Ombudsman raises concern over EU migration deal with Egypt

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 11:02 AM

By Nette Noestlinger

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s rights watchdog raised concern on Tuesday about the bloc’s new 7.4 billion euro ($8.03 billion) agreement with Egypt that includes provisions to curb migration, saying it falls short on human rights safeguards.

The 27-nation EU has sealed similar pacts with Mauritania, Tunisia, Turkey and other countries since 2016 as it seeks to reduce irregular arrivals. Rights groups have sharply criticised those pacts as ignoring humanitarian law.

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said the issue of human rights should be taken into account before finalising any such cooperation, including outlining redress in case of violations.

“In relation to the fundamental rights issues regarding the various deals that are being done, well, tell us concretely what you’re doing,” she told a news conference, addressing the EU’s executive Commission, which handles such agreements.

“Because otherwise it looks as if the money is being given, but everything that happens next is slightly more opaque.”

The European Commission did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment.

O’Reilly said she was not taking concrete action on the Egypt agreement since her office has yet to receive any formal complaints. But she said she was considering launching a probe into a similar EU deal with Tunisia sealed last year.

U.N. data shows about 34,000 people have entered the EU – a wealthy bloc of some 450 million people – so far this year outside of regular entries, mostly across the Mediterranean on unsafe smugglers’ dinghies. Nearly 250 perished along the way.

That compares to a 2015 high of more than one million arrivals, mostly of refugees fleeing the war in Syria, which caught European governments by surprise. The ensuing chaos triggered a rise in anti-immigration rhetoric across the EU.

The EU is expected to continue its efforts to stem irregular immigration from the Middle East and Africa, especially as migration is a key concern for voters in the run-up to European Parliament elections in June.

($1 = 0.9220 euros)

(Reporting by Nette Nöstlinger, Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Gareth Jones)