EU Considers Substantial Fund for Africa to Deal With Migrants

A migrant from Gambia embraces a friend in Kos, Greece, Saturday, after safely completing a journey across a three mile stretch of the Aegean Sea in a small boat from Turkey. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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BRUSSELS—The European Union is discussing offering a “substantial” fund to African countries as an incentive for greater cooperation on the region’s growing migration crisis, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said on Saturday.

Mr. Asselborn, speaking by telephone with The Wall Street Journal, said European Commission officials were discussing with member states the size of the fund, how it would be paid for and how additional assistance would be used.

If an agreement can be reached, money could come potentially from the European Commission’s budget and from member states, he said.

He said it was crucial that the EU have something to offer African countries to foster greater cooperation when the bloc’s leaders sit down with top African officials at a summit in Malta on November 11-12.

It should be a substantial number, Mr. Asselborn said, adding that there has been some discussion of a 1-billion-euro ($1.12 billion) fund. “Some want more, some want less.”

The €1 billion figure was reported by German news magazine Der Spiegel earlier on Saturday.

Luxembourg currently holds the presidency of the EU, giving it a key role in preparing the summit. Pierre Vimont, the former top diplomat in the EU’s foreign service unit, was named the bloc’s point person for the summit, which was announced earlier this year as Europe’s migration troubles intensified.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said that at this stage it was “premature to talk about Valletta deliverables,” making a reference to the capital of Malta.

EU officials have said they hope to see the Valletta meeting increase cooperation for clamping down on people-smuggling networks and facilitating the process of returning those whose asylum claim is rejected.

In return, they are willing to increase long-term development assistance for key countries where the migrants come from or transit through.

The EU is facing an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers and refugees across its southern and eastern borders, in modern times, raising intense pressure on some governments to toughen up on access. At the same time, deaths of thousands of people trying to enter the bloc over the past year have increased calls for the bloc to do more to save lives and to increase the number of genuine asylum seekers it takes in.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report on Friday saying the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe has surged this year to more than 300,000. Some 2,500 have died or gone missing.

Mr. Asselborn said it is clear the migration pressures aren’t going to fade as long as a host of conflicts in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East continue.

He said countries such as Niger, Mali and Mauritania could benefit from additional aid in ways that could help reduce migration by better securing borders, providing additional opportunities at home and working with the EU on a returns policy that would make it easier for economic migrants to be sent back.

The issue of returns is a particularly difficult one. Germany, the most popular final destination for migrants to the EU, sends back only about 40% of the asylum seekers it receives.

The EU has negotiated for years to no avail with a number of African countries to agree an arrangement for returning people whose asylum claim is rejected. EU leaders said in June that a more effective returns system was a crucial counterpart to efforts to absorb higher numbers of genuine asylum seekers.

Some governments are wary of any EU policy that would advantage some countries for cooperating on migration if that means other countries seeing their aid budgets cut.

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