There appears to be an uptick in entry of foreign migrants into Europe over the past months. Although there has been a sizeable decrease of global entries since 2015, the European Coast Guard agency Frontex noticed an increase of refugee inflows on the sequential basis over the past months. Measured in terms of crossings, the agency calculates a 60% year-on-year jump in crossing events since January 2018, to settle at over 8,200. Frontex cites the Morocco-Spain route as the most used, with 36,000 illegal migrants entering Spain since January, surpassing entries in Italy and Greece.
Struggling to contain the inflow and deal with asylum seekers and refugees already in the country, Germany, a nation highly desired by migrants, has been pressuring African nations to be more proactive in helping stem illegal migration of African nationals toward Europe in general and Germany in particular. Specific to the Maghreb region, the German government drafted a bill to categorize Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco as safe countries, thereby rejecting anyone applying for refugee or asylum status. While Germany is working hard to deport Nigerians and other Sub-Sahara Africans who do not have legal status, it is hoping that the proposed law would allow a new focus on the Maghreb zone as well, not only as a source region but also as a transit point used by Sub Saharan Africans.
The law would allow the German authorities to automatically reject any asylum application, without even providing any motive as to the rejection. A previous version of the proposed law was overruled by the Bundesrat, absent of a majority in face of the opposition from the Green party and the leftists of the Die Linke.
In this latest draft, the proposed law suggests that in the three Maghreb countries, it can be demonstrated that there is no persecution as defined by the EU’s article 9 of 2011/95/EE Directive, neither torture nor degrading and inhuman treatment are applied to people. And that there is neither blind violence nor an internal or external conflicts to justify asylum status.
One of the German government’s argument in favor of the law is that the number of applications for refugee status coming from the Maghreb and accepted by the German authorities is insignificant. Virtually all applications from Algerians are rejected. Less than 3% is the acceptance rate for the Tunisians, and slightly more than 4% for the Moroccans. German media DW says this government initiative was prompted by the deportation of an alleged former bodyguard of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to Tunisia, and to combat crime as well. “The classification of these states is long overdue,” said the deputy chairman of the conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Stephan Harbarth, in a statement quoted in DW.
Harbarth added “Unfortunately it’s also true that migrants from these countries are disproportionately involved in criminal acts.” Indeed, during the 2015 new year celebrations, cases of sexual assault were recorded in the city of Cologne, where the attackers were identified as North Africans. On December 19, 2016, a truck driven by a Tunisian national plowed into a Berlin crowd, leaving 12 people dead and 56 others injured. The perpetrator of the attack was a failed asylum seeker.
In an effort to get support for its initiative from North Africa governments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algier, Algeria on September 17, 2018. The meeting was to find ways to accelerate the deportation of Algerian nationals living illegally in Germany. The Germans are looking for streamlined administrative procedures, including providing passports to those who will be subject of deportations. North African authorities have been extremely slow in delivering documentation such as valid passports, according to the German authorities. In Algeria, there is a sense of willingness to collaborate with Germany to speed up the deportation of some 3,700 of its nationals from Germany. It remains unclear whether such statement of willingness would translate into actual action or will remain just words.
Germany is also looking to exchange information, by providing names and fingerprints of asylum seekers to their governments in North Africa. The purpose is to compare data and information on those investigated.
The Germans are also threatening foreign countries where refugees and illegal migrants come from. Failure to accept the deportees, will mean a reduction in development aid, according to Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and former Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
The French too do not want to be sidelined by Germany’s actions on illegal immigration. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb spoke of providing greater support to both Algeria and Morocco to control the movement of their citizens leaving the country, essentially erecting measures to prevent North Africans from going to Europe. Collomb is looking for a repeat of what Niger has been doing to prevent the movement of migrants toward Libya, through an initiative funded by France. Because of the Morocco-Spain border problem, the French have beefed up their own border with Spain with two more contingents of Gendarmes to contain the inflow of migrants coming from Africa through that route.
As for the European Union, it has started to understand that preventing a migration onslaught requires stable governments and improved economies in the original or transit countries. On September 16, the EU approved an aid package for job creation in Morocco worth $275 million, with the purpose of keeping people there in Morocco. The money was welcomed by the Moroccans, with a government spokesman noting that 65,000 illegal migration attempts were prevented thanks to EU financial support.
Handling illegal immigration in Europe is always work in progress. While some creative diplomacy, combined with a stick-and-carrot approach can help the Europeans make their case with the Maghreb countries, Europe’s biggest challenge is and will remain the state of collapse in Libya and the utter instability in Mali and in other Sahelian regions. It surely helps getting some support from Rabat, Algiers and Tunis, and by extension Cairo, but Libya is the epicenter of all the issues related to illegal migration, and so far, no one seems to have figured out a way to contain the unrest in Libya.