The European Union will announce a €1.8 billion emergency fund for Africa on Thursday in a bid to halt the flow of migrants and refugees entering the EU illegally, although leaders will stop short of seeking to establish processing centres in Africa to register people before they leave the EU.
Representatives of more than 60 European and African countries gathered for an EU-Africa summit in the Maltese capital of Valletta on Wednesday, in the latest attempt by the international community to forge a comprehensive approach to the refugee crisis which has seen more than 800,000 people reach the EU by sea this year.
Under a draft communiqué under discussion on Wednesday night, leaders pledged to enhance efforts of countries to provide humanitarian assistance in countries most affected by forced displacement.
Migrant Crisis: Full coverage
But the summit also placed a heavy emphasis on tackling illegal immigration from African countries as the EU attempts to reduce the number of migrants entering the European Union.
Among the measures under discussion was a proposal to encourage African authorities to establish anti-trafficking police units, a commitment to help train local security forces and judicial authorities to fight terrorism, and a pledge to engage EU agencies such as Frontex and Europol to help African authorities tackle the problem of forged documentation.
But a number of humanitarian organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cautioned against linking development aid to African countries to efforts to reduce migration.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network criticised the Valletta Summit’s focus on “returns and removal” policies for refugees.
“Migration is not a threat,” the organisation said in a statement. “Development aid is increasingly conditioned upon co-operation in migration and border management; this has to stop.”
Speaking ahead of the summit, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the crisis could not be solved by Europe alone.
“We must bring the current migration crisis under control and European and African countries must work together in solidarity and mutual respect to achieve this,” she said.
While saving lives was the “first priority”, she stressed the need for enhanced co-operation to tackle people smugglers and traffickers.
While the draft text to be signed off on Thursday pledged to explore the concept of “enhanced capacities in priority regions along the main migratory routes”, it stopped short of suggesting that processing centres should be established inside African countries to assess asylum-seekers before they leave their countries of origin – an idea mooted by a number of EU countries in advance of the meeting.
Speaking on his way into the meeting, Egypt’s minister for foreign affairs Sameh Hassan Shukry said Egypt had already hosted 5 million immigrants. He said the question of migrant centres in transit countries was not on the agenda. “Transit centres is not an issue of consensus,” he said.
‘Open doors’ policy
As a number of countries across the EU struggle to cope with the numbers of migrants and refugees entering their territory each day, the focus of EU policy has shifted to reducing the flow of migrants entering the EU, in contrast to the “open doors” policy espoused by Germany earlier in the crisis.
Arriving in Valletta, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the summit would promote “friendly relations with Africans” and offer aid, “but at the same time also set out clear demands and expectations” from Europe.
European Council president Donald Tusk set the tone for the summit on the eve of the event, when he stressed the importance of effective border controls in dealing with the migration crisis in an address to the Maltese parliament.
“The precondition for conducting our own European migration policy is restoring effective control over our external borders,” the former Polish prime minister said.