European Leaders Seek Closer Cooperation with Authoritarian Regimes
By Alice Autin and Claudio Francavilla
The controversial “Team Europe” deal with Tunisia’s autocratic leader, Kais Saied, set a new low in the European Union’s efforts to curb migrants’ arrivals at any cost. But Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wants to dig deeper.
The far-right leader has invited authoritarian rulers from across the Middle East and North Africa to gather in Rome on July 23, alongside some European governments and representatives of international financial institutions. While details remain murky, the conference is expected to lay the groundwork for similar deals to the one struck with Tunisia, hailed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as a “blueprint” for the region.
The deal foresees EU financial support and enhanced cooperation with Tunisia in exchange for the country containing departures of migrants and asylum seekers towards Europe. Regrettably, the deal only pays lip service to human rights and fails to acknowledge – let alone address – serious abuses against Black African migrants by Tunisian authorities or attach any human rights conditions.
Its conclusion runs in the complete opposite direction of what a human rights-based approach to migration and refugees should look like. It shows that Europe has learned nothing from its complicity in the horrendous abuses of migrants in Libya, and the intention to replicate the deal elsewhere in the region, notably with Egypt and Morocco, further testifies to that.
Egyptian authorities recently introduced unlawful entry restrictions for people fleeing Sudan’s devastating conflict and previously brutally repressed Sudanese refugee activists. They have also unlawfully repatriated Eritrean asylum seekers and failed to protect refugees who suffered sexual assault.
Moroccan authorities have committed serious abuses against migrants and asylums seekers, and have been accused of using migrants as political bargaining chips by encouraging crossings into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In 2022, an attempted border crossing resulted in bloodshed for which accountability is still lacking.
By overlooking these and other abuses, the EU risks not only perpetuating them but also emboldening repressive rulers, who can brag about warmer relations with European partners while claiming credit for securing financial support for their failing economies.
European governments that care about human rights and international law should oppose this abusive, ill-conceived, and short-sighted strategy. The alternative is not only a moral failure but culpability in the continued suffering and deaths on Europe’s doorstep.
Alice Autin, Researcher, Europe and Central Asia Division / Officer, Communications and International Justice Program
Claudio Francavilla is Human Rights Watch’s Senior EU Advocate. Since 2014, he conducts advocacy towards the EU institutions – including the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament – on the EU’s human rights foreign policy, focusing mainly on Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and EU trade policy. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2014, Claudio interned with Search for Common Ground, a peace-building NGO, first in Liberia and then in Brussels. He holds a M.A. in Human Rights and Conflict Management from Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy, and a Law Degree from the Catholic University of Milan.