The EU and Mali have reached a deal seeking to stop migrants from attempting life-threatening sea crossings to reach Europe. The EU will also invest money to help Mali and its neighbors improve border security.
The European Union has reached an agreement with the Malian government to facilitate the return of migrants who have reached Europe but subsequently had their asylum requests rejected by the EU.
"It is the first time the EU establishes such a precise mechanism with an African country with regards to returning failed asylum seekers," said a statement from the Dutch foreign ministry, which signed the agreement on the EU's behalf.
The deal, which will be presented in Brussels on Monday, is "necessary," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said.
The accord aims to fight "the root causes of illegal migration" and to "enable the return from Europe of Malian migrants," the statement said.
In November 2015 EU leaders met with their African counterparts at a summit in the Maltese capital, Valletta, where European leaders agreed to establish a 1.8-billion-euro ($1.9 billion) fund to address the root causes of migration.
In exchange, African leaders agreed to increase border controls and accept the repatriation of those who make it to Europe, but are deemed ineligible for asylum.
The EU-Mali agreement lays the ground work for schemes to help younger people find work, while also seeking to strengthen the country's security forces.
Crackdown on smugglers
Mali and neighboring countries will also be expected to crackdown on people-smugglers and tighten border security.
A total of nine projects were adopted, with a budget in excess of 145 million euros.
The agreement says, "Malian civil servants will travel to EU member states to help determine the identity of migrants, in order to accelerate their return," according to the statement.
The flow of migrants from African countries - including Mali, Nigeria and Gambia - has increased substantially in recent years. They often put their lives at risk crossing the sea in a desperate attempt to reach the EU.
"Young Malians have so much to give to their country," Foreign Minister Koenders said. "We must help stop Malians travelling to North Africa or Europe from losing their lives or falling into the hands of people smugglers."
Germany calls for increased military support to Mali
Separately, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has called for the deployment of an additional 350 German soldiers to Mali to help the government fight off an assortment of rebel groups - including Islamic militants - that first appeared in 2012 in the north of the country.
Working in tandem with the UN, Germany already has 650 troops in Mali along with combat and rescue helicopters. But tamping down the insurgency has been a slow, hard slog. Despite a UN-brokered peace agreement, implementation of the accord remains in doubt amid periodic flare-ups in fighting.
Von der Leyen said the German troop deployment in Mali is "the most dangerous mandate that the German army is currently undertaking."
The German parliament is expected to decide on the proposed troop increase in January.
bik/kl (AFP, Lusa, dpa)