Europe in Africa: Russians in Libya, UK-Rwanda Asylum Deal and EU’s Relations with Mali

Written by | Sunday, April 17th, 2022

LIBYA — Despite rumors that Russia’s infamous Wagner Group will fight in Ukraine, Western analysts expect the paramilitary organization to stay in conflict-torn Libya. The shadowy paramilitary group tied to the Kremlin, has played a significant role in Libya, supporting renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in the country’s civil war. Observers had recently begun wondering whether the Wagner forces would be withdrawing from Libya to shift their focus on supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although the Kremlin might need to adjust and reconfigure its mission in the North African country, there is good reason to expect the Russians to continue their campaign there. “Before 24 February, there was no indication that the clandestine Russian mission [in Libya] was withdrawing, shrinking, or anything of the sort,” according to Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher specializing in Libya. While there are some unconfirmed reports that Russian mercenaries have been withdrawn from the country to fight in Ukraine, the majority have remained. But experts suggest that sustaining a military presence in Libya is key to Russia’s agendas elsewhere on the African continent, especially in the Sahel region. “You clearly have reliance on the perennial and permanent character of the Russian footprint in Libya. It wasn’t about to shrink,” says Harchaoui.
RWANDA — The controversial agreement with Rwanda that the United Kingdom unveiled on Thursday (14 April), which will see thousands of asylum seekers sent to the East African country to have their applications processed, is likely to spark legal challenges. The two governments say that the “partnership will disrupt the business model of organized crime gangs and deter migrants from putting their lives at risk. Under the program, which will see the UK pay Rwanda €150 million, potentially thousands of asylum seekers arriving in the UK will be flown one way to Kigali, where their cases will be dealt with. While in Rwanda, they will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, with equal access to employment and enrollment in healthcare and social care services. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the scheme would “save countless lives” from human trafficking. “We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system,” he said, adding that “our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.” However, the agreement is very likely to face a legal challenge, with NGOs and human rights lawyers arguing that the outsourcing of asylum claims without appropriate legal protections breaks international law. Denmark has a similar arrangement, also with Rwanda, for which it changed national law to allow it to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside the EU. In response, the European Commission expressed concerns that the Danish law could breach EU law. The UN High Commission for Refugees has warned that outsourcing asylum claims would leave the UK in breach of its international obligations.
MALI — Although the European Union’s recent decision to limit the training of Malian soldiers is correct and long overdue, the bloc also must not forget Mali and leave it to its own devices, argues Dirke Köpp in an opinion published in Deutsche Welle. For months there has been serious doubt over the sincerity and transparency of the Malian transitional government’s policies. Since the military coup d’etat, there have been no signs that the army is interested in returning the country to democracy anytime soon. All efforts by the West African trade bloc ECOWAS and the international community have run aground. The relationship between Mali and former colonial power France is at an all-time low.
In contrast, Mali’s cooperation with Russia, and especially with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, seems to be running smoothly. The recent atrocities against Malian civilians and current images from Ukraine give an indication of what these soldiers and the regular Russian army are capable of doing — yet another reason why the EU should not train Malian soldiers or security forces. However, it is critical that the EU does not completely end its activities in Mali. Instead, the bloc should continue to advise security forces and train them on the rules of warfare in the interests of observing human rights. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s recent visit to Mali, is therefore timely and sends a strong signal, because talking to Mali’s new rulers is crucial. Germany has a better reputation in Mali than France and has been perceived as a key ally ever since it recognized Mali’s independence. Baerbock should use this advantage to convince Mali’s government that Russia’s assistance comes at a cost, and that it risks entering into new form of dependency: One that will trample on the human rights of ordinary Malians.

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