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Koenders: migration talks in West Africa must lead to agreements before the end of 2016

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders has concluded an agreement on migration in Côte d’Ivoire, following talks with President Alassane Ouattara, Minister of Foreign Affairs Albert Mabri, Minister of Defence Alain-Richard Donwahi and Minister for the Promotion of Youth Sidi Touré. In the agreement the Ivorians have promised, among other things, to promote the return of failed migrants by issuing more travel documents. This is the third such agreement in a row, following on from similar meetings earlier this week in Mali and Ghana.

The EU agreement with Côte d’Ivoire contains provisions aimed at eliminating the root causes of migration, such as employment projects, possibly involving processing raw materials in Côte d’Ivoire itself rather than exporting the raw materials. The country’s annual growth rate is 8%. The country has enormous growth potential, given that the majority of its population are minors. ‘The presence of jobs can make the difference in determining whether a person makes the crossing to Europe or opts instead for a future in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s in the interests of both Côte d’Ivoire and the EU to make that choice easier,’ said the minister. This year, the Netherlands will open an embassy in the Ivorian capital Abidjan.

‘It’s vital that we discuss migration in an African context. In some countries, economic migration to neighbouring countries is a long-standing cultural tradition,’ he continued. ‘We must have a solid understanding of both the root causes and the short-term factors behind people’s desire to migrate to Europe. These include a desire for better prospects for the future, a higher income and safety.’ While in Côte d’Ivoire, the minister took part in a wreath-laying ceremony in Grand-Bassam, where an attack last month claimed dozens of lives.

Agreements with Africa

On behalf of the EU, Mr Koenders has now made agreements on migration with Mali, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Over the past few days he has concluded joint declarations with representatives of the three countries about achieving concrete results on irregular migration from West Africa before the end of this year. ‘All the meetings were productive,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘We are all concerned about the high numbers of young men dying while attempting to cross the desert or sea. In the Valletta agreement, we established the principle that countries of origin must take in their own nationals who have been living illegally in another country.’

The meeting were a follow-up to the Valletta summit between the EU and African countries held in November 2015. ‘At the summit we established that migration is a shared responsibility,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘We realise that economic migration has always been a fact of life. But we have a duty to tackle mass, irregular, life-threatening migration that has no hope of succeeding. It is in victims’ interests that we do this; it also helps maintain a solid basis for regular migration.’ 

Follow-up

In the months ahead, Mali, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire will work with delegations from the EU to flesh out a number of the ideas explored with Mr Koenders:

  • Before the end of the Netherlands Presidency, all three countries will send missions to Europe to identify failed migrants for return to their countries of origin.
  • The EU and its member states will work with the West African countries to improve border controls and combat people smuggling.
  • Grants will be made available for students and academics to study and do research in Europe.
  • African migrants in Europe will be encouraged to invest in their country of origin.
  • The return of illegal migrants will be expedited with the help of improved documents and registration procedures.

In order to stimulate economic development and employment projects, the EU has established a €1.8 billion trust fund. So far, €380 million worth of projects have already been approved. The projects focus on areas like education and training, access to digital technology, youth participation in public life, promoting entrepreneurship, supporting small businesses by providing access to loans, and agricultural investment.

Similar high-level dialogues like the ones Mr Koenders conducted will also take place in other countries. On 29 April Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen will hold similar talks in Senegal. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is also organising dialogues with other countries. The aim is for all these dialogues to be completed by the autumn.