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Merkel calls for migrant deals with North African nations

September 21, 2018

The German chancellor views the EU-Turkey migrant deal as a model for working with North African countries. Following an informal EU summit, the bloc decided to broaden engagement with Arab states to stem migration.

People rescued in the Mediterranean Sea
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Lami

The European Union is striving to reach migration deals with northern African countries similar to the one it has with Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said following an informal EU summit on Thursday.

At the EU leaders' meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg, the bloc agreed to expand dialogue with countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, to stem migration across the Mediterranean.

Read more: Germany's Angela Merkel backs Austria on stronger EU borders  

"Ultimately, we'll need agreements and accords that are structured like the agreement between the European Union and Turkey," Merkel said, recognizing that the situation of every country would require a different solution.

Under the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal, Ankara agreed to stop migrants from crossing to Greece and take some back in exchange for several billion euros in financial aid to help with some 3.5 million refugees. 

Separately, EU and Italian cooperation with Libya and a naval mission in the Mediterranean has helped reduce migrant crossings from the war-torn North African country.

Read more: Germany: Libya coastguard rescued 10,000 migrants in 2018

Summit with Arab states planned

European Council President Donald Tusk said he would hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in the coming days and that EU leaders had agreed to a summit with Arab states in February. The summit would likely address migration, trade and economic development.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, pointed to Egypt as one country that has been able to prevent migrants from setting off across the Mediterranean.

He said Egypt was "ready to intensify talks with the European Union."

"What's important is to make sure that as few people as possible launch illegal journeys from northern African states towards Europe," he told a press conference.

In June, EU leaders agreed to explore the idea of creating centers in North Africa and Europe to separate genuine refugees from economic migrants who can be deported.

No North African countries have so far agreed to host a "disembarkation center."

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Lingering migrant issues

The European Union has struggled to reach agreement on the distribution of asylum-seekers within the bloc, with Italy's new anti-immigrant government now leading the charge for all 28 members to help relieve the country. 

Little progress was made in Salzburg on bridging the divide over the difficult issue.

With that left unresolved, the focus has shifted to strengthening the EU's external borders. Brussels is proposing to boost the EU border agency, Frontex, by increasing its force from 1,300 agents to 10,000 by 2020.

However, Italy, Spain, Greece and Hungary expressed reluctance in Salzburg about expanding Frontex due to concerns over sovereignty and handing over control of border management.

Kurz said that he hoped to resolve these concerns and move forward on expanding Frontex by the end of the year.

cw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)