European, African leaders set for tricky migration summit


Europe is keen in enlisting Africa’s help to discourage migrants from trying to reach its shores. Dozens of leaders from the two continents are set to meet in Malta, with the goal to join forces in tackling migration. But will they manage to overcome their differences?

Dozens of African and European leaders are set to descend on the small island of Malta this week for a summit that Europe hopes will help stem migration flows, but which looks set to be stymied by divergent priorities.

Nearly 800,000 people have reached Europe by sea this year – the largest population movement seen on the continent since World War II. While the influx is expected to have some economic benefits, it has also strained local resources and sparked political tensions.

The European Union hopes that the migration summit in the Maltese capital Valletta will be the chance to join forces with the African countries that migrants stem from or transit through. More than 30 nations from north, west, east and central Africa have been invited.

“It is our goal that this summit will help forge a real Euro-African partnership on the migration issue,” EU President Donald Tusk said last month.

But others are less optimistic. African leaders have many other crises to worry about, and aid pledges from Europe may not hold the sway they once had as some promises made in the past are still unfulfilled.

EU governments have for instance failed to match 1.8 billion euros (1.9 billion dollars) provided by the European Commission for a trust fund to help address irregular migration in Africa. At last count, only some 47 million euros has been pledged.

“How can we engage a serious and responsible dialogue with our African cousins if we ourselves are not capable of responding appropriately to the promises we have made them?” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned recently.

Nicoletta Pirozzi of the Rome-based think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali also predicted that the approach pushed by Europe will not be “much to the taste of African partners.”

“It is … aiming to make migration the number one priority for European development cooperation programmes in Africa, and to channel large amounts of money towards it,” she noted.

“This is clearly a problem for African counterparts, who will surely try to refocus on longer-term aspects and on development and mobility programmes,” she said. “This will be a clear area of conflict between the parties … It will come down to negotiating mutual benefits.”

Citizens from the African countries of Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Gambia are among the top 10 migrant nationalities recorded at arrival in Europe by the UN refugee agency UNHCR this year.

Many are economic migrants who do not qualify for asylum in Europe, except for Eritreans escaping their country’s repressive military government.

The prime minister of Ethiopia – a neighbour and arch foe of Eritrea – predicted in an interview with the BBC broadcaster aired on Friday that the flow of young people leaving Eritrea will not diminish unless there are fundamental changes within the country.

“Europe has to very sensitively work [on] how to change the policies in Eritrea. If that policy doesn’t change and if that regime continues, I think there will be a threat to all of us,” Hailemariam Desalegn said.

Besides resorting to diplomatic initiatives and conflict prevention, the EU also hopes to turn the tide by helping improve living and working conditions in Africa.

“Rekindling hope, notably for the African youth, must be our paramount objective,” says the draft declaration prepared for the Valletta summit, a copy of which was seen by dpa.

An action plan drafted for the summit speaks of the need to create jobs and improve food and health access, but also calls for reducing the transaction costs for migrant remittances to less than 3 per cent by 2030 – beyond a G20 goal of 5 per cent. These money transfers sent back home by migrants often play an important economic role.

Other priorities include promoting legal migration, fighting migrant smuggling and improving border controls.

The document says that “substantial EU funds” are available to help meet such priorities. It for instance floats the possibility of providing “comprehensive and developmental packages” for countries that are willing to take back their economic migrants.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told dpa recently that Europeans would “put on the table more than 2 billion [euros]” in aid to address poverty and other root causes of migration.

But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini denied recently that Europe will simply fork over money to have African countries “keeping migrants in the region, or having them returning.”

“It is not an exchange,” she said during a speech last month to the African Union. “It is finding the resources to address a common interest: managing together the migration flows in all aspects.”