Europe looks to Africa to stem illegal migration

Illegal migrants arriving via boat at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued by the Libyan coast guard on Monday.
Illegal migrants arriving via boat at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued by the Libyan coast guard on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Proposed measures to curb flow discussed at Paris mini-summit

PARIS • Proposed measures intended to stop illegal migrants from trying to cross the Mediterranean were at the centre of discussions among four European leaders who met in Paris with the leaders of three African countries.

The meeting on Monday, billed as a mini-summit, brought together the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as Chad, Niger and Libya. Chad and Niger are transit countries for people fleeing war or poverty, while Libya is a departure point for those crossing the Mediterranean and a centre for traffickers who promise to get people to Europe, but often take their money and set them adrift in crowded boats that sink or capsize.

More than 2,400 migrants have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The proposed measures include European-financed development programmes to spur job growth; help for Chad and Niger with border controls; European Union funds to provide "humane care" for migrants in Libya; and a system to allow migrants making asylum claims to receive a preliminary review while they are in Chad or Niger.

The goal is to discourage those whose claims are weak from trying to make the journey.

While European leaders repeatedly said the measures were aimed at protecting migrants from the abuses of traffickers, they appeared at least as focused on shifting to African nations some of the burden of halting illegal migration.

This approach has similarities to that taken by the EU in its deal last year with Turkey in which it agreed to pay Ankara some €6.6 billion (S$10.7 billion) to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, and help Turkey provide them with refugee camps. That agreement, which aims to discourage migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece, also permitted Athens to send back those who made it to its shores.

The policy all but halted the flow of people taking the route through Turkey into Europe. In the first eight months of last year, nearly 163,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean by entering through Greece. This year during the same period, just 14,000 came by the same route.

It is unclear if the proposals outlined on Monday will require additional expenditures.

Ms Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign affairs and security policy chief, who attended the meeting in Paris, said there was no need "to invent a new Marshall Plan" for Africa since the EU and individual European countries together already invest some €20 billion annually in African development aid and other programmes. Any EU funds or programmes might require the approval of other member countries.

Another spur for the proposed measures is the recent success that Italy has had in reducing the number of migrants arriving on its shores, said President Emmanuel Macron of France. He praised the Italian efforts to work with Libya's coast guard.

"What has been done by Italy and Libya is a perfect example of what we are aiming for," Mr Macron said.

Italy's policies have involved pushing Libya to crack down on traffickers and stopping ships operated by non-governmental organisations that rescue migrants when their boats sink or capsize unless the organisations meet strict requirements.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Europe looks to Africa to stem illegal migration'. Print Edition | Subscribe