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EU responds allegations of funding migrant abuse in N. Africa

EU responds to Washington Post report on the bloc funding migrant abuse in North Africa
3 min read
22 May, 2024
European funds have been used to train personnel and buy equipment for units implicated in desert dumps and human rights abuses, finds the investigation.
Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania have yet to address this recent investigation officially. [Getty]

The European Union acknowledged a "difficult situation" on Tuesday after a recent investigation revealed that Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania were dumping desperate migrants in the desert with direct assistance from the bloc's funds.

"This is a difficult situation. It's a fast-moving situation, and we will continue to work on it," said European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer on Tuesday when asked about the investigation.

On Monday night, Lighthouse Reports, an investigative news organisation, published a report detailing how "With Europe's support, North African nations push migrants to the desert."

"Europe supports, finances, and is directly involved in clandestine operations in North African countries to dump tens of thousands of black people in the desert or remote areas each year to prevent them from coming to the EU."

Lighthouse Reports collaborated with a team of 39 reporters from Europe and North Africa in a year-long investigation of aggressive anti-migrant operations in North Africa.

The investigation was published in several media outlets, including The Washington Post, Le Monde and Inkyfada.

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Key findings of the investigation

It described a "system of mass displacement" that was "run thanks to money, vehicles, equipment, intelligence, and security forces provided by the EU."

The report said refugees and migrants in Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia were being "apprehended based on the colour of their skin, loaded onto buses, and driven to the middle of nowhere, often arid desert areas," without water or food.

Others reportedly were taken to border areas where they were "sold by the authorities to human traffickers and gangs who torture them for ransom."

In Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, vehicles of the same make and model as those provided by European countries to local security forces rounded up Black migrants from streets or transported them from detention centres to remote regions, according to the report.

Since 2015, the European bloc has struck cooperation deals with the three North African countries that include explicit financing to boost their abilities to curb irregular migration to Europe.

Brussels has allocated US$675 million to Morocco, US$227 million to Mauritania and US$160 million to Tunisia under these cooperation agreements.

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The EU's efforts to have African countries stem migration flows across the Mediterranean align with a newly agreed overhaul of the bloc's asylum rules.

These new regulations will tighten EU borders and expedite the deportation of unsuccessful asylum seekers.

Lighthouse Reports said it interviewed more than 50 black migrants — all of them from sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa — who had been expelled from the three North African countries.

Their testimonies, including videos and photos, "helped us to recognise the systematic and racially motivated nature of the practices."

The report also cited unnamed European officials as denying that EU funds were being used to violate migrants' rights.

However, it said two EU sources acknowledged it was "impossible" to fully account for how the Brussels-funded funding was being used.

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The European Commission — the EU's executive arm — did not respond explicitly to the report's allegations.

"Sometimes the situation is challenging in our partner countries... (but they) remain sovereign states, and they continue to be in control of their national forces," said Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero.

Under its laws and international treaties, the EU is obliged to ensure that its funds are spent in ways that respect fundamental human rights. 

However, the bloc's executive branch has conceded that human rights assessments are not conducted when funding migrant management projects abroad.

Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania have not officially addressed this recent investigation.