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The EU-Mauritania migration deal is destined to fail




On March 7, the European Union and Mauritania inked a 210-million-euro ($227m) migration deal. The agreement was spearheaded by the EU and lobbied for by the Spanish government, which is worried about an uptick in undocumented migration to the Canary Islands. In January, more than 7,000 arrivals were recorded on the islands.

The migration deal aims to decrease these arrivals by supporting the Mauritanian border and security forces to combat people smuggling and human trafficking and bolstering Mauritanian border management and surveillance capacities. The deal also promises funds for job creation in the country, strengthening the asylum system and legal migration schemes.

But a glance at the history of the EU’s “border externalisation” policies suggests this deal has little chance of meeting its stated objective. Worse still, the unprecedented public backlash it has generated in Mauritania threatens to destabilise the country.

EU efforts to stem migration from Mauritania began in 2006 when nearly 32,000 people arrived on the Canary Islands from West African shores. These sea arrivals followed a bloody crackdown on migrants at Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 2005 and a consequent southward reorientation of migratory movement.

The response involved aerial and maritime surveillance operations carried out by Spain with the support of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and the deployment of Spain’s Civil Guard in the northern Mauritanian port city of Nouadhibou. The police force was tasked with patrolling the city and training its Mauritanian counterparts. To process and deport those detained in the Canary Islands or intercepted at sea, an old school in the city was converted into a detention centre.

These efforts resulted in a dramatic increase in deportations of foreign nationals from Mauritanian territory and a temporary lull in sea arrivals in the Canary Islands, allowing Spain to laud the operation as a success.

The EU took this opportunity to draft a new national migration strategy that was adopted by the Mauritanian government in 2010. If the deployment of foreign security forces in Nouadhibou already had drastic implications for Mauritanian state sovereignty, this exercise in external technocratic governance further cemented them.

In practice, the strategy financed a swathe of projects in the country, ranging from capacity building for security forces and upgrading the country’s border infrastructure to youth assistance programmes and awareness-raising campaigns for migrants in the country.

In subsequent years, the routes to Europe shifted east, with unprecedented numbers arriving via the Central and East Mediterranean passages in 2015. In response, the EU launched the Trust Fund (EUTF) for addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displacement in Africa.

Through the EUTF, Mauritania once more received EU financial and technical support devoted to migration management with a wider pool of cash and projects aimed at preventing Europe-bound movement.

By 2020, however, arrivals on the Canaries from West Africa had picked up once more with more than 40,000 sea arrivals recorded by the Spanish government that year. In a report on these arrivals, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime identified a restriction on border crossings in Morocco among the drivers of the increase.

The shift to sea came at a great human cost, however, with the death rate on the Atlantic Route estimated to be as high as one death for every 12 people who attempted the journey.

While it has long been observed that such border deaths, and people smuggling more generally, are a consequence of restrictions on legal movement, the EU response has been to further expand the means of restricting movement in Mauritania.

Since July 2022, this has taken the form of a diplomatic push to negotiate a Status Agreement between the European Commission and Mauritania. In a further dent to Mauritanian territorial sovereignty, this would authorise a Frontex deployment on Mauritanian territory, allowing its staff to carry out border management duties in the country and endowing them with immunity from prosecution in Mauritania.

This Status Agreement has yet to be finalised, and while the causes of the delays have not been made public, there have been indications that Mauritanian authorities have felt aggrieved by the relative lack of recognition by European partners of their role in policing the EU’s external borders.

Documents leaked in September indicate a sense within Mauritanian government circles of being underappreciated compared with Tunisia, which struck a deal with the EU in July, which included 100 million euros ($112m) devoted to migration management. With arrivals on the Canaries rising towards the end of 2023, the stage was thus set for a similar deal to be signed with Mauritania.

Given the history of externalisation policies that have been implemented in Mauritania since 2006, however, there appears little hope that this deal will meet its intended objective of stemming “irregular migration” to Europe. Those who seek to reach Europe will continue to try with alternative routes being sought out in response to restrictions and crackdowns.

