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Second-class citizens?

Sarah Mersch / sadMarch 29, 2013

European Union immigration policy aims for many refugees to be intercepted in third countries - with devastating consequences, human rights advocates say. They are targeting the topic at the World Social Forum in Tunis.

Illegal immigrants on a fence in Greece Foto: Nikos Arvanitidis / epa dpa (zu dpa «Illegale Einwanderung - EU-Staaten setzen Athen unter Druck» vom 08.03.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Many North African countries have bilateral agreements with Europe that require them to act against illegal immigration into the EU. Such measures have simply outsourced the problem of human rights violations, according to Amadou M'Bow of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association.

M'Bow claims that the EU, through its immigration policy, is promoting inequality, pointing out that while Europeans can freely travel the world, the situation is very different for people originating south of the Mediterranean.

This brings the very meaning of humanity into question, M'Bow said: "Are we a single humanity, or two different humanities with different rights?" He added that he considers freedom of movement to be fundamental to the development that the EU expects from such countries.

Amadou M’Bow
Amadou M'Bow accuses the EU of passing the buck on immigration problemsImage: Sarah Mersch

Judith Kopp of the German nongovernmental organization Pro Asyl - which worked on a study about the effects of EU immigration policies on third countries - asserted that European policies have increased border controls in African states. "Europe is holding the problem at arm's length," Kopp said, agreeing with M'Bow.

Kopp noted a clear increase in racism against people from sub-Saharan nations within the Maghreb. In Mauritania, for example, suspicion is high against immigrants in general, she reported. "People who have no intention of migrating end up in the detention centers, which is especially dire," Kopp said.

Deliberate intervention

In many African states, there is a lack of regulation regarding asylum seekers - a field in which the EU appears to be taking an increased initiative. The transitional government in Tunisia, for example, is developing its immigration policy in tandem with EU negotiations on a new immigration treaty, the so-called Mobility Partnership.

A small boat with 75 would-be immigrants arrives in Los Cristianos, on the Canary island of Tenerife, Spain
Many Africans risk their lives for the opportunity to cross the Mediterranean illegally to EuropeImage: AP

The EU is also using the Center for International Migration and Development, which is run by German government agencies, to unduly influence the asylum policies of the Mediterranean country, Kopp claims. She described the center's offer of help in developing Tunisia's immigration laws as "a very wide-reaching influence over national sovereignty."

Same old logic

Hassan Boubakri of the Tunisian Center for Migration and Asylum told DW that European immigration policy had not changed in response to revolts in the region in 2011. "It's the same logic as before: Development assistance from Europe is made contingent on security issues," Boubakri said.

Hassan Boubakri
Boubakri said the EU is rather acting on its own security concernsImage: Sarah Mersch

Even within Tunisia, it is not clear to what extent the transitional government is allowed to sign treaties that are as comprehensive as the Mobility Partnership. The transitional government's goal, after all, is primarily to develop a new constitution. Elections for a long-term government with full negotiating powers will not be held until 2014. And only that government, many believe, would have the legitimacy to decide such issues, as a far-reaching Tunisian immigration policy.