Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) French President Emmanuel Macron has hosted a conference attended by the major EU powers and African leaders in Paris to deal with the continuing flood of illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain were joined by Chad, Niger and Libya.
Macron had previously run into trouble with his European colleagues when, without consultation, he proposed setting up ‘hotspots’ in Africa to process asylum applications rather than in Europe. He is suffering from growing and record unpopularity and anxious to be seen to be effective as President.
This year alone, some 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean, the vast majority landing in Italy. It is thought that at least 2,500 have died on the way.
As a result of an agreement with the Libyan authorities, the flow of migrants to Italy has been greatly reduced particularly since Libyan naval vessels threatened to fire on NGO vessels seeking to pick up migrants near the Libyan coast.
On the other hand, the flow of migrants arriving at the Spanish border in North Africa has increased.
European nations are keen to offer development aid and funding to African countries in return for help in stemming the flow of migrants.
A controversial financial agreement with Turkey last year stemmed the huge influx across the Aegean Sea to Greece, but the Greek government has recently claimed that the Turkish government is again letting some migrants through, no doubt in response to the latest angry exchanges with German politicians and the EU Commission.
Greeting the leaders, the French President said it was time for greater coordination.
‘We must all act together - from the source countries to Europe including the transit countries, especially Libya - to be efficient,’ he told reporters. ‘It’s a challenge as much for the EU as for the African Union.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference, ‘At the core of it, it’s all about fighting illegal migration’. She is under pressure in the upcoming German parliamentary elections from her own party members but particularly from the new anti- Euro anti-immigration AfD party currently polling around 10% in the opinion polls and likely to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament, for the first time.
The seemingly uncontrolled flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East is deeply unpopular in Europe and has gravely threatened the unity of the EU and brought into question the viability of the Schengen area that permits free movement of people across 26 European countries. The 2015 attempt to impose quotas, to help front line states Italy and Greece, on all member states by majority voting has met with fierce resistance particularly in Eastern Europe where Poland and Hungary have flatly refused to cooperate.
In a remarkable speech in May in the Polish Parliament Prime Minister Beata Szydło seized the occasion of the Manchester terrorist bombing to launch a fierce attack on European Union leaders and their migration policies, which she associated with terrorism.
‘We are not going to take part in the madness of the Brussels elite,’ she said. ‘We want to help people, not the political elites. Where are you headed Europe?’ she demanded. ‘Rise from your knees and from your lethargy or you will be crying over your children every day. If you can’t see this – if you can’t see that terrorism currently has the potential to hurt every country in Europe, and you think that Poland should not defend itself, you are going hand in hand with those who point this weapon against Europe, against all of us. It needs to be said clearly and directly: This is an attack on Europe, on our culture, on our traditions.’ Instead of taking in migrants Poland has said it will provide money for refugee camps in Syria.
The immigrant issue is widely believed to have swung the vote in favor of Brexit in the UK in 2016.
Speaking from an African perspective Chadian President Idriss Deby said ‘As long as the crisis in Libya is not resolved, I don't think we can find a definitive solution to the issue’.
The ironies of the situation were lost on no one present. First of all, the current situation is directly due to the 2011 Western intervention lead by France and Britain in Libya leading to the overthrow and assassination of President Khaddaffi. The former Libyan leader effectively blocked migrants from reaching Europe and employed over a million in the then prosperous country. Before the Western intervention Libya was the richest state in Africa per head of population. It is now one of the poorest with two warring governments and many lesser armed bands. The African Union bitterly opposed the intervention accurately predicting the disastrous consequences in terms of migration and the spread of violence in Africa. African leaders were ignored and a deputation attempting to mediate was warned that their plane risked being shot down if they attempted to fly to Libya.
The Western encouragement of civil strife in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan has also greatly increased the flow of migrants via Turkey where some 3 million are currently hosted.
The European Commission itself is torn by its desire to replace falling birthrates with immigration and the social and political cost of doing so.
The leaders signed a roadmap on the French proposal to set up ‘fully safe areas’ in Niger and Chad - key transit points for migrants - where asylum-seekers would be processed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
They signed a roadmap on the proposal, though there are as yet few details on how it might work. A joint mission will be sent to Niger and Chad soon, they said in a statement after the mini-summit.