Mediterranean Crisis – The Price of Outsourcing and Securitization

On September 21st 2017, a boat carrying more than 100 people ran out of fuel and capsized, leaving 50 individuals to drown in the Mediterranean sea. Despite a diplomatically intense summer marked b…


On September 21st 2017, a boat carrying more than 100 people ran out of fuel and capsized, leaving 50 individuals to drown in the Mediterranean sea. Despite a diplomatically intense summer marked by the European Union’s attempts to increase its partnership with multiple actors in North Africa, this tragic event could not be avoided. Are outsourcing and securitization measures adequate to solve the Mediterranean crisis?

This summer, Europe started an offensive diplomatic strategy which saw the introduction of new orientations and organisation of high level meetings to find partners for the Mediterranean crisis management. The first attempt came from French President Emmanuel Macron, stating in late July that he wanted to create “hotspots” in Libya.[2] It is worth remembering that last April, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported the existence of slave markets in Libya.[3] The country being unstable with a lack of political authority, the French proposal would further put people at risk and empower shady partners. He went on to declare that OFPRA (Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) missions would be sent to Africa to identify potential candidates to asylum. These types of procedures would call into question the fundamental principles of non-refoulement and freedom of movement. Furthermore, OFPRA is a French entity created to operate on the French territory and not in any African countries. Although some OFPRA missions were previously carried out in Jordan or Lebanon in the context of resettlement programs, this time  the total lack of clarity and precision regarding processes and actors involved should be a source of concerns.

The reactions this announce triggered did not stop Paris in its tracks. On August 28th, a mini-summit on migration was organized at the Elysée palace.[4]Heads of state and representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Niger, Chad, Libya and the European Union, gathered to find solutions and reinforce cooperation. One must note that key countries of the migratory routes, notably Algeria and Morocco, were not present. Two outcome documents were produced. The first one, “Relever le défi de la migration et de l’Asile“, details the approach  behind the initiative.[5] It puts an emphasis on reinforcing capacities of African countries, notably in development activities to tackle the root causes of the crisisHowever, it seems that the orientations taken would be leaning towards increased securitization. Aid, to be effective, must be transparently managed by receiving countries and with a precise timeframe. This is not apparent in the declaration. Rather, capacity-building of the police, military and judicial systems are among the top priorities. This would further empower governments which are not necessarily in line with international human rights standards especially when it comes to migrants and refugees. The declaration applauds Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria particularly, for their “management of the migration flows”.[6] It is worth remembering that between April and June 2017, Syrian refugees were left with no assistance in an area of the desert bordering Algeria and Morocco, due to the two countries arguing over sovereignty matters and refusing to let them enter their territories.[7] More recently, the Algerian authorities conducted deportation operations which saw migrants being taken and dropped at the border with Niger. Once again, people were left with no assistance in the Sahara.[8]  The second document, “Missions de protection en vue de la réinstallation de réfugiés en Europe“, strangely presents resettlement procedures as a new finding despite the fact that these are already core activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in the region.[9] Will this include new aspects other than just increasing resettlement program slots? This lack of clarity further illustrates the superficiality of the answers provided during this meeting and l’effet d’annonce sought by organizers.

France is not the only European country lobbying for outsourcing and securitization as a way of managing the crisis. Notably, Italy made a deal with clan-based militias in Libya, which involves financing these groups to prevent boats from departure.[10] As pointed out by the New York Times, there is a risk for this money to be used to fuel an arms race between rival militias. Furthermore, Italy drafted a Code of Conduct for non governmental organizations (NGOs) rescuing individuals in the Mediterranean sea.[11] The majority of NGOs had to sign it as authorities announced that failure to comply would be followed by consequences.[12] Among other things, the Code of Conduct states that NGOs must not enter Libyan territorial waters and that rescue boats may have to welcome police officers on board. Thus, it reinforces Libyan militias, weakens NGOs and further dehumanizes the management of the crisis. These decisions have already had an impact on the situation. As an example, on August 14th, Libyan coastguards threatened NGOs vessels with “warning shots” as humanitarian workers were operating in international waters.[13]

If states are no longer prioritizing human dignity and assistance in order to make sure migrants and refugees are not reaching their borders, it is the responsibility of international organizations to advocate for compliance with international standards. Empowering militias, weakening NGOs and increasing risks for human beings cannot be considered as sustainable solutions. These developments are in total contrast with the New York declaration adopted a year ago. United Nations General Assembly’s member states agreed on reaffirming fundamental principles of protection, humanitarian innovation, notably on resilience and partnerships with multiple stakeholders.[14] As noted by High Commissioner Filippo Grandi: “Protection is constantly being tested. And at times, it even seems that refugees have become a commodity, traded between States”.[15] UNHCR and its new Special Envoy to the Central Mediterranean Situation, Vincent Cochetel, need to build an efficient advocacy strategy to amend these orientations and raise awareness on the obligations of all actors. The risk is for United Nations agencies to fail in influencing state policies and ending up being a tool of securitization for states. In this regard, the role of IOM must be clarified notably on the management of returns and Libyan detention centres.[16] For the time being, it seems that UNHCR has resisted and sticks to its protection approach.[17]  Furthermore, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote a significant piece denouncing the situation in Libya and the hypocrisy of European states.[18] It shows that at least, the United Nations as an institution, tries to stick to its fundamental principles and missions.


Louison Mazeaud


Picture/ Taha Jawashi, AFP, June 2017.

[1] “Migrant crisis: Dozens feared drowned off Libya coast”, BBC, 21 September 2017,

[2] Alcyone Wemaëre, “‘Hotspots’ in Libya: French President Macron’s troubling announcement”, France 24, 28 July 2017,

[3] International Organization for Migration, “IOM Learns of ‘Slave Market’ Conditions Endangering Migrants in North Africa”, 4 November 2017,

[4] Patrick Wintour and Kim Willsher, “African and European leaders agree action plan on migration crisis”, The Guardian, 28 August 2017,

[5] Déclaration conjointe, “Relever le défi de la migration et de l’Asile”, Elysée, 28 August 2017,

[6] Déclaration conjointe, “Relever le défi de la migration et de l’Asile”, Elysée, 28 August 2017,

[7] “UN urges Algeria, Morocco to release trapped Syrian refugees”, Reuters, 30 May 2017,

[8] “Que deviennent au Niger les migrants expulsés d’Algérie?”, RFI, 30 September 2017,

[9] Déclaration conjointe, “Missions de protection en vue de la réinstallation de réfugiés en Europe”, Elysée, 28 August 2017,

[10] Editorial Board, “Italy’s Dodgy Deal on Migrants”, The New York Times, 25 September 2017,

[11] “Italy’s code of conduct for NGOs involved in migrant rescue: text”, Euronews, 3 August 2017,

[12] “Aid groups snub Italian code of conduct on Mediterranean rescues”, The Guardian, 31 July 2017,

[13] “Three NGOs halt Mediterranean migrant rescues after Libyan hostility”, The Guardian, 14 August 2017,

[14] UN General Assembly, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 3 October 2016, A/RES/71/1,

[15] Filippo Grandi, Opening statement at the 68th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme, 2 October 2017,

[16] Peter Tinti, “Nearly There but Never Further Away”, Foreign Policy, 5 October 2017,

[17] William Spindler, “UNHCR seeks support for alternatives to dangerous refugee journeys”, UNHCR, 18 July 2017,

[18] Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “Returned migrants are being robbed, raped and murdered in Libya”, United Nations Human Rights, 8 September 2017,


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