Thursday 8 December 2016

EU to use aid cash to pressure African states to slow flow of migrants

Gabriela Baczynska Brussels

Published 20/10/2016 | 02:30

Italy’s Matteo Renzi. Photo by Shawn Thew/Getty Images
Italy’s Matteo Renzi. Photo by Shawn Thew/Getty Images

A Brussels summit today will endorse pilot projects to pressure African governments via aid budgets to slow an exodus of people north across the Sahara and Mediterranean.

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It also wants swift results from an EU campaign to deport large numbers who reach Italy.

"By the end of the year, we need to see results," one senior EU diplomat said yesterday.

Arrivals in Italy so far this year are nearly 6pc higher than the same period of 2015. Italy received 154,000 migrants last year and this year's figure will be similar or slightly higher.

Italy is sheltering 165,000 asylum seekers, almost three times as many as in 2014. The build-up has accelerated since Italy's northern neighbours clamped down on border controls. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has told EU allies that Rome can cope for now but is worried about the future.

EU officials want to put in place tougher measures to identify illegal migrants and fly them back to Africa before next year's migration season, when thousands are expected to take to precarious boats from Libya.

"We need to clean this up and have migration compacts with African countries in place before next spring," a senior EU official said. That will depend on persuading African states - initially a group of five - to take back their own citizens. The EU is already bringing African officials to Italy to identify citizens who may try to conceal their identity to avoid being sent home.

At their summit, European Union leaders will agree to use money and trade to force African countries to curb emigration, in a shift towards a more hard-nosed joint foreign policy.

African leaders may be persuaded to agree with the new policy by the fact that the EU is the continent's biggest aid donor.

The EU has turned a wary eye on Africa, a young continent where millions live in poverty, after last year's uncontrolled influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East thrust the bloc into a deep political crisis.

It wants fewer to come and it wants to deport more.

EU leaders will therefore decide today that they want to get "measurable results in terms of preventing illegal migration and returning irregular migrants", according to a draft summit statement seen by Reuters.

It said they would also agree to "create and apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade".

Behind the diplomatic language lies a threat of cutting development aid and restricting trade with those African countries that do not co-operate before the next migration season starts in the spring.

Apart from the stick, there is also the carrot, which comes in the form of promises of more aid and preferential trade treatment under what Brussels calls migration "compacts".

The new approach - aimed at keeping people away from Europe - was first proposed by Italy, the main disembarkation point for Africa migrants. It is initially aimed at Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Ethiopia and Mali.

"We need to clean this up and have migration compacts with African countries in place before next spring," a senior EU official said.

Irish Independent

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