EU-Africa summit on migration opens

2015-11-11 15:56
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Valletta - Amid a worsening refugee crisis, European Union leaders were due on Wednesday to open a two-day summit with African partners aimed at finding ways of stemming migration flows into the bloc.

"We are under incredible pressure of events," EU President Donald Tusk warned on the eve of the meeting in the Maltese capital Valletta, which was expected to be attended by more than 60 African and European leaders.

"EU governments are reviewing over a million asylum applications between them, an all-time record number that would test any developed democracy," the former Polish prime minister said in a speech to the Maltese parliament.

Even though most EU-bound refugees hail from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and enter via Greece and the Western Balkans, stemming migration flows from Africa is also an important priority for the 28-member bloc.

Citizens from the African countries of Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Gambia are among the top 10 migrant nationalities recorded at arrival in Europe by the UN refugee agency UNHCR this year.

The main result of the Malta summit is expected to be the launch of an EU trust fund channelling development aid to Africa into programmes tackling the root causes of migration, such as poverty and conflicts.

Europeans would also like African countries to take back failed asylum seekers and economic migrants. In return, they are offering money and a limited expansion of mobility and legal migration schemes.

It is unclear whether the bargaining process will be successful, while several observers have criticized the EU's approach as focusing too much on border security and repatriations and too little on development.

Little delivery

Cecile Kyenge, a Congo-born Italian member of the European Parliament and former minister, complained in a Tuesday letter to La Repubblica newspaper that the EU's offer to African partners was "bordering on blackmail."

After the summit, EU leaders were due to stay on in Valletta for more intra-bloc talks on migration, amid slow progress on the implementation of burden-sharing initiatives approved two months ago.

They include a commitment to move 160 000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to elsewhere in the bloc over two years. So far, this has happened for only 147 people, according to data from the European Asylum Support Office.

"The biggest problem that we have at the moment [in the EU] is that too much is being promised and too little is being delivered," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a dpa interview.

He said there was "a justified cause for concern" about the risk of a general unravelling of European co-operation, amid continued bickering between EU governments over the extent to which migrants should be welcomed into the bloc.

In a move expected to create new tensions, Germany said Tuesday it would no longer unconditionally accept Syrian refugees, but would return them to the first EU country they set foot on, as stipulated by the so-called Dublin Regulation seen as increasingly hard to enforce.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  eu  |  malta  |  migrants

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