Unveiling the Human Rights Challenges in EU-funded Border Control

maart 2024

As the European Commission embarks on new migration partnerships with repressive regimes and gives them more funding to cooperate on the prevention of irregular migration and strengthen border management, it becomes imperative to closely examine the mechanisms through which border control policies are put into action. A new report written by Profundo and partners, which was commissioned by the Greens in the European Parliament, calls for transparency and accountability within EU migration governance.  

“During the night, the Tunisian coast guard arrived. They started hitting us with a long iron stick. The captain and other travellers were injured. Then the coast guard tied a rope to our boat and forcibly took us to their boat. When we were on the coast guard boat, we saw two other migrant boats that were intercepted at the same time. In total, there were around 120 people who were intercepted. It was very violent. I saw the Tunisian coast guard hit a boat with Tunisians, using a smaller, fast boat. People fell into the water.”

Migrant From Nigeria

Picture this: migrants and refugees risking their lives to seek refuge, only to encounter widespread violent and criminal behaviour at the hands of border control authorities, especially in the context of sea interceptions. Reports of coastguards using batons or tear gas against migrants or colliding with migrants’ boats, causing them to sink, are just some of the reported forms of physical violence used. Civil society organisations are often refused as well to rescue people or offer aid.

This leads to the pushback of migrants and asylum seekers in Tunisia and Libya, with violence and rights violations at the hands of border control authorities, which constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention’s non-refoulement principle. This grim reality is not confined to distant shores but is unfolding at the doorstep of the European Union.

Uncovering the Reality: EU Funding for Border Control Facilitates Human Rights Violations

The report "Beyond Borders, Beyond Boundaries", written by Profundo in collaboration with ARCI, EuroMed Rights and ActionAid, sheds light on EU-funded border management initiatives in Tunisia and Libya and their human rights implications. Over the past four years, the EU has allocated substantial sums - € 73 million to Tunisia and € 71 million to Libya - towards these endeavours and notably pledged an additional € 105 million for Tunisia in 2023 alone.

As this report denounces, there lies a stark contrast between the EU's proclaimed commitment to upholding human rights and the harsh realities on the ground. EU funds earmarked for border control initiatives in Tunisia and Libya have, in numerous instances, been linked to facilitating reports of violence and abuse against migrants and asylum seekers. This glaring disparity between professed values and actual practices demands accountability from those responsible for shaping migration policies.

Lack of Mechanisms to Track Expenditure

Moreover, the findings of our report underscore the need for greater transparency and accountability in EU migration governance. Too often, decision-making processes are shrouded in opacity, making it difficult for civil society organizations and the public to hold authorities accountable for their actions. For example, if you want to know how the EU money for border control is actually spent in Tunisia and Libya, you will not find any information on the EU website. If you want to read independent evaluations of the human rights impacts of border control operations, you will not find those on the EU website either. The lack of clear mechanisms for tracking EU funding expenditure, as well as monitoring and evaluating project impacts, further exacerbates this problem, as detailed in our report.

Rights-based Approach

To address these challenges, it is imperative that the EU prioritizes the implementation of a Rights-Based Approach to migration policies and in every policy intervention, as outlined the NDICI-Global Europe Regulation, which defines the legal framework for financial support to countries outside the EU. Article 8 echoes a rights-based approach encompassing all human rights as a fundamental principle of the instrument (Article 8(2)), with an emphasis on full compliance with the Union’s commitment to promoting, protecting, and fulfilling all human rights (Article 8(4)). Furthermore, Article 29(1) specifies that Union funding under the Instrument shall not support actions or measures that could lead to human rights violations in partner countries.

In line with these legal obligations, the EC adopted a Toolbox: “Human Rights-Based Approach: The EU Toolbox for placing rights-holders at the Centre of International Partnership”. This Toolbox mandates transparency and meaningful stakeholder participation, including by civil society organizations, in policy design, implementation, and monitoring. However, as our report details, the Toolbox has not been implemented in projects supporting border control in Libya and Tunisia.

Therefore, it is crucial for civil society organizations, policymakers, citizens, and Members of the European Parliament to continue advocating for transparency and accountability in migration governance. This entails holding decision-makers accountable and advocating for policies that uphold human rights.

Key Recommendations for Change

Specifically, our report calls for:

·       A comprehensive human rights assessment in Tunisia and Libya before allocating new funding. No funds should be disbursed until the human rights situation in both countries is thoroughly evaluated;

·       Reassessment of ongoing programs, with real-time adjustments and program suspension if human rights violations persist;

·       Meaningful engagement with civil society organizations, ensuring their perspectives are central to decision-making processes;

·       Transparency in expenditure, providing clear and accessible information on program implementation to build trust and accountability; and

·       Enhanced oversight by the European Parliament in planning and supervising these programs.

Finally, if you want to take action now, you could sign this petition, entitled “Europe, stop paying for human rights violations at our borders!” Following the study, this petition was initiated by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament and is a meaningful step towards urging the European Commission to cease financing human rights violations at the borders now and make EU funding conditional to protecting human rights.

The report "Beyond Borders, Beyond Boundaries" study was commissioned by The Greens/EFA in the European Parliament and was written by Profundo, in collaboration with ARCI, EuroMed Rights and ActionAid. For further information, please contact Estela Casajuana, Senior researcher:


(Photo: AlxeyPnferov on iStock)

Copyright Profundo, bouw EasyMIND