VALLETTA: EU leaders hope Thursday to clinch an aid-for-cooperation deal with their African partners to tackle an unprecedented migration crisis and rebuff fears a “fortress” Europe is emerging.
The concerns were aired at a rare EU-Africa summit in Malta as Sweden and Slovenia became the latest EU nations to tighten their borders amid the biggest flow of refugees and migrants since World War II.
The EU leaders aim Thursday to sign a five-point action plan with their African counterparts aimed at providing funds to tackle the root causes of migration, such as poverty and conflict.
They hope to obtain African cooperation in sending home more irregular migrants and stopping those who smuggle them, while offering Africans expanded but limited legal channels of migration.
As a carrot, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, is setting up a 1.8 billion euro ($1.9 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.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker renewed appeals for member states to match the funds while urging Europeans to see the crisis as an opportunity for young migrants to replace an ageing population.
“We shouldn’t see this migration crisis as a huge threat,” Juncker told the leaders gathered in a 16th century stone building in the Mediterranean port of Valletta.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said “the current situation is a reminder to our European partners of the urgency of promoting legal migration and mobility between our two continents.”
African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: “The problem we are facing today is in part because some countries in Europe have taken a fortress approach.”
Progress on the main thrust of Brussel’s current migrant strategy fostering cooperation with Turkey will be discussed when EU leaders meet without their African counterparts later Thursday.
Sweden’s decision to reinstate border controls for 10 days from Thursday and Slovenia’s move to roll out razor wire on its border with Croatia underlined again the divisions within the 28-nation bloc over how to respond to the crisis.
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.
EU leaders and officials have expressed fears that unilateral decisions to stop migrants will lead to the collapse of the borderless Schengen zone, a pillar of a united Europe.
Austria and Germany, both Schengen countries, have in the past months reinstated border controls as they struggle to cope with the flow of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Turkey has overtaken North Africa as the main launching point for migrants coming to Europe, and currently hosts two million Syrian refugees.
But tensions with Ankara have undermined efforts to get it to crack down on the huge numbers leaving its shores, many of whom have drowned.
At least 18 people, including seven children, perished in sinkings off Turkey on Wednesday, adding to a total of more than 3,400 people who have died trying to reach Europe by sea this year.
The EU-Africa summit was first called months ago when the Mediterranean route from lawless Libya was still the main springboard for migrants travelling to the EU in battered fishing boats and flimsy dinghies.
Nearly 800 migrants died in a single shipwreck off the Libyan coast in April.
In Washington, the International Monetary Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday urged countries to expand their welcome for the massive flood of refugees in recent years.
Africa accounts for about 140,000 of the nearly 800,000 migrants who have reached Europe by sea this year, according to figures from the International Organisation of Migration.