Forced into action by its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, the European Union is pressing some northern African nations to sign lopsided deals that would send thousands back without sufficient protection, African diplomats and migration experts are warning.
Concern is growing that the EU will use its considerable political and economic clout — including access to more than 1.8 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in aid — to buy off vulnerable countries on the sidelines of a two-day summit with African leaders starting Wednesday in Malta.
Still wary of Europe’s colonial past, some Africans believe the EU is desperately trying to outsource its refugee challenges rather than accept that people will still try to come to the continent.
Ajay Bramdeo, ambassador to the EU for the 54-country African Union — which has not been invited to co-host the summit in Valletta — warned of “external pressure or influence brought to bear” by the 28-nation EU.
“These types of foreign policy interventions do not always deliver the desired results,” he said in Brussels.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 773,000 people have arrived by sea this year seeking sanctuary or jobs — many escaping war in Syria or Iraq — and the EU estimates three more million could come by 2017. Yet Turkey alone hosts more than two million refugees.
But while the EU recognizes the plight of refugees from war-torn Syria, the bloc believes most of those leaving Africa are looking for work and do not qualify for asylum, even if some are fleeing conflict, rights abuses or forced conscription. Its priority is to send those migrants back as quickly as possible.
Experts fear the lure of aid, trade and other benefits is too enticing for poor African countries to refuse, and that human rights will suffer in the process as they sign the deals with the EU.
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