Indeed, just as the rise in the number of arrivals on the Canaries in 2006, which originally launched the externalisation drive in Mauritania, were preceded by a violent crackdown in Ceuta and Melilla in 2005, the increase in sea arrivals in Spain towards the end of 2023 was foreshadowed by an all too similar massacre at Melilla in June 2022.

If the migration deal thus has a sense of déjà vu to it, two novel features are worth highlighting. First, the negotiated funding is orders of magnitude larger than previous externalisation efforts. The 2010 national migration strategy, for instance, earmarked 12 million euros ($13m) of projects over the course of its eight-year existence while the EUTF financed 84 million euros ($91m) of projects in Mauritania in 2019 alone. The latest migration deal, by contrast, promises 210 million euros ($227m) to Mauritania before the end of the year.

Second, while opposition to border externalisation in Mauritania has historically been confined to a handful of civil society organisations, the latest migration deal has sparked a societal uproar. Opposition parties have decried what they see as a plan to resettle “illegal immigrants” in Mauritania while civil society activists I have spoken to are critical of EU efforts to make Mauritania the “gendarme of Europe”.

The blowback has been such that the Mauritanian government has been forced to respond to the negative publicity. Both the ruling party and the Ministry of Interior issued separate statements denying rumours that the country was being forced to resettle foreign nationals on its territory. These statements did little to quell public concerns, however. The day before the deal was signed, security forces dispersed a protest against it in the capital.

The polarisation created by the agreement thus has the potential to seep into wider society. Indeed, 2023 was also a year of increased riots and protests in Mauritania due in large part to the police killing of human rights activist al-Soufi Ould al-Chine in February and a young Afro-Mauritanian man, Oumar Diop, in May.

The latter instance in particular compounded a sense of racialised exclusion felt by many within the Afro-Mauritanian community. Indeed, it is not uncommon for Afro-Mauritanians to be suspected of being “illegal immigrants” by security forces, given the difficulties many face in obtaining civil registry documentation. In such a context, the EU incentivising national security forces to crack down on “irregular migration” carries acute risks for those already on the margins in Mauritania.

The migration deal, therefore, risks inflaming racial tensions and social polarisation in Mauritania while it is also unlikely to achieve its stated aim of preventing “irregular migration”. Such an outcome would foremost be detrimental to the country itself, and it would also undermine the EU’s own framing of Mauritania as a beacon of stability in a troubled region.

Ultimately, the only way out of the vicious and futile circle fostered by border externalisation is for ordinary people in Global South countries, such as Mauritania, to exercise greater influence over their governments’ engagement with external actors, such as the EU. This would enhance the scope for migration policies that reflect regional realities rather than external interests and would foreground the interests of those at risk of being victimised under the status quo.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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US chef’s bid to own ‘chili crunch’ name raises ire in Indonesia, Malaysia





Medan, Indonesia – When Michelle Tew, the owner of Malaysia-based food company Homiah, received a cease and desist letter from American-Korean celebrity chef David Chang last month, she felt “sadness and betrayal”.

The letter informed Tew that she had 90 days to stop using the term “chili crunch” on the labels of her sambal – a chilli-based condiment popular across Southeast Asia – as Chang had trademarked the phrase.

“David Chang is such a large name in the Asian-American food community and it felt very personal, even though I don’t know him personally,” Tew told Al Jazeera.

“The Asian food community is really like a family and, to go after a woman-owned business, to even think of that at all and not to have a friendly conversation first, I really wondered where his compassion was.”

Chang, who owns the Momofuku restaurant chain in the US and has since abandoned his trademark claim, began selling jars of “Chili Crunch” in 2020, but he is far from the first person to put such a product on the market.

david chang
David Chang has come under fire for attempting to enforce a trademark for the term ‘chili crunch’ [Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo]

Chilli-based condiments have been used across Asia since time immemorial.

In English, they have gone by various names, including chilli crunch, chilli crisp and chilli oil, depending on their consistency and the proportions of ingredients.

