Echoes of the Rwanda Scheme Across Europe

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 16 April 2024

In considering the UK’s agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, it is interesting to consider other similar international agreements. A particularly interesting example is the agreement between the EU and Tunisia.

On 27 April 2023 the EU and Tunisia expressed their “willingness to establish a stronger partnership on immigration, anti-smuggling and the promotion of legal immigration” after the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs travelled to Tunisia. According to Frontex’s data, the Central Mediterranean accounted for half of irregular borders crossings in 2023 and the central Mediterranean remains the main migratory route into the EU.

According to Frontex data, since the end of 2022, Tunisia has become the first country of departure for migrants crossing the Central Mediterranean, prompting the EU to prioritise strengthening the already existing Immigration co-operation with this North African country. Through different co-operation projects, the EU has indeed been funding the search and rescue capacity for the Tunisian border Coast Guard and providing Tunisia with equipment, technical support as well as training for border surveillance.

On 11 June 2023 a joint Declaration in which the EU and Tunisia agreed to work together was published.

On 30 June 2023 the European Council endorsed the work done on a mutually beneficial comprehensive partnership package with Tunisia. On 16 July 2023 the President Von Der Leyen and the Italian and Dutch Prime Ministers together with the President of Tunisia signed an agreement to implement a comprehensive partnership package announced jointly on 11 June 2023. However, there are concerns that the Tunisian Authorities over the past few months have also arrested and forcefully removed thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to Algeria and Libya, in violation of International Humanitarian Law, according to European Diplomats, International Humanitarian Staff and NGOs.

The example of Tunisia illustrates the dilemma the EU is faced with. On the one hand, the EU has exceptionally high fundamental rights standards according to the EU Ombudsman but on the other hand it is facing this very contested issue of migration. Catherine Wollard of the European Council on Refugee & Exiles argues that the Tunisian Agreement is one out of many such deals attempted to limit the movement of people, many of whom are in need of protection.

To note other international agreements regarding migration, in 2017 there was an agreement between Italy and Libya under which EU pledged funds to curb migration whilst the imprisonment, enslavement and torture of migrants and asylum seekers in Libyan prisons was well documented. In 2023 the UN Report accused the Libyan Authorities of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.