Valletta – The European Union launched a €1.9bn fund on Thursday to tackle migration from Africa, but struggled to impress recipient countries, which accused Europe of focusing too much on sending Africans back home.
“I was hearing speeches both yesterday and today where there was a great deal of convergence, … but there were also some confrontations on where we might disagree,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat acknowledged after hosting a two-day summit that brought together 40 African and European leaders.
Europe has struggled to secure the help of international partners in stemming the flow of migrants and asylum seekers heading its way. More than 800 000 have reached the continent by sea this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
“Many are, of course, asking: ‘Has the problem been solved with this summit?’ No,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We have with this EU-Africa summit started a new phase of co-operation… But there is also still a lot of work ahead of us.”
The new trust fund, which EU leaders signed into life at the Malta summit, is focused on long-term solutions, such as poverty eradication, conflict resolution and economic development. However, pledges fell short of expectations.
The plan had been to have a €3.6bn pot, with €1.8bn coming from the central EU budget – which was provided – and the rest from national governments. But they had only pledged €81.2m by Thursday afternoon.
“For the Africa Trust Fund and our response to be credible, I want to see more member states contributing and matching the €1.8bn the EU has put forward,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
“The fund is, of course, not enough. What is 1 billion euros?” South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin added. “I think more commitment from Europe is important.”
Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou noted that “the needs are enormous.”
On top of €20bn
But Muscat defended the fund as a “tremendous step forward.” EU President Donald Tusk also noted that it comes on top of €20bn in development aid that Africa already receives annually from the bloc and its 28 member states.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, who currently chairs the Economic Community of West African States, also took issue with EU demands that African countries take back failed asylum seekers and other migrants who do not have a legal right to stay in Europe.
“Europe is insisting too much on this [aspect],” Sall said, protesting that it was “discriminatory” to expel Africans, while keeping Syrian refugees. He also noted that most migrants to Europe do not come from his continent.
According to the European Asylum Support Office, the top five areas of origin for the more than 1 million asylum seekers registered in EU states in January-September were: Syria, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
“Why all this energy for African migrants? … It is not reasonable,” Sall said, charging that “the real fundamental questions” were being avoided at the summit.
After wrapping up their talks with the African partners, EU leaders were holding a separate summit in Valletta expected to focus on the attempt to stem migration flows from Turkey, but overshadowed by Swedish and Slovenian decisions to tighten their borders.
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