Tew, who learned to cook from her Malaysian grandmother, chose to call her product “Sambal Chili Crunch”, as sambal, which typically includes ingredients such as chillies, shrimp paste, garlic and palm sugar, is not widely known outside of Southeast Asia and she needed to find a way to explain it to a foreign audience.

The practice of trying to trademark generic food terms is not unique to Chang or the US food and beverage industry.

Arie Parikesit, a culinary guide who runs the Kelana Rasa food and tour business, said that while Chang had been trying to “monopolise” the term “chili crunch”, there had been similar cases in his native Indonesia.

“A similar thing happened in the Indonesian food and beverage world when the term ‘kopitiam’ [coffee shop] was accepted as a brand right submitted by a company that had recently been established and forced classic kopitiam entities that were decades old not to use this brand,” Parikesit told Al Jazeera.

“Trade name monopolies like this are clearly unhealthy and, instead of promoting Asian cuisine more widely, as David Chang and Momofuku have done, it creates a bad atmosphere among Asian food and condiment players.”

“Small heritage companies will also be affected. At a time where collaboration is key, this kind of old-style rivalry deserves to be left behind,” he added.

The need for a collaborative approach is underscored by the difficulty Southeast Asian food and beverage players face trying to get a foot in the door outside of the region.

Tew of Homiah said that Southeast Asian food is not widely known in many parts of the world, particularly compared with other cuisines.

“If you go to a supermarket in the US, there will be two whole aisles dedicated to olive oil, which is just one product. Then you might find half an aisle or a stand which has food from ‘other’ places in it, like Southeast Asian cuisine mixed together with other cuisines like Mexican.”

Jun Yi Loh, a Malaysian food writer and recipe developer, agreed that Malaysian food terms are not necessarily easy to grasp, which is why descriptors such as “chili crunch” need to be used.

“I’ve long held the opinion that one of the key reasons Malaysian food hasn’t blown up in the way that Singaporean or Thai food has in recent years is that our food isn’t as easy to describe or package in a sort of elevator pitch way,” Loh told Al Jazeera.

Michelle Tew, the owner of Malaysia-based food company Homiah, says she felt ‘betrayed’ after receiving a cease and desist letter [Courtesy of Michelle Tew]

After weeks of outcry over Momofuku’s cease and desist letters, which were sent to dozens of small businesses in the US, Chang last week backed down, saying on The Dave Chang Show podcast: “I understand why people are upset, and I’m truly sorry.”

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, Momofuku said: “When we created Chili Crunch, we wanted a name to differentiate our product from the broader chilli crisp category. We believed the name ‘Chili Crunch’ reflected the uniqueness of our product, which blends flavours from multiple culinary traditions, and bought a pre-existing trademark for the name.”

Momofuku said it had taken feedback from the community on board and now understood that the term “chili crunch” carried a broader meaning.

“We have no interest in ‘owning’ a culture’s terminology and we will not be enforcing the trademark going forward,” the company said.

While Chang may have done a u-turn, the episode has nonetheless left a nasty taste in the mouths of some of those promoting Southeast Asian cuisine abroad. Loh said the debacle had brought to light the legal tribulations that can come with running a business in a foreign market.

“It will factor into the minds of small business owners for sure,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I believe this event will be remembered as a frivolous case, initiated by Momofuku and David Chang with tonnes of hubris and very little thought,” Auria Abraham, the owner of Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, a food company selling sambal, spice blends and kaya, told Al Jazeera.

Abraham, who moved to the US in the 1990s before launching her first product, Hot Chilli Sambal in 2013, said that the Momofuku furore has sparked a wider debate around who “owns” food.

“We have to accept and understand that no single country, entity or person can lay claim to things like condiments, ingredients or recipes,” she said.

Abraham said that Malaysian food has been shaped for centuries by immigrants who brought recipes that were shared, adopted and then modified to reflect the ingredients available in different regions.

“With that in mind, despite the distinct origins of a food item, it is now the culture of everyone that it has touched,” she said. “And that is the beauty of sharing food.”

