$2.7b EU, Africa deal to curb illegals

Provisions of the plan include faster repatriation of failed asylum seekers

VALLETTA (Malta) • European Union (EU) and African leaders have approved a €1.8 billion (S$2.7 billion) action plan they hope will help stem an unprecedented and politically explosive flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

The plan, which immediately came under fire from Senegal President Macky Sall, includes vague provisions on speeding up the repatriation of failed asylum seekers and a limited expansion of opportunities for legal migration, principally for students and academic staff.

It is to be underpinned by €1.8 billion of initial EU funding for an "Emergency Trust Fund" which will provide finance for development projects designed to address the root causes of migratory pressures, including poverty, conflict, repressive governance and the unsafe conditions endured by the millions of people displaced across Africa.

The money is coming from the EU's collective budget, and the bloc's 28 member states have been asked to match it with contributions of their own.

The national pledges to date, however, have totalled just €78.2 million in an underwhelming response that officials in Brussels partly blame on populist pressures on governments to be seen as acting and talking tough on migrants.

The joint plan was approved yesterday at the end of a two-day summit in Malta, despite misgivings among some African governments over what they see as a trend towards "fortress Europe" seeking to pull up its drawbridge and a tendency to exaggerate the scale of the problem posed by new arrivals.

Africans have accounted for about 140,000 of the roughly 800,000 migrants who have arrived in the EU so far this year, with far larger numbers now coming from the Middle East via Turkey and Greece.

Efforts to slow the rate of arrivals on that front will dominate a separate meeting of EU leaders in Valletta yesterday, at which steps to improve cooperation with Turkey will be reviewed.

Mr Sall said the deal with the EU did not offer anything like the money needed to address Africa's problems and accused the Europeans of "putting too much emphasis on re-admission (of illegal immigrants), perhaps because of public opinion."

British Home Secretary Theresa May insisted that the talks had been constructive.

"We have to be up to returning people to Africa but we also have to smash the criminal gangs (of traffickers) exploiting human misery," she said.

Recent months have repeatedly seen national governments resort to unilateral action that undermines efforts to forge a united EU approach to the migrant question.

This week has already seen Slovenia erect a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, and Sweden decide to temporarily reimpose passport checks for people arriving from other countries in the border-free Schengen area.

The Swedish move was seen as particularly significant in light of the country's long and generous tradition of welcoming more refugees in relation to its size than any other European state.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline '$2.7b EU, Africa deal to curb illegals'. Print Edition | Subscribe