Horrific scenes at the Melilla border with Morocco cast a sharp light on how the EU works with other regimes to crack down on migrants. Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin looks at the funding, training and support the EU provides in order manage migration.
Last week in the Dáil, Paul Murphy TD confronted Taoiseach Mícheál Martin about the horrors inflicted on migrants by security forces at the Moroccan border with the Spanish enclave Melilla.
Asked if he would condemn the mass murder at the border, Martin embarked on a diatribe in which he accused Murphy of “anti-Europeanism”, saying that “the European Union of any actor in the world is the most humanitarian, contributes most on humanitarian issues to the neighbourhood”, and told Murphy he should “attack those authorities who created authoritarian regimes and who create conditions that make life impossible for people”.
Even by Martin’s standards, it was an extraordinary response in the context of what had happened. 2,000 migrants had attempted to cross the border into Melilla and were met with extreme force by Moroccan and Spanish security forces working in tandem. At least 37 migrants were killed, some in the crush at the fence, others after being beaten by border guards and then left in the sun without treatment for hours.
Perhaps Martin’s riposte had something to do with the trip to Madrid he had lined up days later, where he attended a banquet with NATO members. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had given a similarly bombastic response, praising security forces for their “extraordinary work” in repelling what he called a “violent and organised assault”.
This kind of response to border barbarism from EU leaders has become all too familiar in recent times. In 2020, President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen described Greece as “Europe’s Shield”, even as reports emerged of the Greek coast guard shooting at refugee boats with live ammunition.
Glowing praise of the EU as humanitarian, liberal and democratic is coupled with calls for it to be defended against attack. The violence at the borders is to be blamed on human traffickers, who need to be shut down at every opportunity.
When it comes to the migrants themselves, there needs to be a “deterrent” – sometimes EU leaders will use this word, without spelling out that the deterrent itself is more bodies washing up on Mediterranean shores.
The Funding Behind the Melilla Massacre
Behind the horrors that happened at the Melilla border is another aspect of the EU’s border policies. The EU has dramatically increased spending on its own border security force, Frontex. The 2022 budget of over €757 million was its biggest yet, up from €543m in 2021 and €460m in 2020.
However, the EU is not singularly reliant on its own security forces to stop migrants from coming to Europe. Increasingly, it is working with other countries, providing funding and support in order to control migration from afar and prevent migrants from ever coming close to European shores.
Morocco is one such country. The EU has spent over €346 million on “support on migration in Morocco”. Of this, €238 million is drawn from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. A look at the breakdown in spending shows how the EU dresses up its support for authoritarian measures with talk of human rights and economic support.
EU Trust Fund programmes in Morocco come under three headings: Protection and Rights, Socio-Economic Integration, and Institutional Support and Border Management. Total spending on Protection and Rights comes to €28.3 million. The programmes funded range from “protection services to the most vulnerable migrants, in particular migrant women who are victims of violence and trafficking and unaccompanied minors” (€6.5 million), to facilitating “orderly, safe and responsible migration management and implementation of dignified, rights and development-based return and sustainable reintegration policies (€5.1 million).
Funding for the Socio-Economic Integration aspect comes to €22.5 million – this is provided in order to “foster mutually beneficial legal migration and labour mobility”, to support the “creation of economic activities and employment opportunities in Morocco”, and “to promote social inclusion at the local level through enhancing employability of both the Moroccan diaspora and the migrants living in Morocco”.
Whether these programmes are useful or effective is up for debate. Certainly “the implementation of dignified, rights and development-based return and sustainable reintegration”, is quite clearly an attempt at deportation with a human face. But the main issue is that behind these aid and development programmes is an attempt to put a window dressing on the money they are giving for authoritarian border control measures.
The funding mentioned above pales in comparison to that provided for Institutional Support and Border Management: €190 million in total. Of this, €101.7 million went directly to “Support the actions of the Moroccan authorities on the migratory flows, including the strengthening of integrated border”. Millions spent, therefore, on concrete walls, barbed wire fences, and uniformed guards.
We can safely say that the Melilla Massacre was directly funded by the European Union. And the praise of Pedro Sánchez and Mícheál Martin cannot be seen as anything other than an endorsement of this policy.
Horror in Libya
It is not just Morocco that the EU is working with on migration. Since 2017, the EU has had an official agreement to work with Libyan authorities in order to return people who attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Libya. Over the past five years more than 82,000 people have been returned.
The agreement “outsources the patrolling of the central Mediterranean to Libyan coastguards”. It allows Libyan authorities to intercept people at sea in Libya and return them to the country. It is illegal to return people to a place where they face serious abuse – and the horrific abuse that is being inflicted on migrants who are returned to Libya is well-documented.
Amnesty International has reported how “Men, women and children returned to Libya face arbitrary detention, torture, cruel and inhuman detention conditions, rape and sexual violence, extortion, forced labour and unlawful killings.”
Instead of launching investigations into the crimes committed at informal detention centres, Libyan authorities since late 2020 have legitimised them and integrated them into the official migration detention infrastructure. Two sites of enforced disappearances have now been rebranded under the control of the Directorate of Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), despite the fact that torture, sexual violence and other abuse continues within them.
The other official centres have also been rife with human rights abuses. Use of unlawful lethal force was documented by Amnesty in at least three centres, including the murder of migrants attempting to escape in February 2021 and June 2021.
