Mon, Jul 02, 2018 - Page 7 News List

EU leaders push ahead with plan to screen migrants in Africa

By Lorne Cooke and David Rising  /  AP, BRUSSELS

EU heads of state on Thursday vowed to move forward with plans to screen migrants in North Africa for asylum eligibility to try to stem the flow of those making the perilous journey to the continent by sea, part of a desperate attempt to shore up EU unity on an issue that has fueled a political crisis.

No North African countries have so far agreed to sign on to the plan presented at last month’s European Council, although possible EU funding that could bring billions in aid might prove persuasive.

Italy also held up any interim agreements at the summit unless it received concrete commitments that the country would receive help managing the waves of newcomers that arrive from across the Mediterranean Sea.

“Italy doesn’t need any more verbal signs, but concrete deeds,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, insisting that the responsibility needed to be shared more equitably across the EU.

Based on the success of the EU-Turkey deal, which outsourced responsibility for stopping migrants entering Europe to the Turkish government in exchange for refugee aid, EU leaders want to expand the idea to Africa.

The costly endeavor reflects the anxiety in Europe over migration, which has turned into a political crisis, even though the number of people reaching Europe’s shores this year has dropped substantially.

A dispute over how Europe should manage migration has deepened since a euroskeptic government with a strong anti-migrant streak assumed power in Italy this month. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government is also in turmoil over her longstanding policy of welcoming refugees fleeing conflict.

Details are sketchy, but the proposed EU plan involves erecting a virtual wall in northern Africa by placing people who try to leave for Europe in centers in countries like Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. EU funds would be used to persuade the countries to sign on, although none has signaled interest so far.

Morocco is not interested in hosting a station for screening migrants, Moroccan Ministry of Interior Director of Migration and Border Surveillance Khalid Zerouali told reporters, saying “that’s not the solution.”

Migrants sometimes use the kingdom as a jumping-off point to reach Spain, which has seen a surge in migrants coming across by sea this year.

Zerouali said that about 25,000 have been stopped so far this year.

The lack of enthusiasm for the plan in Africa has not discouraged EU leaders.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who was chairing the two-day leaders’ summit in Brussels, said that partnering with countries outside the EU is the best approach.

“The alternative to this solution would be a chaotically advancing closure of borders, also within the EU, as well as growing conflicts among EU member states,” Tusk said. “Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration. But trust me: If we don’t agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.”

One of those “tough guys” is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who deployed troops to Hungary’s border and erected a razor wire fence to keep migrants out.

“The invasion should be stopped, and to stop the invasion means to have a strong border,” Orban told reporters on Thursday.

The worsening tensions come despite a decline in the number of migrants reaching Europe.

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