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Mauritania Protests EU’s Neocolonial Migration Agreement



The odious migration deal recently struck between the European Union and Mauritania represents yet another attempt by the West to impose its will and economic interests upon Africa. 

Under the guise of cooperation, Europe seeks to reshape politics across the continent to serve its own cynical aims.

But this time, the Mauritanian people are wise to the deception. They will not accept their nation becoming a pawn of neocolonial powers. 

Protests already surge against the deal, which has no chance of stopping migration but will certainly damage Mauritania.

Enough is enough. Europe’s arrogance and delusions of control over Africa must end. The era of acquiescence has passed – Mauritania’s leaders must defend national sovereignty, not enable its violation.

The EU-Mauritania Migration Deal

The recent migration deal between the European Union and Mauritania, signed on March 7th, promises over 200 million euros in exchange for Mauritania’s cooperation in stemming irregular migration flows towards Europe. 

Specifically, the funds are earmarked to enhance Mauritanian border security and surveillance capabilities and to create employment opportunities domestically. 

The deal has been spearheaded by the EU and actively lobbied for by the Spanish government, which has grown concerned by the rising numbers of undocumented migrants arriving to the Canary Islands in recent months.

However, a look back at the history of the EU’s externalization of border control to third countries suggests this latest deal is unlikely to achieve its stated aims. If anything, the unprecedented backlash the deal has generated within Mauritania may serve to destabilize the country.

History of Trying to Curb Migration From Mauritania

The EU’s efforts to curb migration from Mauritania first began in 2006, when nearly 32,000 migrants arrived by boat to the Canary Islands from the West African coast. 

This surge in sea arrivals came on the heels of Spain’s violent crackdown on migrants attempting to scale the border fences around its North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 2005. With this traditional land route restricted, migratory flows were displaced southwards towards the open waters of the Atlantic.

In response, Spain launched aerial and maritime surveillance operations around Mauritania with support from Frontex, the EU’s border agency. 

Additionally, Spain’s Civil Guard was deployed to the northern Mauritanian port city of Nouadhibou, where they were tasked with patrolling the streets and training local police forces. 

An old school building was also converted by the Spanish into a migrant detention facility to process deportations back to the African mainland.

These measures succeeded in exponentially increasing the number of foreign nationals expelled from Mauritanian territory, leading to a temporary drop in migrant boats reaching the Canary Islands. Spain was quick to hail the operation a triumph.

Sensing an opportunity, the EU then moved to draft a new national migration strategy that was adopted by Mauritania’s government in 2010. This exercise in external policymaking marked a new low in Mauritanian sovereignty, coming right on the heels of a foreign security deployment on its soil.

In practice, the EU-authored strategy provided funding for a wide array of projects in Mauritania related to migration management, from border security trainings to youth engagement programs. However, the constantly shifting nature of migratory routes soon undermined its effectiveness.

Shift To The East

By 2015, the main sea passage for migrants had shifted east to the Central Mediterranean as unprecedented numbers attempted the crossing from Libya to Italy. In response, the EU established the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which allocated money towards addressing “root causes” of migration on the continent. Mauritania was once again the recipient of European funds and technical support aimed at preventing migration under this new banner.

It was not until 2020 that migrant boats from West Africa bound for the Canary Islands began rising once more, with over 40,000 recorded sea arrivals to Spain that year alone. A UN report identified increased restrictions on border crossings from Morocco as one factor behind this swing. 

However, the shift to the longer and more dangerous Atlantic route also came at a devastating human cost, with approximately one out of every twelve people perishing at sea.

Despite the clear link between border crackdowns and spikes in migrant deaths, the EU’s answer has been to pursue even more stringent controls in Mauritania. Since July 2022, the European Commission has pushed Mauritania to accept a Status Agreement which would authorize the deployment of Frontex forces on its territory. This deal would empower Frontex staff to carry out border patrols in the country while granting them immunity from local prosecution.

