The European Union wants to work more closely with Africa to address illegal migration, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday at a summit of dozens of European and African leaders.
“It’s very important that we simply support Africans to put a stop to illegal migration, so people don’t have to either suffer in horrible camps in Libya or are even being traded,” Merkel said.
Migration is a top issue at the summit after recent footage of migrants at a slave auction in Libya drew international horror and condemnation. Another issue high on the agenda is security as the threat of extremism grows in West Africa and elsewhere.
Europe is trying to slow the flow of tens of thousands of Africans making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean through development aid and other means, including funds to tighten border controls. But many Africans feel pressured to make the journey, risking death and abuse, saying high unemployment and climate change leave them little choice.
Around 3,000 die or go missing annually in attempts to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has urged his European counterparts to work more closely with Africa on tackling migration and security challenges.
He told The Associated Press that he and the younger generation of leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who also were at the summit, have an opportunity to put Africa-EU relations on a new footing.
“I come from a generation that sees Africa as a partner,” Michel said. “There is no more room in our generation for nostalgia about the past or a sense of guilt.”
Niger has been a success story in efforts to slow migration. But as the borders tighten there, impoverished neighbor Mali has become an attractive secondary route for those desperate enough to risk their lives crossing the country’s Islamic extremist-inhabited deserts to the coast of Algeria or Tunisia.
“We know that Mali and the entire Sahel region is an open door to the European Union,” Michel said.
But tackling migration is a sensitive task. Few migrants from Mali are keen to return, and the government is happy to welcome the significant sums of money sent home by Malians abroad.
As in much of Africa, Mali’s population is set to explode. Forecasts suggest it will grow from around 17 million now to more than 40 million by 2050, meaning the migratory pressures are unlikely to ease soon without significant help.