Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Macron wants asylum claims to start in Africa

French president Emmanuel Macron wants to set up safe zones in Niger and Chad to process asylum applications of people already recognised as refugees by the United Nations.

Speaking to reporters on Monday (28 August), Macron said the centres would "identify" refugees that have a right to asylum and kick off the asylum procedure "on African territory".

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In what appears to resemble so-called hotspots, Macron said the proposal would prevent people with rights to international protection from disembarking on boats from Libya to Europe.

"It is through cooperation in security and justice, with at times a military presence on the ground, that we have decided, the European countries along with Niger and Chad, to prevent migrants from leaving towards Libya."

A similar plan announced by Macron in July for Libya was quickly dismissed.

But Macron's latest comments followed Monday's mini-summit on Africa in Paris, attended by the leaders of Chad, Niger, and Libya, as well as Germany, Italy and Spain. The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, was also present.

"Hotspots is probably not the best term to designate the centres," noted Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was speaking alongside Macron at a joint-press conference.

Idriss Deby, president of Chad, said his country would not open offices that would attract people across Africa to ask for asylum to enter Europe.

"There won't be posts opened that call upon all the migrants from across the continent to come to our borders," he said.

Instead, Deby said the centres would be accessible to people already recognised as refugees by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and who reside in the country.

Over the weekend, the EU had also signed off on contracts to release some €50 million to finance a new multinational military force with troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in cooperation with the French. The joint military task force will be headquartered in Mali.

The African troops are tasked with cracking down on trafficking, drug smuggling, weapon smuggling, and terrorism, with additional military support expected from both Germany and France. France already has some 4,000 troops operating in the volatile region.

"We consider it a very important step in order to get a better grasp of the security situation in the borders between the countries that are involved in West Africa," a senior EU official told reporters in June.

Niger, a major transit route, is also said to have managed to curtail the flow of people heading towards Libya.

The EU claims 72,000 had passed through Agadez last May, as opposed to 7,000 this year. But those figures are disputed given the drop is based on incomplete data from only two monitoring points.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) is also working on the ground in Niger and Chad to assist people who want to return to their countries of origin, on a voluntary basis.

Other measures discussed at the summit include EU-financed development programmes to boost job opportunities in Africa.

"In the coming days, we will also launch a private investment plan supported by the European Commission, which will be able to mobilise up to €44 billion in private investment in Africa for economic development," said Mogherini.

Mogherini said such investments, on top of some €20 billion invested annually in Africa by the EU and member states, mean there is no need to invent a new Marshall Plan for the continent.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of Libya’s UN-backed government, had also requested more help to control the porous southern borders.

The EU's mission to Libya has had its mandate extended to the end of 2018. But the broad insecurity in Libya means the EU presence is limited, given that the mission remains based in Tunisia.

Unable to control large swathes of the country, Sarraj is at the mercy of some 1,500 armed militia groups and a international community unable to engage.

Italy earlier this month had wanted to send six navy ships to help the Libyan coastguard but had to scale back following protests from Tripoli and threats from Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar.

The EU had announced some €46 million in June to support Libyan border management as it continues to train its coastguard.

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