Instead of prosecuting those who have committed crimes against migrants, “individuals reasonably suspected of committing crimes under international law and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants” have been rewarded with high level positions in state institutions by the Libyan government.
Like Morocco, we can follow the money and trace the funding that facilitates these horrors back to the EU. €57 million has been provided by the EU Trust Fund for Africa for Integrated Border Management in Libya. A further €19.8 million was provided to support the “humanitarian repatriation and reintegration of vulnerable migrants in Libya”. Funding for the Libyan Coast Guard is ostensibly provided in order to help search and rescue, but the coast guard are not rescuing people – they are capturing and kidnapping them.
As one Malian told Médecins Sans Frontières: “A foreigner (in Libya) is like a blood diamond – they can be kidnapped to make money out of them. Some migrants ended up dying in prison, and when they did, they were simply thrown out as if they were animals. Their families don’t even know where they are buried. This is why people like me are suffering here. And Europe is giving tools to fuel this system of suffering.”
They Don’t Just Stop Migrants
The focus on the EU’s deals with African countries tends to be on how various regimes are aided and abetted in carrying out the EU’s policy of stemming migration. But this is not the only effect of the policy.
The Libyan government has funded militias like the State Support Authority (SSA), which has been responsible for many human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees. This funding has not only allowed it to commit crimes against refugees, but it has also helped the militia to “expand its influence beyond Tripoli to al-Zawiya and towns in western Libya”. EU funding which is ostensibly supposed to stop migrants also has the added effect of increasing the power and scope of militias like the SSA.
A similar dynamic is evident in Sudan. The Khartoum Process began in 2014, when the EU began talks with Horn of Africa countries about how to control migration. This marked a departure from how European governments dealt with Omar al-Bashir’s regime. The EU’s focus on managing migration meant they were now willing to overlook al-Bashir’s human rights record and the International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest for war crimes.
In April 2016, the EU announced a €100 million development aid package for Sudan. In fact, this was a repackaging of previous aid provided for health, education, food security and other necessities. However this time it was pitched as part of the policy of preventing ‘irregular’ migration and included €15 million “in order to improve the living conditions of refugees and host communities in East Sudan (Kassala) and Khartoum, and to strengthen the capacity of local authorities”.
A further €40 million was allocated to Sudan from the EU Trust Fund for Africa under the Better Migration Management program. This funding would be used in part to provide training for border police and to assist with the construction of detention camps for migrants. It was not coordinated by the federal government but by German development agency GIZ – a vehicle that could be used to avoid transparency.
The Khartoum Process and this funding coincided with the designation of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as Sudan’s primary border control force. The RSF has its roots in Janjaweed militias responsible for ethnic cleansing in Darfur in 2003. A 2017 report from the Enough Project warned that the EU plans would strengthen the RSF and would risk “underwriting a complex system of a ‘militia state’”.
EU Ambassador to Sudan Jean-Michel Dumond denied that the RSF received EU funding in 2018, saying, “We have been accused of all the sins of the world, and it’s quite clear we have never cooperated with the RSF – we have no link.” But despite factsheets and disclaimers, there is little evidence that adequate safeguards were put in place to prevent the RSF from benefiting from the funding – if such safeguards would even be possible.
Either way, the fact that regular Sudanese police received training and funding is not in doubt. They themselves have a grim record, including the detention and extortion of migrants, physical and sexual violence, and the deportation of migrants back to their home country, even though they have experienced torture and other forms of violence there.
Whatever the reality of where the funds ended up, the EU saw fit to stop the funding in March 2019, as the Sudanese regime violently cracked down on the heroic Sudanese Revolution. A few short months later, on June 3, a massacre was committed by the armed forces of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council, led by the RSF. Over 128 protesters were killed, at least 40 bodies thrown in the Nile, hundreds of unarmed civilians were injured, hundreds arrested, and over 70 women and men were raped.
Withdrawal of EU support, when it happened, came far too late. The Khartoum Massacre was one of the most horrific atrocities committed by the counter revolution, but it was not the only one.
In its eagerness to stem the flow of migrants from Sudan, the EU extended its hand to a regime that it knew was guilty of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. It provided funding and training for police forces known for violent repression and helped to strengthen the regime’s security apparatus as a whole.
This apparatus was turned on the Sudanese people when they rose up to overthrow al-Bashir after three decades of dictatorship. The transitional civilian-military government was overthrown by a coup last October and military rule has been restored – although the resistance fights on.
In the end, all of this has been aided and abetted by funding, training and support provided by the EU.
Herein lies the bitter irony of Mícheál Martin’s words, when he said we should “attack those authorities who created authoritarian regimes and who create conditions that make life impossible for people”. The legacy of European colonialism in Africa is being borne out and perpetuated today, through the extraction of resources, through crippling debt, and through the support of authoritarian regimes.
As the pain of these ongoing crimes are felt by people suffering the impacts of war, famine, persecution, and climate related disasters, the EU has sought to create deterrents for those who try to flee.
Search & Rescue Operations are described as “pull factors” and discontinued, with no discussion of the “push factors” that might cause people to get into a flimsy boat and risk their lives to make the dangerous crossing. A mass grave now lines the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. Vicious beatings are meted out at borders. Bodies pile up at border fences.
So much of the violence we see at the peripheries – at Melilla, in Libya, in Sudan – originates from the imperial centre. While the EU strives to maintain its civilised face, crowing about democracy and liberal values, it is outsourcing its barbarism elsewhere.