European Union Leaders urge migrant screening in Africa to stem Med crossings

African and European leaders on Monday backed proposals to screen asylum seekers in Africa as a way to prevent thousands from taking perilous journeys.

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Nearly 1.5 million people have arrived in Europe since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration play

Nearly 1.5 million people have arrived in Europe since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration

(AFP)
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African and European leaders on Monday backed proposals to screen asylum seekers in Africa as a way to prevent thousands from taking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.

Hosting the talks in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested setting up "fully safe areas" in Niger and Chad -- key transit points for migrants -- where asylum-seekers would be processed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The leaders signed a roadmap on the proposal, though there were as yet few details on how it could work. A joint mission will be sent to Niger and Chad soon, they said in a statement after the mini-summit.

The seven heads of state or government, who included Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Libya's political stalemate was a central obstacle to resolving the crisis that has seen nearly 1.5 million people arrive in Europe since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

"As long as the crisis in Libya is not resolved, I don't think we can find a definitive solution to the issue," said Chadian President Idriss Deby.

Libya, which plunged into chaos after the overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, has two competing governments and dozens of armed factions filling the power vacuum. The north African country is a major transit hub for migrants.

Evaluation centres in Niger and Chad would help prevent "women and men from taking unwise risks in an extremely dangerous area and then in the Mediterranean" by starting the asylum process closer to home, Macron said, reiterating a proposal he made in July.

Human traffickers as well as arms and drug dealers "have turned the Mediterranean into a cemetery," he said.

More than 14,000 people, many fleeing conflicts or hardship in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, have died attempting to reach Europe since 2014.

Leaders meeting at the mini-summit in Paris said the chaos in Libya was an obstacle to tackling the migrant crisis play

Leaders meeting at the mini-summit in Paris said the chaos in Libya was an obstacle to tackling the migrant crisis

(AFP)

This year alone, some 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by boat, with the vast majority landing in Italy.

The head of the Libyan unity government Fayez al-Sarraj took part in Monday's talks as well as Merkel, Spanish and Italian prime ministers Mariano Rajoy and Paulo Gentiloni, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou and Europe's top diplomat Federica Mogherini.

European states have long sought to cut off clandestine immigration routes into the continent.

A controversial accord with Turkey last year stemmed the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea to Greece, one of the main channels.

But other routes have come back into use, including via Morocco and Spain.

European nations are keen to offer development aid and funding to their African partners in return for help in stemming the flow of migrants and asylum seekers.

'Living hell'

Last month the EU offered 10 million euros ($12 million) in aid to Niger to combat clandestine immigration.

Charities that help migrants have criticised attempts to stop migration at its source. "We're extending the European border farther and farther away," Eva Ottavy of the French charity Cimade told AFP.

On Monday, the Oxfam and ActionAid charities criticised Europe's leaders for what they called "fearmongering" over the migrant crisis.

They "continue to present migration as a threat rather than recognising its benefits," the charities said in a joint statement.

"They are playing into the hands of populist fearmongers who falsely claim that Europe is unable to cope with the arrival of people to its shores and who demonise search-and-rescue missions that save lives in the Mediterranean," it went on.

Main European migration routes according to the International Organization for Migration play

Main European migration routes according to the International Organization for Migration

(AFP)

"Their short-term approach ignores the fact that Europe needs migrants," the statement said, adding: "Italy alone will need an estimated 1.6 million regular migrants over the next decade to sustain its welfare and pension schemes."

They called on the EU to "stop outsourcing border controls to Libya, trapping more and more people in a living hell" and urged governments not to make aid conditional on border management.

Libya has sought to restrict the work of NGOs operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean that pick up migrants stranded on inflatable dinghies or other unseaworthy crafts.

The groups have been accused of unintentionally encouraging migrants to attempt the crossing as they know they will be rescued in the event of an emergency.

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