Close this search box.

In conversation with Tineke Strik on European 'cash for migrant control' deals

Photo: Tineke Strik at a European Parliament debate -. X

Migration remains a hot topic - both during the recent Lower House elections and now, ahead of the European Parliament elections on 6 June. The call for control over immigration and borders is central to this. Consequently, the European Union has in recent years worked intensively with countries outside the EU to regulate migration. Migration deals, such as those with Turkey, Tunisia, Mauritania and Egypt, are designed to stop migrants before they reach European borders. But these 'cash for migrant control' deals raise questions about the price paid in terms of human rights.

Tineke Strik, professor of migration law and MEP, is on the barricades for refugee rights amid this debate. She wants to highlight the human and human rights aspect behind migration deals and hold European policymakers accountable for their decisions, both financial and legal. Ahead of the European elections, FMS spoke to Strik about the recent migration deals and what steps can be taken to ensure that human rights remain a priority in regulating migration.

No deals with origin countries, but transit countries

The EU's tendency to leave regulating migration to countries around the EU comes up frequently. According to Strik, the EU has recently been putting more pressure on transit countries. She explains: "Cooperation on migration has existed since the 1990s and originally focused mainly on treaties with countries of origin. Now it focuses on transit countries. This is due to the fact that transit countries often do not have the same obligations as countries of origin to take back rejected migrants." The less stringent legal obligations make them attractive partners for the EU.

"These migration deals are quite elusive because the European Parliament has no formal power of consent and the European Court of Justice cannot review them."

As a result, the EU is putting increasing pressure on these countries, both financially and politically, to cooperate in taking back migrants and strengthening border controls. Strik identifies another trend in migration policy: "In addition, the trend has shifted from formal agreements to informal ones. These migration deals are quite elusive because the European Parliament has no formal power of consent and the European Court of Justice cannot review them."

EU strengthens authoritarian leaders with these migration deals

As a result, this "new" migration approach has been widely criticised. "Money is often given to leaders of countries with poor human rights records, which raises concerns," Strik argues. One example is Tunisia. In this country, President Kais Saied is the suppressing democracy by freezing parliament, detaining opposition members and obstructing press freedom by arresting journalists. Migrants from sub-Saharan countries in this country are also more often abandoned by Tunisian authorities in the desert - without water, food, shelter or help. Despite all this, the EU wanted to cooperate with Saied, and no less than 127 million euros transfer for this purpose.

"By giving money without human rights conditions, these leaders are supported rather than encouraged to change their behaviour."

Moreover, there are concerns about the EU's role in empowering authoritarian leaders. "Giving money without human rights conditionality supports rather than encourages these leaders to change their behaviour. This can lead to further human rights violations and lack of accountability," Strik explains.

Stricter standards within the EU for migration policy?

What can we do to ensure that human rights remain protected when regulating migration? "First, we need to impose stricter conditions on financial assistance to third countries. The European Parliament has called for thorough investigations into the potential human rights impact of such agreements before they are concluded. In addition, we should improve the monitoring of these agreements and ensure that the EU has more control over how the money is spent. This can be achieved through closer cooperation with NGOs, researchers and development agencies," Strik argues. "The EU should never cooperate with human rights violations, but rather invest in better protection and treatment of migrants and refugees in transit countries."

"These migration deals are sold as non-binding agreements but in fact, of course, they do bind, because it makes money conditional on cooperation from such a country."

"Furthermore, we also need higher standards within the EU when it comes to linking terms of trade to migration policies. This is problematic and needs to be addressed," she further explained. For instance, the EU and Egypt have an agreement of EUR 7.4 billion reached in which Egypt receives investment and loans and in return takes measures against migrants to Europe. "These migration deals are sold as non-binding agreements but of course, in fact, they are actually binding, because it makes money conditional on cooperation from such a country.

This can lead to a situation where economic considerations overshadow human rights protection. If countries like Egypt receive economic benefits in exchange for taking measures against migrants, there is a risk that these countries will tighten their migration policies without paying sufficient attention to the rights and welfare of migrants. "The military dictatorship established by President Sisi already leads to systematic human rights violations and the rights of migrants and refugees are worth nothing to him. The same goes for Tunisia, where President Saied is conducting a smear campaign against migrants, rounding them up and dumping them in the desert or near the border with Libya," Strik said.

A fairer distribution

Strik believes we should continue to argue for a fairer distribution of responsibility for migration within the EU. "It is not acceptable that some countries are overburdened with receiving migrants while others shirk their responsibilities. We must seek solidarity and cooperation within the EU to ensure that migrants' human rights are protected and that fair and effective migration policies are implemented."

"Only by sticking to our fundamental values of democracy and human rights can we ensure a fair and humane migration policy"

This requires a concerted effort by all EU member states and institutions, as well as close cooperation with international partners and civil society. "Only by sticking to our fundamental values of democracy and human rights can we ensure a fair and humane migration policy," she argues. With place #5 on the GroenLinks-Pvda list for the upcoming European elections, this is therefore what Tineke Strik wants to campaign for in Brussels.