VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — European leaders pressed ahead Thursday with efforts to discourage people from heading to Europe to find work and kept seeking ways to send back home thousands of Africans who don’t qualify for asylum.
The Europeans are looking to sign migration agreements with individual African countries at a migration summit with African leaders in Malta. One deal was signed Wednesday with Ethiopia. Countries including Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan could follow suit in exchange for millions in development aid.
Sudan’s foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, says he sees “prospects for cooperation, particularly on migration.”
“We hope that we will be supported, particularly on border management, stability and services,” he said, noting his country’s limited resources.
Gambia’s trade minister, Abdoulie Jobe, said his country is hoping for a combination of money and projects to get young people to work so they don’t leave.
“We believe that if there is a lot of investment in agriculture we can then take our youth into that sector to propel economic and social development,” he said.
Malta’s prime minister, who is hosting the summit, said he would hold talks in Algeria next week.
The EU leaders have already signed a 1.8 billion euro ($1.9 billion) “emergency trust fund for Africa.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker renewed calls for EU member countries to match that sum, but while around 25 of the bloc’s 28 states have offered money, it’s only believed to total 250 million euros ($268 million) so far.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, head of the ECOWAS group of African nations, said 1.8 billion euros is not enough and called for “full flexibility” in use of the funds.
Migration experts have been critical of the bilateral deals, saying that relatively poor African nations are unable to resist the lure of aid and sending people back could to these countries without proper facilities is almost certain to lead to rights abuses.
But the Europeans are desperate to stem the tide of arrivals. The EU estimates that up to 3 million more people could arrive in Europe seeking sanctuary or jobs by 2017.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — who ordered an anti-migrant fence to be built on his nation’s borders with Serbia and Croatia — called migration a “lose-lose” phenomenon.
“The solution is to have people have a decent life in the country where they were born. It’s impossible to do without money,” he told reporters at the Malta summit.
The mass influx to Europe has overwhelmed border authorities and countries simply to do not have the capacity to accommodate everyone. Unilateral actions by EU countries struggling to cope with the arrivals have raised troubling questions about the future of Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone.
Sweden — with the highest number of migrants per capita in Europe — was reintroducing border controls on Thursday, and its leader defended the move.
“When our authorities tell us we cannot guarantee the security and control of our borders, we need to listen,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.
Lofven said his EU partners understand the move, and called for an overhaul of the rules governing Europe’s passport-free area.
“We need another system. That is obvious,” he said.
Tensions were also high Thursday in the Balkans, as Slovenia continued to erect a razor-wire fence on its border with Croatia to hold back the migrant influx.
The two countries have a long-standing territorial dispute dating back to the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and Croatia believes the border fence is encroaching on its soil. Their leaders are to meet later Thursday to try to calm the row.
Slovenia says it is being overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 180,000 asylum-seekers moving toward Western Europe since mid-October.
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