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Migrants EU agrees to boost efforts to tackle illegal migration from Africa

Migrants reaching Greece from Turkey have dropped to a trickle after a deal with Ankara in March.

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EU leaders agreed on Thursday to step up their efforts to curb illegal migration from African countries with the aim of replicating their success in halting inflows from Turkey over the past year.

While migrants reaching Greece from Turkey have dropped to a trickle after a deal with Ankara in March, arrivals in Italy from Africa are increasing so far this year.

Italy received 154,000 migrants last year and this year's figure is likely to be higher. Only on Thursday, more than 1,400 boat migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, Italy's coastguard said in a statement.

To curb flows along the so-called central Mediterranean route, where thousands of migrants drown every year as they make the dangerous journey, the EU is offering trade deals and investment to African countries.

"It is not just about money, it is about substantially improving the capabilities and the chances of people in these African countries and to give hope," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on her arrival to the EU summit in Brussels.

In exchange for financial support EU leaders require their African partners to impose tighter border controls and to take back illegal migrants.

"More efforts are needed to stem the flows of irregular migrants, in particular from Africa, and to improve return rates," said the joint statement on migration agreed by EU leaders.

Leaders gave their backing to plans devised by the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini to initially use the new approach with five African countries: Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia.

First results of these plans will be presented by Mogherini at next EU summit in December, with a view to "extending the approach to other countries," the joint text said.

Eritrea, often described as Africa's North Korea for its reclusive regime and poor record on human rights, is another African country that may be considered by the European Union.

Eritrean migrants are among the most likely to be granted asylum in the EU because of the situation in their country.

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