Europe Offers Africa Development Aid to Stem Migrant Flow

  • 1.8 billion-euro fund aimed at providing opportunities
  • Africans say funds, rules of economic game insufficient

European Union leaders, trying to stem the disarray caused by the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, pushed what they called a historic compromise to offer more aid in exchange for African countries stepping up cooperation to prevent additional migrants leaving for Europe.

At a summit in Valletta, Malta, African leaders welcomed the opportunity to work more closely together, but said the aid offers were insufficient and that Africa needed a fairer shake from the world economy.

The 28-member EU and representatives of more than 30 African countries agreed on a plan that involves increasing the number of visas for students and legitimate visitors, more protection for migrants, greater efforts to crack down on human traffickers, and cooperation to return failed asylum seekers to their homelands. Leaders attended a signing ceremony to create a fund with at least 1.8 billion euros ($1.9 billion) to promote economic growth through electrification and agricultural projects.

“With this EU-Africa summit we’ve begun a new phase of our cooperation,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “The better illegal migration can be fought, the better we’ll be able to work on legal exchange, whether through internships, student exchanges, or legal labor migration. We on the European side made very clear here that our future lies in legal exchanges and not in smuggling.”

Syrian Refugees

Migration has become the key issue in many European countries, lifting populist parties in countries from France to Sweden, and weighing on the U.K.’s debate over EU membership. Earlier Thursday, Sweden became the latest country to reintroduce border controls, further weakening one of the pillars of the bloc.

The Malta summit has been overtaken by events since it was scheduled in April. At the time, most migrants were crossing the Sahara to strife-torn Libya and then crossing the the central Mediterranean to Italy. Since the summer, the largest flows have been out of Syria or Iraq -- not represented at the Malta summit -- and passing through Turkey before reaching the European shore in Greece.

“We cannot forget the refugees from Africa just because we now have refugees from Syria,” French President Francois Hollande said in Malta as he toured a French patrol boat that’s assisting the Italians in looking for stranded migrants in the Mediterranean.

Trust Fund

A total of 170,760 migrants arrived on Italian shores last year, at the time the largest number of migrants to arrive in an EU country in a single year, according to the EU’s Frontex, which manages its external borders. About 3,500 died last year in those crossings. But in the first 10 months of this year, 540,000 have arrived on Greek islands, a thirteen-fold increase from last year,

The EU-Africa meeting was followed by an EU-only summit to review the refugee-control efforts in the eastern Mediterranean.

The trust fund signed Thursday will be topped up by national donations, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. A further 78 million euros was pledged during the Malta summit. Its projects are intended to provide Africans more opportunities at home by extending electrification and promoting the in-country transformation of raw materials, allowing African countries to capture more of the value of what they produce.

‘Not Enough’

“As long as Africa doesn’t receive the fair price for its resources, there will be migrant flows,” Macky Sall, president of Senegal. “Transformation in our lands would give wealth and jobs in our countries.”

Still, he added that “1.8 billion is absolutely not enough for all of Africa.”  

Re-admissions, or expulsions, depending on one’s vantage point, remained an unresolved issue. While Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans are considered to be fleeing conflict and are generally accorded refugee status, most visa-less Africans are seen in Europe as economic migrants who should be sent home, even if fewer than 40 percent of “irregular“ migrants who were ordered out of European territory in 2014 actually left, EU data show.

“I think Europe is asking too much from Africa on migration,” Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said as he arrived at the summit. “About re-admissions, what I can say is that the figures show that only 22,000 African migrants reached Europe this year, while 800,000 migrants from other countries have reached Europe at the same time. So this is clearly not an African problem.”

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