Leaders of several European and African countries convened in Paris on Monday to discuss measures to tackle the migrant crisis. Heads of state and government from France, Italy, Germany and Spain met with their counterparts from Chad, Niger and Libya and agreed to begin processing asylum applications in North Africa before migrants embark on the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
The plan comes amid a decrease in the numbers of asylum seekers reaching Italy’s shores after it began working with the Libyan coastguard to turn back boats. However, since that route has been cut off, Spain has seen a jump in the number of migrants attempting to enter the country from Morocco, leading to fears that the problem has just been shifted to the western Mediterranean.
The arrangement would see the seven countries working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other migration agencies to identify refugees who qualify as asylum seekers and process their applications on African soil.
This would be accompanied by increased financial assistance to Libya to secure its porous southern borders as well as money to resettle migrants whose applications have been refused.
EU leaders will be hoping that the new initiatives will have a similar result to a deal struck with the Turkish government in March last year that saw migrants arriving in Greece being sent back to Turkey in return for billions of euro in aid. This led to a massive drop in the numbers of migrants travelling the so-called eastern route through Turkey and Greece towards Western Europe. This was overtaken in popularity by the central Mediterranean route which has seen about 200,000 people pass through Libya on the way to Italy over the past two years.
In a separate development, it is feared that the breakdown in Turkey’s relations with the EU could cause the migrant deal to unravel. The Greek government is reportedly worried that a recent rise in the number of migrants reaching its islands from Turkey could be a sign that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is willing to use the migrant issue as leverage in the stalled EU accession negotiations.