Immigration Crisis

Cutting the Libyan Connection

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African refugees being rescued off the coast of Libya. Picture source: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to the Paris summit on immigration ready to talk Turkey.

At a meeting called by French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss ways to stem the flow of refugees into Europe across the Mediterranean, Ms. Merkel hoped last year’s agreement with Turkey to restrict the number of immigrants transiting that country to Europe could be a blueprint for new accords in Africa.

The pact with Turkey has cut the number of immigrants reaching the European Union via Greece and the Balkans by 97 percent from the peak in 2015.

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Nonetheless, most of the migration into Germany still takes place through the Balkan route. Activists have criticized the deal because it keeps many genuine asylum seekers trapped in limbo outside Europe.

The Paris summit included leaders from Libya, Chad, and Niger, regarded as transit countries for African immigrants seeking to migrate to Europe. Some 100,000 refugees are estimated to have attempted the crossing from northern Africa, usually from Libya, and more than 2,000 have drowned in the effort.

The EU countries have pledged financial aid to the African transit countries, ready to draw on the bloc’s €2 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In addition to Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron, the government heads of Italy and Spain took part in the summit.

Ms. Merkel said over the weekend that the goal of the summit is “to reduce illegal immigration step by step.”

It is a key element in Germany’s plan to redistribute refugees among the EU member countries. “If we can show skeptical governments that the EU’s outer borders can be effectively controlled, they can hopefully agree to the redistribution,” said an EU diplomat.

EU governments have argued that most of the immigrants are economic refugees seeking a better life and not bona fide political asylum seekers.

The German government on Monday also announced an agreement with Egypt to provide more aid in the economic and education sectors, in part to help resettle refugees who are returned to Egypt.

In the closing weeks of Ms. Merkel’s campaign for a fourth term as chancellor, she is walking a fine line between finding constructive solutions for the immigration crisis while showing sufficient toughness on the issue. Over the weekend, she warned asylum seekers not to take a vacation in their native countries because it might trigger a review of their status.

But some of the measures come in for criticism. The chairman of the opposition Green Party, Simone Peter, called the cooperation with the Libyan coast guard to block refugees “cynical.”

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Till Hoppe writes about foreign policy for Handelsblatt. Thomas Sigmund is the paper’s Berlin bureau chief. To contact the authors: hoppe@handelsblatt.comsigmund@handelsblatt.com.

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