EU seeks closer North African ties to fight migrant smugglers


SALZBURG: EU leaders called Thursday for more intense talks with Egypt and other North African countries to take further steps against illegal migration to Europe, particularly by fighting those who smuggle and traffic them.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said leaders meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg backed the plan and noted that Egypt, at least, is “ready to intensify talks with the European Union”.
“I believe that this will be an important further step in the fight against illegal migration, but above all also in the fight against the business of traffickers,” Kurz told reporters.
Egypt’s foreign ministry confirmed Thursday it has proposed hosting a joint summit of EU and Arab leaders to tackle a range of issues, including migration.
EU sources said the summit could be held in February. The Cairo-based Arab League includes North African countries Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as those in the Middle East and Gulf.
The EU has previously struck cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya that helped to cut migration to Europe sharply since a 2015 peak, but the bloc wants to expand work with all north African countries.
The 28-nation bloc is increasingly focusing on less controversial plans to bolster its external borders as sharp divisions persist over redistributing asylum seekers who make it to Europe.
Summit host Kurz said the leaders proposed during an opening dinner on Wednesday “that talks be opened with Egypt but also with other North African states.”
“This proposal has been supported by all,” Kurz added.
Kurz, whose country holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, said he and Donald Tusk, the European Council president who chairs summits, will now reach out to the north African countries.
He said the signs were encouraging from Egypt, which EU officials said Kurz and Tusk visited on Sunday to discuss deeper cooperation.
Following his return to Brussels, Tusk called for a summit of EU and Arab League leaders.
– Migration ‘political crisis’ –
Kurz said Egypt has been “efficient” in the last two years in preventing boats from leaving its shores or forcing them back when they did.
EU sources told reporters that Egypt has set an example in fighting traffickers and smugglers, which could be followed by other North African countries.
They said Tusk will meet for more talks on fighting illegal migration with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.