While reasons for the delay in finalizing this agreement have not been made public, reports indicate the Mauritanian government has bristled at the lack of recognition from Europe for its existing efforts to police the EU’s external borders, especially compared to the praise and funding awarded to Tunisia. However, the deal wasn’t as popular in Tunisia as the Mauritanian government might believe.

EU-Tunisia Migration Deal

In July 2023, the European Union and Tunisia signed a “strategic partnership” agreement aimed at curbing irregular migration in exchange for increased economic aid. 

The deal provides 100 million euros to Tunisia for border security efforts. It was spearheaded by EU leaders like Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who stated it promotes “shared prosperity” and targets “networks of smugglers and traffickers.”

However, the agreement has faced intense criticism from rights groups. They argue it essentially pays Tunisia to prevent migrants from reaching Europe, regardless of the country’s human rights abuses.

According to Yasmine Akrimi, a researcher at the Brussels International Center, “Italy wants to consider Tunisia as what they call a safe third country, meaning that everyone who passes through Tunisia can eventually be relocated back to Tunisia.”

Amnesty International called the deal “dangerous” and said it shows the EU has “learned no lessons from similar agreements” that enabled rights violations. Advocacy director Eve Geddie said EU policies like this “are based on callous disregard for basic human rights standards.”

The concerns raised over the EU’s deal with Tunisia echo criticisms of the broader approach to externalizing border control. Just as rights advocates warn the agreement with Tunisia ignores human rights abuses, the deal with Mauritania seems poised to repeat past failures.

History of Mauritania Immigration

Given the long history of border externalization policies enacted in Mauritania since 2006, however, there seems little indication the new 210 million euro deal will succeed where previous efforts have failed. As has been demonstrated time and again, those desperate to reach Europe will continue to risk their lives using alternative routes when existing passages are choked off.

Indeed, the spike in sea arrivals to the Canaries starting in 2006 was itself preceded by the border crackdown at Ceuta and Melilla in 2005. And the recent increases in migrants heading to the islands followed a similar violent tragedy in June 2022, when over 20 sub-Saharan Africans were killed by Moroccan forces while attempting to scale the fence at Melilla.

While the latest EU-Mauritania deal may seem repetitive, two aspects mark a departure from the past. Firstly, the monetary sum dwarfs previous externalization efforts in the country. For comparison, the multi-year 2010 national migration strategy provided only 12 million euros in funding, while EUTF projects in Mauritania amounted to 84 million euros in 2019 alone.

Secondly, past externalization programs in Mauritania faced little public criticism domestically. The controversial new deal, however, has sparked intense backlash across Mauritanian society. Opposition parties have decried plans to resettle “illegal immigrants” in the country, which the government has denied. Activists have condemned the EU’s demands for Mauritania to serve as “Europe’s gendarme”. Protests against the deal have already been forcefully dispersed in the capital.

Mauritanians Already On Edge

This polarization risks inflaming racial tensions and instability at a time when Afro-Mauritanians in particular feel increasingly targeted by authorities. The death of activist Oumar Diop while in police custody in May 2023 highlighted long standing grievances of racialized exclusion and discrimination. 

Given that Afro-Mauritanians often struggle to obtain legal identification, empowering security forces to crack down on “irregular migration” under EU mandates threatens to increase their marginalization.

In sum, the new migration deal seems destined to stoke societal tensions within Mauritania while doing little to deter migrant boats from attempting the Atlantic crossing to the Canaries. This would deal a self-inflicted blow to the country’s stability, undercutting the EU’s own narrative of Mauritania as an island of order in the Sahel.

Once again, Europe imposes its neocolonial will on Africa through these odious migration deals. 

Mauritania must reject becoming a pawn of Western interests that undermine its sovereignty. Though protests now surge against the deal, the people must escalate their resistance. 

Leaders must defend the nation’s dignity, not enable its violation. Mauritania’s future lies not with sustaining a corrupt global order, but by uplifting its citizens and asserting an independent path. 

The way forward is clear – renounce the deal, reclaim autonomy, and never again bow to the arrogance of external powers. The survival of our identity and values hangs in the balance.

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