Von Der Leyen vows to strike €210-million migration deal with Mauritania

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Speaking during a visit to Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, Von der Leyen said she had discussed a “common roadmap” on migration management with Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, that should be finalised this spring.

It would see Brussels commit a financial envelop of “more than €210 million” before the end of the year to help the West African country tackle the root causes of migration, provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and crack down on human traffickers.

The deal will also bolster opportunities for Mauritania’s youth, Von der Leyen said.

“Insecurity and lack of economic opportunities in the region push many people to migrate. This migration often brings them first to Mauritania,” Von der Leyen explained, commending Mauritania for harbouring around 150,000 refugees from neighbouring Mali, where violence has been rife since the 2021 military takeover.

“This migration causes many people to fall into the cynical traps of smugglers and puts their lives in danger,” she added.

Von der Leyen and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez jointly visited Mauritania to kickstart EU investments in green hydrogen projects, part of the bloc’s €300 billion ‘Global Gateway’ investment programme to fund green and digital projects in partner countries.

It comes amid a spike in the number of people transiting through Mauritania to embark on the dangerous journey from the west coast of Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands in small boats. 

Spain’s interior ministry estimates 110 boats carrying 7,270 migrants reached the islands’ coasts in January alone, more than 80% of them from Mauritania. Around 6,000 migrants lost their lives attempting to reach the Canary Islands last year, according to NGO Caminando Fronteras.

“The upcoming Joint Declaration to launch a migration partnership and dialogue will be, in my opinion, fundamental,” Sánchez said.

Von der Leyen’s pledge follows a similar deal struck with Tunisia in July last year, which earmarked €105 million to tackle smuggling, step up border management and speed up the return of asylum seekers whose applications are denied.

The deal has been blasted by EU lawmakers and human rights defenders for failing to recognise mounting evidence of Tunisian authorities’ abusive treatment of sub-Saharan migrants, including illegal pushbacks, racial hatred and human rights violations.

The European Ombudsman has sought clarification on the deal’s human rights safeguards. A European Commission spokesperson said on Thursday that the watchdog had given the EU executive until February 29 to respond to its concerns.

Von der Leyen has repeatedly said the Tunisia deal would serve as a blueprint for similar agreements with third countries where irregular departures to Europe are on the rise. 

Sahel situation “very precarious”

Recognising the threat posed by chronic instability in the Sahel region, Von der Leyen also pledged an extra €22 million in security support, taking the bloc’s total to €40 million this year.

“The situation in the Sahel is very precarious, and Mauritania plays a primordial role for stability in the region,” Von der Leyen said.

The cash will support the training of senior military officers, reinforce the military camp of N’Bekeit on the eastern border with Mali and equip an additional battalion to clamp down on terrorism.

In recent years military coups have successfully tumbled the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and more recently, Niger, seen as one of the region’s last bastions of democracy.

This has seen terrorist movements splinter across the region, particularly in Mauritania’s neighbour, Mali.

The spiralling of terrorist insurgency and France’s declining popularity in countries such as Mali has cast doubt over the EU’s credibility as a partner in the region.

The instability also has implications for migration into Europe. A recent decision by Niger’s military junta to repeal a law designed to curb migrant flows into Europe also has Brussels on the alert for an influx of migrants.

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