Summit agrees plan to stop migration tragedies

2014-04-03 19:02

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Brussels - EU and African leaders trying to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean in perilous conditions unveiled a raft of measures on Thursday designed to boost development and crack down on human trafficking.

A huge summit bringing together some 80 leaders from the two continents touched on security, business and climate change, with sideline talks on the violence-hit Central African Republic.

There were so many delegates in town that the summit caused two days of traffic snarls in Brussels.

After tragic scenes of migrants storming fences in Spain and drownings off the Italian island of Lampedusa, delegates drew up a detailed plan to boost legal immigration while trying to dissuade Africans from trying to reach Europe illegally.

"If we concentrate on improving the skills of our people, investing in them, they will not have to come through Lampedusa," said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, head of the African Union Commission.

"They'll come through the airports and the ports and they will be welcome," she said.

In the plan, the first of its kind, the two blocs commit to putting their resources together to normalise migration, with a focus on development and education on the one hand, and tightening borders and fighting traffickers on the other.

A joint statement said the EU and AU would "upscale efforts in combating trafficking in human beings" and "fight irregular migration".

Immigration charities estimate between 17 000 and 20 000 migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe in the past 20 years, but fighting the phenomenon from both Africa and Europe has proved difficult.

Delegates failed to reach an agreement on migration at the last Africa-EU summit in 2010 - an unusual affair hosted in Muammar Gadaffi's Libya - with Africans reluctant to impose tighter controls at their shores.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the agreement was a "real breakthrough, a very important declaration".

In one of the worst ever Mediterranean migrant tragedies, a boat overloaded with refugees, mostly from strife-torn Somalia and Eritrea, caught fire and capsized last October off the island of Lampedusa.

Some 366 people lost their lives, prompting calls for an overhaul of European migration and asylum policies.

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