Migratory Deal with Egypt. French Ships in Murky Waters

Three French companies Civipol, Défense Conseil International (DCI) and Couach are going to provide the Egyptian navy with three search and rescue ships (SAR) along with their crews. This delivery, part of the migratory arrangement with Egypt, is likely to render the European Union complicit with the atrocities committed by Egyptian and Libyan coast guards.

The rescue ship Ocean Viking, escorted by a military vessel, arrives in Toulon with migrants on board on 11 November 2022
Christophe Simon/AFP

Each year, France is a little more at the initiative when it comes to the externalisation of Europe’s borders. According to our information, Civipol, responsible for international cooperation at the Ministry of Interior Affairs, as well as its subcontractor, Défense Conseil International (DCI), officially in charge of the training of foreign military personnel, have chosen the Girondine naval dockyard Couach to provide the Egyptian coast guards with three search and rescue ships (SAR). The recipients will be trained by DCI with European financing of from 12 to 20 million euros. Still according to our sources, other calls for tender from Civpol and DCI in view of migratory surveillance in Egypt should follow, especially for the provision of thermal cameras and satellite positioning systems.

These contracts are directly linked with the migratory deal concluded in October 2022 between the EU and Egypt: in exchange for material assistance amounting to a total of 80 million euros, Cairo undertakes to block, on its territory as well as in its territorial waters, migrants and refugees on their way to Europe.This project was conceived by the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Olivér Varhely, a diplomat connected with the Fidesz party led by the illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who recently made news by announcing unilaterally the suspension of European aid to the Palestinians following October 7 attacks – before being called to order.

The implementation of this pact was entrusted conjointly to Civpol and the UN International Organisation for Migrations (IOM) as was already revealed by Africa Intelligence. Since then, the President of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen had already pleaded for a new migratory accord with Marshall Sissi’s regime. According to the EU, the idea would be to help Egyptian coast guards to come to the rescue of migrants in difficulty according to an approach ‘based on human rights, protection-oriented and gender-sensitive’.

‘Move on, there is nothing to see’

‘Elements of language’ which do not cut any ice with the Egyptian NGO Refugees Platform which blew the whistle on this deal a year ago. ‘Since 2016 the Egyptian government has made things tougher for those who come to it for help’ they denounced in a statement to Orient XXI. ‘More and more Egyptians are emigrating to Europe because young people have no future here. The phenomenon is going to get worse precisely because of the support the UE is providing the Egyptian government. Immigration is instrumentalised by the region’s dictatorships to obtain political and financial support from Europe.’ In Egypt migrants who have staged protests are arrested and beaten. Female refugees are sexually abused with utter impunity. Asylum seekers are deported to dangerous countries like Eritrea or barred from entering Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian coast-guards collaborate with their Libyan counterparts who are also backed by the EU and who throw the migrants back into the sea or arrest them to intern them under inhumane conditions, and they have ties with the militias who act as traffickers.

All this information is hardly compatible with the European promise of a border control ‘based on human rights, protection-oriented and gender sensitive.’ And we know that the European agency of border guards and coastguards, Frontex, has itself been guilty of illegal migrant pushbacks and has been accused of tolerating ill-treatment of the latter.

Questioned on this subject, the European Commission, the French Ministries of Interior Affairs and Foreign Affair as well the Army, the OIM, Civipol, the Défense Conseil Internternational and Couach have all refused to answer our queries. As part of this investigation, Orient XXI also deposited on June 1st a request for information with the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEEN) of the European Commission, to have access to various documents concerning the migratory accord between the EU and Egypt. The Coùission identified 12 documents likely to interest us nut finally decided to deny us access to 11 of these, while the twelfth contained no interesting information. The DG NEEN put forward several reasons, some coherent (the confidential nature of information concerning the security policy and foreign policy of the European Union) some more startling (protection of personal data – when it would have sufficed to blot out the data in question) – and even business secrecy! A first internal appeal was lodged on 18 July, but the DG NEEN failed to reply within the time allowed. At the end of September Orient XXI addressed the European Mediator who ordered the Commission to answer us by 13 October. To no avail.

France-Egypt, a very special relationship

This ship delivery is part of a long history of security cooperation between France and the Egyptian military dictatorship, which took power on 3 July 2013 immediately following the massacre of hundreds of followers of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Since then, Paris has sold a great deal of weaponry and spyware to Marshal Sissi’s regime, characterised by the army’s stranglehold on the country’s political and economic life. And by terrifying violations of human rights.

The monitoring of the activities of journalist Ariane Lavrilleux, the search of her home by the DGSI and her placement in police custody were related to her revelations in the media Disclose concerning Sirli, a secret operation involving French and Egyptian military intelligence ostensibly anti-terrorist, but which had been misused by Cairo for purposes of domestic repression. An investigation for ‘compromising of national defence secret’ was subsequently opened on account of the publication of (feebly) classified documents by Disclose.

Thus, the application of the migratory accord between the EU and Egypt was indirectly entrusted to France via Civipol. Headed by a Prefect, Yann Jouno, this company is jointly owned by the French Government and private security firms – defence electronics engineer Thales, a leader in identity technologies, Idemia, Airbus Defence & Space. Civipol develops projects of international cooperation aiming to reinforce the capacities of foreign countries in matters of security, particularly in Africa. These operations can be implemented by France, especially by the Direction de la coopération internationale de sécurité (DCIS), a branch of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. But the company also works with European Union.

Civipol requested help from Défense Conseil International (DCI), a company run by the former Deputy Chief of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet, a gendarme named Samuel Fringant, now working in the private sector. Until recently, DCI was controlled by the Government, side by side with the former armements office, Eurotradia, suspected of corrupt practices, and Sofema, which specialised in the sale of reconditioned French military hardware. However, the company should soon be taken over by Philippe Caduc’s French group of economic intelligence gathering, ADIT. Its principal shareholder is the Sagard investment fund belonging to the Canadian Desmarais family, of which part of the capital is held by the Emirati Sovereign Fund.

DCI mainly handles the training of foreign armies in the use of military equipment sold by France, mostly in the Middle East and especially to Egypt. But like Civipol, DCI collaborates increasingly with the European Union, notably via the ill named Facilité européenne pour la paix.(FEP).

A (migratory) pact with the devil

More broadly, this partnership with Egypt is part of a general tendency to ‘externalise’ Europe’s borders, which has seen the EU conclude deals with countries located along the migratory routes so that they can prevent migrants and refugees from setting out and so these can file their refugee claims from Africa before setting foot on European soil. After Libya, the ‘pioneer’ in the matter, the EU has signed partnerships with Egypt and Tunisia – whose President, Kaid Saied has recently encouraged race riots –, Morocco, and 26 African countries in all, according to a study by journalist Andrei Popoviciciu, published in the US magazine In These Times. By way of these accords, the EU has no scruples about providing financial, human, and material assistance to players with little concern for human rights or proper financial management and are sometimes directly involved in the trafficking of human beings. Furthermore, the EU has a hard time keeping track of the use to which these hundreds of millions of euros are put or evaluating the efficacy of these policies, which have already backfired in the form of ‘migratory blackmail’, for example in Turkey. Yet other approaches exist. But in the face of public opinions that are increasingly hostile to immigration, and against a background of the everyday acceptance in politics and the media of the ideas of the far right, the 27 member countries and the European institutions appear locked into a repressive spiral.