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

Guinea's President and chair of the African Union Alpha Conde speaks with President of the European Council Donald Tusk during a joint news conference after the closing session of the 5th EU-Africa summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 30 November 2017. [LEGNAN KOULA/EPA]

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.

Correction : the first version of this article wrongly recalled a visit from the High Representative of the Union for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, to a migrants camp,  in Libya. This visit was done by the African Union commissionner for social affairs, Amira El Fadil.

This is perhaps the only concrete action taken at the EU-Africa Summit, which ended on Thursday (30 November) in Abidjan. Some 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya in inhumane conditions will be repatriated urgently to their country of origin.

These migrants detained in Tripoli recently received a visit from the African Union commissionner for social affairs, Amira El Fadil, who was able to witness firsthand the catastrophic conditions in detention centres.

These thousands of people will be returned by flights made available by the Moroccan and European authorities. “But this is only one detention camp, while the Libyan government has counted 42, and there may be more,” said the President of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The number of African migrants stranded in Libya is estimated at between 400,000 and 700,000, according to the Mahamat.

The announcement concluded a summit focused on the plight of migrants stranded in Libya, while the announced agenda was dedicated to youth, investment, good governance, migration and security.

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The heads of state and government of the two continents held multiple side-line meetings on the Libyan crisis, like the one convened by the French President Emmanuel Macron.

At the end of the two-day summit, leaders issued a joint declaration on the situation of migrants in Libya, pledging in particular “to take all necessary actions to offer [the refugees] the necessary assistance and facilitate their voluntary return to their country of origin.”

Leaders clashed on mentioning “voluntary and forced returns of migrants”, but the final wording of the text only mentions the option of voluntary return.

“We had some differences especially on migration issues,” said African Union President Alpha Condé at the closing press conference.

In practice, the distinction between voluntary and forced returns is sometimes blurred. In the latest repatriation carried out by Côte d’Ivoire and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), several Ivorians interviewed by EURACTIV claimed to have been forced to return to their country of origin.

“Frankly, we did not have the choice of return,” said Sylvain Djeby, repatriated to Abidjan from Tripoli with more than 500 compatriots. For the majority, the return to the country seems, however, a relief given the trying conditions in Libya.

The repatriation bill

The evacuation of stranded migrants in Libya should begin with the camp visited by Amira El Fadil. But for the hundreds of thousands remaining, the question of the cost of repatriation will quickly arise.

And for the time being, both the Europeans and the Africans haven’t spoken about the large costs that this vast operation could generate, both in terms of repatriation and resettlement assistance.

“The financing conditions have not been discussed, and they could be long,” says a source from the European Union. “Who will really finance this type of return? Are African states ready to put their hands in their pockets? ”

For the moment, one of the financial tools for the EU to support the voluntary repatriation of migrants and their reintegration is the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, but it suffers from a funding gap. And on the African side, no concrete announcement of funding has been made.

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