When the EU pushed to outsource its migrant problem to North Africa, the Maghreb states delivered a solid rejection.

European Union leaders reached a "deal" on migration during the June 29 European Council summit, agreeing on the need to 'set-up' asylum processing centers across North Africa, to try to stem the migrant flow into Europe which is already at an all-time low. 

The processing centres are planned for the North African nations of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. 

Since the Summit, no EU country has stepped up to create any of these centers, including France, whose president Emmanuel Macron pushed for the idea during the summit.

But no country has actually agreed to host a processing centre.  

Morocco: 'Are we partners or objects to you?'

On the contrary, North African countries clearly voiced rejections of the proposed plans.

"Are we partners or just a neighbour you're afraid of?" asked Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in an interview with the German national daily Die, questioning Europe's attitude. 

"The EU can't ask Morocco to help with migration and the fight against terrorism and treat the country like an object."

"Morocco rejects and has always rejected these kinds of methods for managing the issues of migration flows," he concluded. 

Tunisia: 'The answer is no'

Bourita's sentiment was shared by the range of North African states. The proposal was also made to Tunisia by both Germany and Italy. 

"The answer is a clear no", clarified Tahar Cherif, Tunisian Ambassador to the EU.

“We have neither the capacity nor the means to organise these detention centres. We are already suffering a lot from what is happening in Libya, which has been the effect of European action.”

'Algeria takes back its children'

Algeria has also rejected the proposed deal, while cementing ties with Germany through a positive visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Algiers in late September. 

An agreement was reached between the countries on speeding up court extradition requests of Algerian nationals in exchange for the repatriation of Algerian 'illegals' by Berlin. 

“Algeria takes back its children,” said Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, speaking on the nearly 3,700 Algerians awaiting deportation in Germany. 

Chancellor Merkel's visit to Algeria coincided with the forced retirement of the Algerian National Army's high commanders of the Air Force and Land Forces. It would be followed by the firing of nearly a dozen generals, and the investigation of more for abuse of power.

"Algeria does battle for the rest of the international community,” he said, by preventing “20,000 to 30,000 people annually from entering Algeria illegally” noted Ouyahia, implying that Algeria prevented them from making the crossing into Europe. 

Libya: 'Take your money elsewhere'

Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini visited Tripoli in late-June to convince Libyan authorities to accept the deal. Salvini is a renowned anti-immigration far right-wing politician who has been widely accredited with the rise of xenophobia and populism in Italy, and most recently threatened to close Italy's airports if Germany begins repatriating migrants to Italy.  

Salvini had previously called for asylum centers to be set up on the southern Libyan border. 

Libya's prime minister later spoke against the asylum centers. 

"We are strictly against Europe officially placing illegal migrants who are no longer wanted in the EU in our country".

"We also won't agree on any deals with EU money about taking in more illegal migrants," he promised, while adding that European leaders should instead pressure  migrants' origin countries to prevent refugee seekers from leaving in the first place. 

The EU is looking to make a deal with North African countries similar to the deal it made with Turkey in 2016. 

Under the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal, Ankara agreed to prevent migrants from crossing to Greece and receive repatriated migrants, in exchange for several billion euros in financial aid to assist with managing and processing over 3.5 million refugees.

The likelihood of a deal taking place though is increasingly slim, given opposition from within the EU itself. Six different presidencies of the EU have failed to come up with a solution to the refugees. 

Europeans “cannot ask other countries to do things they are not ready to do themselves,” said Vincent Cochete UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean. 

“At the European level, what is important is they work first on the internal dimension, with the appropriate mechanism in terms of processing and in terms of distribution of refugees.”

At the heart of the EU disagreement is the 'Dublin system' which determines countries responsible for processing asylum claims and hosting refugees or migrants granted asylum. 

Migrant challenge will only get worse

Amidst rising populism and xenophobia  across Europe, coupled with continuing war instability in the Middle East, the refugee crisis is only expected to grow. 

In 30 years, Africa will have 2.5 billion citizens, Europe 716 million—about 26 million less than today. 

According to the International Organization for Migration, some 82,100 migrants have made it across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, with another 1,741 dying in the attempt.

Fear and the far-right

Coinciding with the rise of populist right-wing governments across Europe, nearly  four in ten Europeans think that migration is more of a problem than an opportunity according to the latest Eurobarometer poll. 

In Italy, one in every two sees migration as problem.

Migrant intolerance is also highest in  countries with a distorted perception of  migrants. Italians for instance, believe that migrants make up 26 percent of the population. The figure is actually 9.5 percent. This might explain Italian fear over migration.

According to the latest Notizie da paura report published annually by the Italian Journalist Association, in 2017 alone, news about migrants made up 44 percent of the news, with news about crimes made by asylum seekers making up 16 percent of all news. 

In a last-bid effort to win over stakeholders for the deal, European Council President Donald Tusk announced a summit between EU leaders and Arab league states in February, which may bring migrants and their hopes more of the same. 

Source: TRT World