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23rd Mar 2019

EU mulls roll-out of Africa migration deals

  • Niger is a major migration route for people hoping to reach the EU (Photo: Joris-Jan van den Boom)

The European Commission does not want new migration deals with other countries despite pressure from EU states ahead of an EU summit on Thursday (15 December).

An EU official said focus needs to be maintained on priority states Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Ethiopia and their so-called migration compacts. Work will instead intensify on an operational level in other places.

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"This does not mean we are proposing additional compacts because the work that has been done in the five priority countries is already intensive enough," he said.

All five have seen a flurry of diplomatic visits in the past few months.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel visited Niger in October. Senior ministers from France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands have also gone to the region.

EU leaders are likely to demand for "additional compacts or other forms of cooperation", according to leaked summit documents.

A diplomat in Brussels said some EU states are pushing for compacts with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Egypt.

The deals cover a wide range of policies from integration and development to security and readmission.

"The five pilot countries have not produced all the lessons to learn yet, we would need a deeper experience," said the diplomat.

An EU commission report out Wednesday noted that transit flows of people heading towards the EU in Niger have dropped from 70,000 in May to 1,500 in November.

Niger is a main migratory route towards Libya where people then disembark on boats to reach Italy.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) runs a transit centre in Agadez, a city in Niger, and is now repatriating over 1,000 people per month from the country.

"We have moved from around 200 per month to more than 1,500. So we are seeing sustained progress in Niger," said an EU official.

The EU is fearful that Niger's diminished transit flows will instead shift to neighbouring Mali.

Plans are now under way to expand the IOM's repatriation programme to other countries but with an emphasis on Libya, Mali and Niger.

Libya migrant returns

IOM chief William Lacy Swing, along with the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, are set to announce a new €100 million allocation programme for the effort.

The plan, driven by both Germany and Italy, foresees assisting some 24,000 stranded migrants to be returned home on a voluntary basis. It also intends to provide temporary shelter for around 60,000 along migration routes.

But stopping people from crossing the Mediterranean and sending rejected nationals back from the EU to the Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Ethiopia still remain outstanding issues.

Out of the 173,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean to reach the EU this year, some 59,000 came from these five countries alone.

The vast majority hailed from Nigeria but only 2,000 have been returned in 2016. Another 435 were sent back to Senegal, 119 to Mali, and 172 to Ethiopia. No figures were given for Niger.

Returning rejected migrants is proving difficult given political and administrative bottlenecks. The EU wants to fast track the returns by issuing a special transit travel document but has met stiff resistance from African governments.

Laissez-passer

The so-called laissez-passer document was initially floated at a 2015 summit for Africa in Malta's capital city, Valletta, but widely panned by African states who reject being told to accept a travel document for a person who may not necessarily be their citizen.

"The laissez-passer is the most complicated element in all the discussions, it's not only on the issue of returns but also sovereignty," an EU official told reporters in Brussels.

The EU has some 17 readmission agreements around the world. Only one, with Cape Verde, is in Africa. Talks for a readmission agreement with Nigeria started in October.

"We have countries, which refuse return via dedicated flights. Some actually request that returns only take place on their national airline," Matthias Ruete, the head of EU commission's home affairs department, told MEPs earlier this month.

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