EU tries to shut out African migrants – is it right crisis response?

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The European Union wants to slow down the arrival of migrants from Africa, and is offering money to enlist the cooperation of African governments. But there are doubts about the strategy, while the real refugee crisis rages at the bloc’s eastern, not southern, borders.

A boat sinking off Libya that killed about 800 migrants in April led this week to a Euro-Africa summit on migration that left issues unresolved on whether Europe is tackling its refugee crisis or warding off longer-term problems.

The two-day meeting in Valletta was called as part of the response to the April 18 boat wreck, but since then the flash point in Europe’s migration crisis has moved on from the Mediterranean to the Balkans.

Refugees from Syria are now the European Union’s biggest concern. Less than 10 per cent of the nearly 174,000 asylum applications filed to its member states in September came from Africans, the European Asylum Support Office says.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at the summit that the EU’s refugee crisis was “a kind of pressure cooker that somewhere, somehow, at one point in time” explodes in different locations, creating new migratory patterns.

Senegalese President Macky Sall was unhappy about the discussions in Valletta. “We are going to be signing agreements here aiming to [keep] African at home, while the real issues will have been avoided,” he said.

“We Africans, are not as numerous as some are pretending,” Sall, who also chairs the Economic Community of West African States, protested.

“There is too much focus on African immigration, which is not the most significant,” he added.

Analysts noted that looking at the situation in Africa was an important long-term aim.

“If you look 10 years ahead from now, migration flows from Africa are going to continue and might even be bigger, whereas by then the Syrian conflict will have hopefully be solved,” Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank told dpa.

The summit in Malta saw the launch of a 1.9-billion-euro (2-billion-dollar) EU emergency trust fund to address the root causes of African migration, such as poverty and conflicts, as well as the adoption of a list of commitments.

They include promises to make it easier for limited categories of Africans, such as students or researchers, to enter EU territory, and pledges to go after human traffickers and protect the lives of vulnerable people.

On the sidelines, the EU signed a deal with Ethiopia, which is home to more than 700,000 refugees, funded by the new trust fund and due to also support the reintegration of repatriated migrants from Europe.

Securing general endorsement of the principle that Africans with no legal status in Europe must be sent home, even forcibly, was a key EU objective at the summit.

But it failed, just as a proposal to set up asylum centres in transit countries like Niger.

Toaldo said Africans “won the game” on repatriations, forcing Europeans to accept non-binding language on the issue, but noted that the migration aid offered to them was far less than the 3 billion euros mooted for Turkey.

Sara Tesorieri of relief organization Oxfam International questioned the overall EU strategy of rewarding its neighbours – including authoritarian regimes – with money, and said called for bolder action.

She suggested Europe could close loopholes that currently benefit multinationals and see African nations lose out on up to 40 billion dollars a year in tax receipts. Tesorieri also said focusing on border security instead of human development was misguided.

“It is true that Europe is faced a situation it has not faced recently, and that there no simple answers,” she told dpa.

“But we need to keep a sense of perspective, and ask: When we talk about an emergency … whose emergency is it?”

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