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Migration summit offers prospect of aid and legal routes

European and African leaders have met to discuss a "new relationship" to help stem illegal immigration. EU nations want to offer African nations aid - and possibly legal migration "hot spots" - in return for their help.

Leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Spain met African counterparts on Monday to discuss ways to slow illegal migration.

Among the options on the cards were using development aid to create more opportunities in migrants' own countries and the possibility of legal application processes for those suffering on humanitarian grounds.

French diplomatic sources said the goal was to produce a common "road map" to define priority actions.

The leader of Libya's internationally backed government, Fayez Serraj - whose country is on the migration route for most would-be arrivals to Europe - was present along with the presidents of Niger and Chad, whose nations are often used by migrants for the transition north.

Read more: Refugees in Italy face long wait for a new future

Speaking at the post-summit press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe had a "humanitarian responsibility" to fight illegal migration and people smugglers who profit from migrants' desperation.

European nations are keen to offer development aid and funding to their African partners in return for help in stemming the flow of economic migrants and asylum seekers.

Watch video 01:13

On board a refugee rescue ship

Hot spots and cold cash

In July, the EU offered 10 million euros ($12 million) in aid to Niger to combat illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed the establishment of "hot spots" in Africa where asylum seekers could make requests to travel to the EU without taking illegal smuggling routes.

While Merkel said she basically supported the creation of legal migration routes, she stressed at the summit that hot spots should be only for those fleeing on humanitarian grounds. "It can only work when a distinction is made from those who go to Libya to get to Europe for economic reasons," she said.

Legal migration would have to be coupled with an end to illegal migration, said Merkel, adding that this was "very, very important."

Read more: What is the current status of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean?

Poverty as a driving factor

Macron said more "effective action" against illegal migration included strengthening European efforts to help African countries improve their economies.

Libyan leader Serraj asked for more support in fighting migrant trafficking and monitoring his chaotic country's southern border.

Read more: Bodies of 19 Egyptian migrants found in Libyan desert

Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou stressed that the root cause was poverty.

Issoufou said it was important "to find alternatives for the smugglers to leave criminal activity," such as commerce or farming.

In terms of security, the European leaders agreed to help Chad and Niger to secure their borders. 

Thousands still dying

Some 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by boat this year, according to UN figures, with the vast majority arriving in Italy before moving on to other EU members. An estimated 2,400 have died en route.

Earlier on Monday, Italy's Interior Ministry hosted a meeting of interior ministers from Libya, Chad, Niger and Mali to discuss strategies to thwart human traffickers.

Migrants are often put on unseaworthy vessels by people smugglers and, while many are rescued, a large number perish at sea.

Watch video 01:14

Niger: Country of transit

rc/cmk (dpa, AP)

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