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An EU-Africa action plan to address the migration crisis

At a special summit which takes places on the next 11 and 12 November in Valletta, the EU will ask African leaders’ help to address the migration crisis. The challenge is a difficult one. EU states don’t agree with each other on a list of “safe countries” whose citizens are free from persecutions.

 The purpose of the European Union is to gather a consensus between the leaders of both continents for an action plan and a political declaration which stress the commitments of all parties to strengthen the partnership at the regional and national levels. The draft documents recognize the principle of a shared responsibility and need of a joint cooperation to face the challenges. Priority actions will target illegal immigration and the trafficking of human being. They also will focus on the protection of migrants along the migration routes. This will involve an strengthening of operational cooperation in criminal investigations, borders management and the fight against corruption. European leaders also hope that the Valletta summit could generate more commitments by their African partners on agreements for the readmission of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected.

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This topic however is quite controversial since there is not yet a clear consensus among EU member states about the list of “safe countries” where citizens do not risk being persecuted for their opinions or their religious or ethnic identity and which are conflict free.  In such context, it is difficult to set up a coherent EU asylum and migration policy. Since 1999, the EU is trying to set up a common list in order to speed up the processing of asylum applications, which raised concerns from the UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) in 2005. The UNHCR is particularly worried about an EU draft directive on asylum whose consequence might be the automatic turn-down of applications from candidates from safe countries, without letting them plead their case.

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On the last 9 September, the EU Commission proposed to the 28 EU member states a common list of safe countries including only seven Balkan countries which are all candidates to join the EU in the mid-term or long-term (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey despite the repression against Kurds and opponents to the Erdogan regime). Yet, there is still a long way to go before a consensus emerges. Meanwhile, each state is free to adopt its own list, provided it has one. In fact, only twelve European state do. The United Kingdom and France have the longest with 26 and 14 countries respectively. As a result, despite the Delta Niger violence and Boko Haram’s terror in the North-Eastern part of the country, Nigeria is listed as a “safe country” in the UK and Bulgaria. Even Mali, where Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is still active in the Northern half of the country is considered as a safe country by London. Germany has included like France, Ghana and Senegal in its own list, whereas Ireland only mentions South Africa as a safe country, while neither Belgium or Denmark have included any African country in their own.

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Most actions proposed in the EU Draft Action Plan target the root causes of migration. They namely consist in funding of development projects which prioritize employment and the strengthening of the rule of law and the respect of human rights. Health, education and food security should also be prioritized in this approach by the EU which in fact confirms commitments already made within the framework of its cooperation with African countries. The main instrument of EU’s policy is the EUR 1.8 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, whose creation was announced on the last 14 September at the European Parliament by the EU Commission’s chairman, Jean Juncker. The resources will come from the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). The Commission intends to allocate EUR 750 million to the Sahel states, an equal amount for the Horn of Africa and EUR 300 million for Northern Africa. The aim is to promote the stability of these regions and a better management of migration. Beside these priorities, some actions will also contribute to prevent radicalisation and extremism. The plan also includes a security element. EU member states are urged by Jean-Claude Juncker to contribute as well to the fund on an individual basis.

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One of the challenges for the EU diplomats is to make sure that the presidents of the African countries of origin and transit do attend the Malta summit. They rely particularly on the presence of the Eritrean President, Isaias Afeworki whom they will try to persuade to reduce the length of the mandatory military service which is mentioned by many Eritrean refugees as a justification for their asylum application. Some diplomats in Brussels also deplore that the prosecution of the Sudanese President, Omar Al Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur by the International Criminal Court will probably deter him from attending the summit. These sources think that the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda might ask the Maltese authorities to execute the international warrant of arrest issued by the Court and extradite Bashir, as she did unsuccessfully last June during the last African Union summit in South Africa.

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At their last summit, on the last 11 September in Dakar, leaders of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed the wish to have a “serious and responsible debate” over the migration issue. But they didn’t say whether the reconstruction of Libya, which was destroyed partly by the NATO raids and which is the main springboard for migration exodus to the EU will be discussed at the Malta summit. Last April, the Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso said in an interview to the French Europe 1 Radio that the Libyan problem had to be discussed by both African and European leaders. As long it is not solved, criminals continue to use the Libyan territory for their activities, warned Sassou. Likewise, at that time, François Hollande, mentioned the need to fix the mistakes of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy who took the lead of the attacks against Libya.

François Misser

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