Concern is growing in Brussels over the migration pact agreed between the European Union and Tunisia in July. Analysts say European aid is increasingly being used to prop up authoritarian and autocratic leaders in North Africa.

The EU Ombudsman’s Office has asked the European Commission how it plans to monitor the rights of those affected and how the impact on rights was assessed before signing.

The agreement calls for the EU to provide Tunisia with 100 million euros ($106.6 million) to combat illegal immigration.

However, the agreement with Tunisia, hailed at the time as a breakthrough in the bloc’s handling of irregular migration, instead benefited leaders who actively limited the rights of their citizens, refugees and refugees in return for the promise of energy deals and draconian and often violent restrictions Migrants, analysts say.

“Look at the facts,” said Amine Ghali, director of the Al-Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center in Tunis. “People across the region are struggling more today than they have in the last 20 years. Their leaders and governments have contributed nothing to their social and economic well-being.”

The evidence from human rights organizations is damning. Reports from Human Rights Watch indicate that Egypt is currently struggling to implement reforms mandated as part of its recent International Monetary Fund bailout and is maintaining an authoritarian regime where enforced disappearances and torture remain commonplace.

A crackdown on rights is underway in Algeria after the COVID-19 pandemic ended mass anti-government protests that erupted in 2019. Journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders and their families have all been targeted by the state apparatus.

In Morocco, human rights groups point to routine harassment of activists, with the state regularly using the country’s criminal code to imprison its critics.

In Libya, wracked by chaos since the 2011 revolution, rival militias exert control over the lives of its citizens, while in Tunisia – considered an Arab Spring success story – President Kais Saied is undoing many of the gains made since the revolution has overthrown former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Lack of freedom

Since 2011, the perspective appears to have changed, as European leaders appeared to accept that post-politics was too reliant on maintaining stability.

“In 2011, there was this kind of mea culpa,” Ghali said. “Europe has admitted its mistakes and seemed intent on creating this sense of a new era, of embedding democracy and rights across the region… Now it’s all about security and stability.”

According to ARTICLE 19, a human rights organization, North African societies are among the most restrictive in the world when it comes to freedoms.

Nevertheless, the EU continues to support governments through energy agreements and aid in return for their help in stemming the flow of refugees and migrants.

“There is a growing dichotomy between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ in Europe’s relations with North Africa,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, senior program director of ARTICLE 19. “While the EU can talk about its values, for North Africa it is all about it about stopping migration. Essentially, the EU is giving the region’s leaders permission to do whatever they want through aid and energy deals.

“By dealing with them in this way, the EU gives legitimacy to their leaders. They normalize their rule,” concluded Diaz-Jogeix.

Amid growing international concern about the widespread violence experienced by black asylum seekers and refugees from sub-Saharan countries following a speech by the Tunisian president in February, the EU handed over aid earlier this year with the promise of millions or more if conditions were first met IMF could be agreed.

Authorities in Libya have been accused by human rights groups of complicity in the systematic mistreatment and torture of refugees and migrants. According to Amnesty International, thousands of them are being arbitrarily arrested by various militias, armed groups and security forces.

In Algeria, with its rich energy resources, the EU and Italy have already been actively working to increase their presence while turning a blind eye to the demands of former pro-democracy protesters, many of whom are now languishing in prison.

Sources within the EU were quoted as saying that both Morocco and Egypt were in the bloc’s sights with a view to expanding the Tunisia deal.

Change settings

Yet EU countries are facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis as individual households face a real choice between heating and eating.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also placed a heavy strain on the EU’s energy strategy, as energy resources in Africa are now literally a matter of life and death for many.

It is true that Europe’s attitude towards North Africa has changed dramatically, but the character of the EU has also changed.

“The influx of millions of people during the 2015 migration crisis really changed everything,” said Susi Dennison of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the time, more than a million mostly Syrian refugees fled to Europe, reinforcing ongoing anti-immigration sentiment within the bloc and appearing to justify far-right claims that Europe’s way of life was under threat.

“After that, the EU moved to take a more pragmatic approach to its foreign policy,” Dennison said. “The idea was to provide help on a quid pro quo basis. That is, the aid would be provided in return for democratic reforms,” she said of Europe’s early attempts to help improve the lives of many people in the countries from which refugees and migrants came.

“However, in return for EU aid, controls on migration and energy agreements are increasingly taking precedence over democracy and rights,” she added.

Politically, right-wing extremist governments have already taken power in many European member states, not least in Italy, where hardliner Georgio Meloni serves as prime minister.

“Across Europe we are seeing the nature of human rights and who is entitled to them being debated and redefined. This is particularly true for Georgio Meloni, who appears to be fixated on what she describes as legal migration in return for aid and energy. There is no real place for refugees or asylum seekers in this conversation,” Dennison told Al Jazeera.

“Their views, which we would previously have described as far-right, are resonating across Europe, with at least the more relevant parts of their vision finding an audience with different European leaders as needed,” she said.

The European Commission, in turn, insists that its migration policy is developed in collaboration with various NGOs and the UNHCR.

“[The migration pact] “aims to create a fairer, more efficient and sustainable migration and asylum process for the European Union,” an EU spokesman said. “The aim is to manage and normalize migration in the long term and to offer security, clarity and humane conditions to people coming to the EU. The aim is also to establish a common approach to migration and asylum based on solidarity, responsibility and respect for human rights.”

But this will do little to appease the hungry and desperate who continue to undertake week-long journeys across Africa for a chance at a new life or simply survival in Europe.

According to the United Nations, more than 170,000 people have arrived irregularly on the continent this year. As far as we know, around 2,700 people died in the attempt. The true number is probably much higher.

Probably very few people have thought about Europe’s politics.

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