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29th Mar 2020

No quick solution to migrant crisis, says African Union

  • Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: 'If people don’t have livelihoods at all, they are not going to sit and die of hunger' (Photo: European Commission)

The head of the African Union commission on Wednesday (22 April) said quick solutions to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean do not exist.

“If people don’t have livelihoods at all, they are not going to sit and die of hunger, they are going to look for greener pastures,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told reporters in Brussels.

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“We don’t have an instant solution but we are going to be looking at and taking steps but we can’t say those steps will solve this thing tomorrow,” she added.

Her comments followed a joint meeting with EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker where the two discussed migration, tackling human traffickers, and how to create economic opportunities in the departure countries of EU-bound migrants.

Dlamini-Zuma said the AU has agreed to cooperate on all three issues with the EU, noting that young people in Africa need education, skills, and the opportunities provided by modern industries.

The past few weeks have seen a series of boating disasters push the migration issue to the top of the EU’s agenda. EU leaders will attend an emergency summit Brussels on Thursday to discuss a series of new measures proposed by the European commission.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some 1,600 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat since the start of the year.

Around 800 died in a failed effort over the weekend, including Syrian and Eritrean refugees, sparking broader calls by aid organisations for the EU to launch a fully-fledged search and rescue operation.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva on Tuesday estimated up to 30,000 people could die this year if nothing is done.

Juncker, for his part, said the priority should be saving lives.

“If there is anything noble about politics, it boils down to saving human lives,” he said.

But the commission’s ten-point plan on Monday in Luxembourg makes no explicit mention of saving lives.

It instead proposes expanding the EU’s sea surveillance mission Triton within the mandate of the EU’s border agency’s mandate, Frontex.

With a budget of around €2.9 million per month, Triton has at its disposal one helicopter, two aircraft, two open sea patrol vessels, and four coast boats.

German Green MEP Ska Keller told this website an EU-wide search and rescue mission, financed by all EU member states, is needed.

But her expectations of Thursday’s hastily convened summit remain low.

“It’s very good that we have that special council and that is already something because that means they have to decide something. They simply cannot have a council and say ‘we just proceed as we’ve always done’. But obviously, I don’t expect too much,” she said.

Keller noted the commission’s ten-point plan makes no reference to setting up legal migration routes.

“I think it will be the biggest gap,” she said of tomorrow’s summit.

The MEP says people risk their lives because there are no open channels to the EU. She proposes, among other things, a visa-waiver programme for Syrians.

Only around 5 percent of Syrians who have fled the conflict have sought safety in Europe. Most end up in Turkey, which hosts around 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

Member states, by comparison, have committed to help resettle some 100,000 but have so far only found homes for around 36,000. Most end up in Germany, Sweden, or France.

UNCHR figures from February note the UK has 90 Syrian refugees while eastern and Baltic states don’t host any at all.

Syrians represented around 32 percent (69,000) of the sea arrivals in the EU in 2014.

EU to target migrant smugglers

EU leaders on Thursday declared war on migrant smugglers and promised to triple the monthly budget of the EU’s sea surveillance mission, Triton.

Juncker annoys centre-right on migration

EU commission chief Juncker has said the outcome of the EU summit on migration is "inadequate", putting himself at odds with his own political family.

EU to 'capture and destroy' migrant traffickers' boats

EU leaders are to ask foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to look into setting up a defence mission that would "identify, capture and destroy vessels" potentially used by human traffickers.

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