EU-Africa summit conclusions blocked over forced return of migrants

Migrants from Libya receive assistance from International Organisation for Migration. [IOM/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report EU-Africa Summit: Focus on youth, security, investment.

The issue of forced returns of migrants, as well as sexual rights, is blocking the publication of the conclusions of the EU-Africa summit, one week after the end of the debates in Abidjan. EURACTIV France reports.

Unity between the European Union and the African Union is already under severe strain, one week after the end of the joint summit, as the official conclusions have still not been published.

Dedicated to the future of youth, the summit focused mainly on the migration crisis, in the wake of the dissemination of reports on the slave trade in Libya, which scandalised international public opinion and drew strong reactions from leaders on both sides of the Mediterranean.

The issue of repatriation of migrants stranded in Libya was tackled by the leaders, who announced they would rapidly implement a return strategy for migrants, starting with the evacuation of a camp of 3,800 migrants stranded in Tripoli, announced the Chair of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat.

EU-Africa agree on repatriating migrants, but not on the bill

African and European countries have adopted a special joint declaration on Libya and said they want to repatriate migrants stranded in Libya to their countries of origin. But the question of who should pay for it has been carefully avoided. EURACTIV France reports from Abidjan.

However, since then, the question of these returns has blocked the summit’s common conclusions. At a meeting of the permanent representatives of the EU member states in Brussels on Wednesday (6 December), the lack of publication was deplored.

Voluntary or forced?

“The statement is still in the hands of the African Union. We hope for their confirmation as soon as possible on the final text,” a European source told EURACTIV France. Concretely, the sticking point is the question of forced returns.

“Europeans don’t appreciate the term voluntary,” according to a source at the African Union, “Every day we promise a resolution, it’s a joke, frankly.

The European Union wishes to see the question of returns mentioned in the conclusion. The African Union intends to mention specifically limiting the issue to voluntary returns only.

“Paragraph 73 on the voluntary return of migrants is the most important. It’s a matter of human rights, we can not force people to go back to countries where they will not be safe,” Ebba Kalondo, spokesman for Moussa Faki Mahamat, told EUURACTIV.

“We are refining the text of the statement, it’s a matter of language,” she added. “I think the publication time is quite normal, it takes time to make those decisions.”

Sexual and reproductive rights

Another pitfall is that of health and sexual and reproductive rights. This would be the first time they are included in a joint statement after an EU-Africa summit, according to a source at the EU. The conclusions of the last summit in 2014 carefully ignored the issue.

This time, the European Union is trying harder. Yet, on the African Union side, sexual and reproductive health and rights are not a point of discussion. “The issue of the mention of sexual and reproductive rights was rejected by African ministers at the summit,” a source at the AU said.

Sexual and reproductive rights have often been carefully avoided, since they include the issue of abortion, still very divisive in many European countries, but also in Africa. Illegal abortions in developing countries are one of the most common causes of maternal mortality.

EU working without 'letup' to help migrants in Libya

The EU said on Thursday (23 November) it is working without “letup” for a durable solution to the plight of migrants in Libya, adding it shared French President Emmanuel Macron’s anger over slave markets there.