$800],” Mossay says hopefully. She knows that the country she is sheltering in has struck deals and received funding from Europe to keep her and people like her out, but she is still willing to try.

Clash of principles and realpolitik? 

Mossay’s is a story that echoes across the IOM tent city and another encampment where mostly Sudanese refugees and migrants trade with each other for food and scraps, and one enterprising young man sits behind his sewing machine, awaiting customers.

The passage where refugees are camped. It's crowded and a leak makes the ground wet
The makeshift camp outside the IOM, Tunis [Al Jazeera]

They are all fleeing unspeakable horrors, trying to get themselves and family to safety, or to support family back home – individuals struggling against a system that is trying hard to stop them from getting away.

On the opposing side of these persecuted, desperate people taking brutal journeys to try to reach the rule of law promised in Europe are Europe’s own authorities.

European lawmakers have pitched a recent 7.4 billion-euro ($8bn) deal between the European Union and Egypt as a further advance on the bloc’s aims to create a buffer zone along the shores of the southern Mediterranean, shoring up the walls of “Fortress Europe”.

With EU parliamentary elections due later this year, and brown and Black arrivals, frequent scapegoats for popular anger over floundering economies, the European Commission appears intent on placing the issue of migration at the fore.

Europe’s policy of externalisation, that is, pushing its border concerns back to neighbouring countries, is not new.

Since around 2015, when Syria’s collapse resulted in record levels of migration into Europe, the bloc has actively sought to externalise its migration concerns, with its human consequences seemingly an afterthought.

“There’s an obvious clash between what the EU calls its principles and the states it’s dealing with along the Mediterranean,” Ahlam Chemlali, a researcher in migration and externalisation at the Danish Institute for International Studies said.

“That clash can grow more extreme the further you travel away from the Mediterranean,” she said, referring to where most irregular arrivals originate, such as war-wracked Sudan, or states such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Mauritania.

In the last six months, the EU has delivered 305 million euros ($331m) to Tunisia and Egypt – specifically to bolster border protections.

Additional reporting over the weekend suggests the total for Tunisia may be far higher, with 278 million euros ($301m) slated to be channelled to the North African country over the next three years, with the bulk earmarked for security services.

This is in addition to the ongoing funding from Italy and the European Union for the Libyan Coast Guard and many of the camps along the Libyan coast, which have run since 2017.

‘Quite clever’

This push to keep the “migration problem” on the southern shores of the Mediterranean has left refugees and migrants caught in the jaws of militias, human traffickers, North African racism, and authorities who move them around to keep them out of sight, even if it means their deaths in desert border zones.

“Europe must stop seeing its southern neighbourhood as a security threat and handing power to warlords and autocrats, ultimately with very little control or oversight.

“It effectively just serves to give them control, as they’re able to threaten Europe with a wave of migrants whenever they want to extract more money, or other political concessions from them,” Tarek Megerisi, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who recently wrote a paper debunking much of the case for externalisation said.

The EU currently plans to invest some 150 billion euros ($163bn) in West Africa as part of its Global Gateway package, marketed as a bid to create sustainable growth and accelerate green and digital transitions.

Italy, under the new Mattei Plan, has earmarked 5.5 billion euros ($6bn) to work alongside African efforts to create sustainable projects that will anchor potential migrants in the region.

In return, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni says, Italy will look to invest in Africa’s energy industry, revitalising its own economy and establishing Italy as an energy gateway for Europe.

“It’s quite clever, really,” Megerisi said, explaining that Meloni’s promises of investment in Africa present a progressive front ostensibly focused on development in source countries.

Killine Diew, 31, from South Sudan sheltering in Lac 1, an upmarket district of Tunis
Killine Diew, 31, from South Sudan sheltering in Lac 1, Tunis [Al Jazeera]

“For young people, some indication that there may be an economic future in their country are real incentives to remain, given how dangerous the alternative is,” he said.

“But without broader European support, she will fall back on externalisation projects like Tunisia, Egypt.”

However, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Few of the expatriates Al Jazeera spoke to in Tunis had any hope that EU money granted to governments either locked in civil war or subsumed by corruption would draw them back to their countries of origin.

Thirty-one-year-old Killine Diew from South Sudan, for one, is unconvinced. Asked how his president would react to a similar aid package as has been granted others, he laughs: “He will keep it!”

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