EU bracing for wave of migrants as ongoing food crisis takes a toll on Africa, Middle East

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  • The EU is bracing for a wave of migrants spurred on by the food crisis. 
  • The situation has been made worse due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. 
  • A EU chief was speaking in Prague in a meeting with EU ministers.

The EU must brace for new waves of migrants forced to uproot because of the food crisis aggravated by the war in Ukraine, the bloc's border agency chief warned Monday.

While Ukrainian refugees were being handled well, "we have to prepare also for refugees coming from other areas because of the food security," the interim executive director of the Frontex agency Aija Kalnaja said.

She noted in particular that "grain transport from Ukraine is hampered, and that will create waves of migration".

Kalnaja was speaking as she arrived in Prague for a meeting of EU interior ministers that had been expanded to also include the ministers from non-EU countries Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukraine is one of the biggest grain exporters in the world. But that production and dispatch have been severely hobbled by Russia's invasion.

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Around 20 million tonnes of grain from last year's harvest are blocked in Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.

The situation has sent prices for certain foods and cooking oils soaring on world markets, with parts of Africa and the Middle East bearing the brunt.

Ylva Johansson, the EU's home affairs commissioner, said the food shortage as well as soaring energy prices posed security risks that would drive people out of their home countries.

"We should not wait until we have a crisis at our borders. We... need to reach out earlier on," she told reporters.

'Difficult neighbourhood'

Johansson added she was meeting the interior minister of Niger, Hamadou Adamou Souley, in Brussels on Friday to sign an "operational anti-smuggling partnership" deal.

"This is also a way to support countries like Niger that are in a very difficult neighbourhood when it comes to stabilisation and security," she said.

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Moscow has said it would allow Ukrainian freighters to leave the ports if Ukraine demined the coastal areas -- something Kyiv refuses to do because of how vulnerable it would leave it to seaborne Russian assaults.

The head of UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, warned in June that unless the growing food crisis caused by Russia were quickly resolved, the number of displaced people globally would swell well beyond the record 100 million already counted.

Russia's war, which started on February 24, has already provoked the biggest refugee outflow in Europe since World War II, prompting the EU to offer fleeing Ukrainians temporary protection.

Frontex says that the outflow of Ukrainians has diminished in recent weeks, and Johansson said the flows between Ukraine and the bloc have now returned to pre-war levels.

She added a total of 6.7 million Ukrainian refugees had entered the EU since the invasion but around three million have returned home.

"Between 3.2 and 3.7 million Ukrainian refugees are on the EU territory right now," she said.

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