EU, Africa agree migration crisis plan despite divisions


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European Union leaders and their African counterparts attend the Valletta Summit on Migration in Valletta, Malta, November 12, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi European Union leaders and their African counterparts attend the Valletta Summit on Migration in Valletta, Malta, November 12, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi


European Union and African leaders on Thursday approved a 1.8-billion-euro action plan they hope will help stem an unprecedented and politically explosive flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
The plan, which immediately came under fire from Senegal President Macky Sall, includes vague provisions on speeding up the repatriation of failed asylum-seekers as well as a limited expansion of opportunities for legal migration, principally for students and academic staff.
It is to be underpinned by 1.8 billion euros of initial EU funding for an 'Emergency Trust Fund' which will provide finance for development projects designed to address the root causes of migratory pressures including poverty, conflict, repressive governance and the unsafe conditions endured by the millions of people displaced across Africa.
The money is coming from the EU's collective budget and the bloc's 28 member states have been asked to match it with contributions of their own.
The national pledges to date however have totaled just 78.2 million euros in an underwhelming response that officials in Brussels partly blame on populist pressures on governments to be seen to acting and talking tough on migrants.
The joint plan was approved at the end of a two-day summit in Malta despite misgivings among some African governments over what they see as a trend towards "fortress Europe" seeking to pull up its drawbridge and a tendency to exaggerate the scale of the problem posed by new arrivals.
Africans have accounted for some 140,000 of the roughly 800,000 migrants who have arrived in the EU by sea so far this year with far large numbers now coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East via Turkey and Greece.
Efforts to slow the rate of arrivals on that front will dominate a separate meeting of EU leaders in Valletta on Thursday afternoon, at which steps to improve cooperation with Turkey over the migrant issue will be reviewed.
Sall said the deal with the EU did not offer anything like the money needed to address Africa's problems and accused the Europeans of "putting too much emphasis on readmission (of illegal immigrants), perhaps because of public opinion."
"This question is already dealt with in the existing agreements between the EU and African states," added the Senegalese leader, one of Africa's political heavyweights.
"And I think there is also a fundamental, philosophical question: you cannot insist on Africans being readmitted to their countries of origin when you are welcoming Syrians and others. The numbers of Africans migrating towards Europe are not as great as people say."
'Integration impossible'
There was also grumbling about the outcome of the discussions from the EU's leading anti-migrant hawk, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
"It's painful to admit but a few Greek ferryboat captains have been more effective in the struggle against migration than several rounds of meetings of 28 prime ministers," Orban said in a reference to recent moves by ferry skippers to stop transporting migrants from islands near Turkey to the Greek mainland.
 European Council President Donald Tusk (L) speaks with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel during the Valletta Summit on Migration in Valletta, Malta, November 12, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
British Home Secretary Theresa May insisted the talks had been constructive. "We have to be up to returning people to Africa but we also have to smash the criminal gangs (of traffickers) exploiting human misery."
Recent months have repeatedly seen national governments resort to unilateral action that undermines efforts to forge a united EU approach to the migrant question.
This week has already seen Slovenia erect a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia and Sweden decide to temporarily reimpose passport checks for people arriving from other countries in the border-free Schengen area.
With the Schengen system now feared to be on the brink of collapse, the Swedish move was seen as particularly significant in light of the country's long and generous tradition of welcoming more refugees in relation to its size than any other European state.
That has made the country a magnet for many new arrivals who until now have been able to travel freely across Europe and register asylum claims there rather than in their ports of arrival in southern Europe.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Thursday the measure had been partly motivated by security concerns.
"We have to make sure we know who is coming to Sweden," he told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

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