EU and Mali sign deal to deport failed asylum seekers

EU will provide millions of euro in aid to Mali in return for the West African country's commitment to accept failed asylum seekers and step up its fight against human smuggling 

Detained Malian migrants being led inside the Safi detention centre last month. Photo: James Bianchi
Detained Malian migrants being led inside the Safi detention centre last month. Photo: James Bianchi

The EU has signed a deal with Mali that will see it provide funds to the African country in return for its agreement to accept failed asylum seekers and aid in fighting human smugglers.

The deal, signed on behalf of the EU by Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders after talks in Bamako, also envisages EU support to Mali on development, biometric passports and improving security.

“It is the first time that the EU has established such a precise mechanism with an African country with regards to returning failed asylum seekers,” Koenders said in a statement.

He added that the deal, which will be presented in Brussels on Monday is “necessary” and is targetted at fighting “the root causes of illegal migration” and “enabling the return from Europe of Malian migrants”.

In November 2015, EU and African leaders met in Malta for the Valletta summit, where it was agreed that a €1.8 billion fund should be set up to address the root causes of migration. In return, African leaders agreed to increase border controls and accept the repatriation of failed asylum seekers.

Last month, police arrested 33 Malian migrants and detained them at the Safi detention centre in lieu of their deportation, but five were later released. This followed the government’s decision to revoke temporary humanitarian protection- New (THPn) permits that used to be issued to failed asylum seekers on an annual basis. All of the detained migrants are male, aged between 20 and 40, and half of them have been living in Malta for over five years.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and home affairs minister Carmelo Abela have brushed off humanitarian criticism at the fact that some migrants in line for deportation have been living in Malta for years.

“Some people feel sorry for them because they have been in Malta for a long time, but we must send a message that Malta is ready to deport anyone who entered illegally,” he said. “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate those immigrants who have been found to be here illegally.”

When asked by MaltaToday whether Mali is considered as a safe country of origin, a spokesperson for Abela said “security concerns relating to Mali are limited to the country’s northern region,” adding that the government is acting within its rights and obligations.

Last month, the UN refugee agency said that in October more than 2,000 men, women and children from northern Mali sought refuge in Mauritania from ongoing banditry and interethnic violence.

More than 135,000 Malians who have fled the conflict in their country live in exile, mainly in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania, where Mbera camp continues to be home to more than 42,000 men, women and children.

UNHCR said the conflict is not contained in the northern part of the country, but frequent security incidents are reported in central Mali which continue to trigger sporadic forced displacement in the region, both internally in Mali and into the other neighbouring countries.

Pointing out that Malta’s asylum system has an independent appeals stage, the ministry spokesperson said  “individual requests for asylum are assessed, due consideration is given not only to the general situation in the country, but also in his or her region of origin. In practice this means that should the situation be unstable or dangerous in a particular territory or region, then only persons hailing from that region would be considered for international protection.”

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