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Israeli missiles hit site in Iran, explosions heard in Isfahan: Report






ABC News reports missiles striking a target in Iran, with Iran’s state TV reporting explosions in Isfahan.

Israeli missiles have hit a site in Iran, according to the US broadcaster ABC News, which cited an unnamed senior US official.

The Iranian state television reported explosions in Isfahan, as air defences were activated and flights across several areas including Tehran and Isfahan were suspended.

There were no reports of casualties. Nor was there an official response from Iran.

Israel promised to respond after Iran last Saturday launched a barrage of drones and missiles on the country, after a suspected Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate compound in Damascus killed a high-ranking commander.

There have also been reports of explosions in Syria and Iraq.

The United States and a number of European countries had been calling on Israel not to respond to the Iranian attack.

Isfahan is considered a strategically important city and one that is host to several important sites, including military research and development sites, as well as bases. The nearby city of Natanz is the location of one of Iran’s nuclear enrichment sites.

Commercial flights began diverting their routes early on Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as the semi-official Fars news agency in Iran said there had been “explosions” heard over the city of Isfahan.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters arrested as Columbia clears encampment





New York-based university moves to suspend students involved as police arrest them for trespassing.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters have been arrested on the campus of New York’s Columbia University as police cleared an encampment set up by students demonstrating against Israel’s war in Gaza.

Several students involved in the protest said they also were suspended from Columbia and its associate institution, Barnard College, including Isra Hirsi, who is the daughter of Ilhan Omar, a Democrat in the United States House of Representatives.

Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, said she had authorised police to clear the dozens of tents set up by protesters because they had breached the university’s rules and policies against holding unauthorised demonstrations and were unwilling to engage with administrators.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said police made more than 108 arrests for trespassing. Two people were also charged with obstructing government administration.

“Students have a right to free speech, but do not have a right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus,” he said.

BREAKING: NYPD have begun arresting members of the Columbia University Palestine solidarity encampment

— BreakThrough News (@BTnewsroom) April 18, 2024

Thursday’s move to clear the camp came after a congressional hearing at which Shafik was questioned on alleged anti-Semitism on campus. She was also challenged by Omar on alleged targeting of pro-Palestinian protesters.

Columbia, one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, has emerged as a centre for student activism since the Israel-Gaza war began more than six months ago, with protests both in support of the war and against it.

But the university has drawn particular scrutiny, given its prominence and its attempts to crack down on unauthorised gatherings.

Columbia said it had started to suspend the students who had taken part in the latest camp.

“We are continuing to identify them and will be sending out formal notifications,” a university spokesperson said by email.

Writing on social media, Hirsi said she will not be intimidated and will continue to push for transparency on Columbia’s investments, divestment from “companies complicit in genocide” and amnesty for students facing “repression”.

“We will stand resolute until our demands are met,” she wrote on X after being suspended.

Demonstrations and disruptions

The clash, reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago, is the latest in a series of demonstrations that have disrupted university campuses, bridges and airports since Israel began its assault on Gaza on October 7.

i’m an organizer with CU Apartheid Divest @ColumbiaSJP, in my 3 years at @BarnardCollege i have never been reprimanded or received any disciplinary warnings

i just received notice that i am 1 of 3 students suspended for standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide.

— isra hirsi (@israhirsi) April 18, 2024

Separately on Thursday, about 500 demonstrators marched at the University of Southern California in support of Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student whose valedictorian speech was cancelled by the university, which cited safety concerns.

Tabassum and her supporters say the university sought to silence her because of her opposition to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Protesters marched with signs of “Let Her Speak” and chants of “Shame!” directed at the USC administration.

“It feels really important especially right now for the Jewish voice at USC, the anti-Zionist Jewish voice at USC, to be very loud and very present,” said demonstrator Katya Urban, 23, part of the Jewish Voice for Peace contingent at USC.

Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 33,970 people, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, began after Hamas launched a surprise October 7 attack on Israel in which the group killed 1,139 people and abducted more than 200.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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