VALLETTA (Malta) • European leaders yesterday tried to focus on joint action with Africa to tackle the migration crisis, as Slovenia became the latest European Union (EU) member to act on its own by barricading its borders.
EU leaders planned to offer their African counterparts up to €3.6 billion (S$5.1 billion) in aid at a summit in Malta in exchange for help in tackling the migration crisis rocking Europe. The rare gathering of around 50 leaders from the two continents is the newest prong in the EU's quest for a joint strategy to deal with the biggest flow of refugees and migrants since World War II.
But Slovenia's move underlined again the divisions within the bloc over how to respond to the crisis. The Balkan state's army began rolling out razor wire yesterday along the border with Croatia. After Hungary sealed its borders last month, Slovenia found itself on the main Balkans route for the thousands of migrants who are landing in Greece every day after braving the short but dangerous sea crossing from Turkey.
The EU is offering up to €3.6 billion to persuade African leaders to take back more economic migrants, a step many are reluctant to take for fear of losing the billions of dollars in remittances sent home by people working abroad.
European nations aim to boost cooperation with African countries to protect refugees, send home irregular migrants and stop those who smuggle them, while offering Africans expanded legal channels of migration. "This summit is about action," European Council president Donald Tusk told summit hosts Malta late on Tuesday.
African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who will attend the summit, "will speak on the way Africa and Europe can partner and work collaboratively to reap the benefits of labour migration, as well as on ways to overcome the challenges around irregular migration in the immediate, medium and long terms", according to an EU statement.
As a carrot, the European Commission, the 28-nation EU's executive arm, is setting up a €1.8 billion "trust fund" for Africa and has urged member states to match that sum - although European sources said it was not sure that they would.
The money would go towards tackling the root causes of migration like poverty and conflict. "This new fund will help us work together to offer the people of Africa a better future at a time when young Africans often have a choice between unemployment or radicalisation," Mr Tusk added.
Acting Director of the European Institutions Office at Amnesty International Iverna McGowan raised fears that the summit would reinforce the idea of a "Fortress Europe", telling Agence France-Presse that the approach "can lead to an outsourcing of human rights abuses and is quite worrying".
Invited to the meeting were leaders from more than 30 African countries, including Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, the sources of many people fleeing conflict and repression.