Lampedusa: no to Frontex, no to migration cooperation with Tunisia

18 September 2023 – Abolish Frontex, a grassroots network of over 130 organisations and groups, strongly condemns the reaction of the European Union to the current migration situation on Lampedusa. The 10Point Plan presented by European Commission president von der Leyen during her visit to the island on Sunday 17 September, at the invitation of Italy’s far right government, is merely another addition to Europe’s repressive and violent border and migration policies and will do nothing to help people on the move.

The plan depends heavily on involving Frontex to increase border patrols and on expanding cooperation with Tunisia. This will result in higher risks, more deaths and increasing human rights violations against people on the move. Time and again it has been shown that boosting border security at sea pushes people to take more dangerous routes in their efforts to reach Europe, as exemplified by the series of shipwrecks this summer, with hundreds of people drowning in the Mediterranean and en route to the Canary Islands under the eyes of Frontex and national coastguards. 
Frontex involvement in illegal pushbacks and other human rights violations has been well documented in numerous stories from people on the move, search and rescue NGOs and investigative journalists. EU institutions have consistently ignored and downplayed concerns about the agency, instead choosing to expand its mandate and budget. Confronting people on the move to Lampedusa with Frontex is a guarantee for more violence and risks.
Earlier this year the EU concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with Tunisia as part of its extensive efforts to externalise its borders. Turning a blind eye to the increasingly authoritarian rule of president Saied, with his racist statements and brutal crackdown on migrants in the country, the EU promised over €100 million in financial and border security and control equipment donations to turn Tunisia into its next outpost border guard. This agreement, and similar ones with Morocco, Libya and Egypt, know only one big winner: the European military and security industry which provides the tools and technologies for border militarisation.  
While von der Leyen pins the responsibility for the arrival of more people on the move on Lampedusa on smugglers, in reality this is driven by the horrible circumstances in Tunisia, Libya and other countries in North Africa and the Sahel, and the lack of safe migration possibilities towards the EU. The situation has been worsened by the migration cooperation agreements between these countries and the EU, which legitimize repressive regimes and strengthen their military and security forces. In this context, von der Leyen’s announcement that the EU “will speed up supply of equipment and increase training for the Tunisian coast guards and other law enforcement authorities” is a major problematic aspect of the 10Point Plan.
Actually, EU foreign, military and trade policies contribute heavily to the causes of forced displacement in this region. Adding to this the increasing impact of the consequences of climate change, as witnessed this summer, for which again the Global North is largely responsible. 
Apart from there points in the Plan that make it more difficult and dangerous for people on the move to cross to Lampedusa, von der Leyen places a lot of emphasis on swift denial of asylum applications and increasing deportations, again with a large role for Frontex. This will force people on the move back to unsafe countries of origin, mainly in the Sahel region, which is plagued by internal conflicts, military coups and repression. Increasing cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to force people on the move to accept so-called ‘voluntary’ returns is another point of concern in this respect. 
The only point in the 10Point Plan that could be helpful for the people arriving on Lampedusa is their swift transfer to the Italian mainland or to other EU member states, provided they can be taken to the country of their choice and will there be provided with shelter and support to build a future, instead of detention and deportation. The rest of the plan should be wiped off the table and be replaced by expanding reception facilities on Lampedusa, creating safe crossings, ending migration cooperation with non-EU-countries, addressing the EU contributions to the reasons forcing people from their homes and the immediate abolishment of Frontex and an end to the EU border regime.
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