IMMIGRATION

Rajoy gets illegal immigration at top of EU-Africa summit agenda

Over 80 African and European leaders pledge to work together to fight human trafficking

Spanish leader misses dinner where he was due to sit with Equatorial Guinea dictator

Rajoy (top right) and other world leaders at the fourth EU-Africa Summit. / DIEGO CRESPO (EFE)

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has managed to make the fight against illegal immigration a top issue in Europe-Africa relations.

The two-day Euro-Africa Summit, which was due to end in Brussels on Thursday, approved an action plan for 2014-17 in which over 80 leaders from both continents – 41 of them from Africa – state their commitment to fighting human trafficking, which was described as “a new form of slavery.”

The plan stresses cooperation among countries to fight the trafficking mafias, improve border controls, encourage legal immigration, help migrants return home, reduce the cost of the money transfers they send back to their families, and address the latest causes of illegal immigration.

The fight against illegal immigration was not originally on the summit agenda, but organizers decided to add it following both the tragedy near the Italian island of Lampedusa last October, when hundreds of migrants drowned, and the massive runs on the fences separating Morocco from the Spanish North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in recent months.

Rajoy: “Migrating should be an option, not an obligation for survival”

In a brief address, Rajoy told the gathering of world leaders that it was important “to give youngsters in Africa an alternative to irregular immigration, even as we cooperate to stop this tragedy with proper management of migratory flows, more efficient border control and unflinching persecution of those who continue to get rich on human trafficking.”

“Migrating should be an option, not an obligation for survival,” added the Spanish leader.

Madrid is pressuring the EU to negotiate agreements with African nations that will tie economic aid to cooperation in fighting irregular immigration. The summit conclusions did not explicitly establish this link, but Spanish diplomatic sources said they were confident that the criteria would  be taken into account when the time comes for the EU to hand out the €28 billion in aid to Africa between 2014 and 2020.

On Wednesday, Rajoy met with the president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, and on Thursday he was scheduled to meet the leaders of Mozambique, Tanzania, Mali and Madagascar.

However, the Spanish leader decided not to attend a dinner in Brussels where he was supposed to sit at the same table as Teodoro Obiang, the longtime dictator of Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony to which Madrid still has many economic ties. The Spanish government had been criticized in recent days for allowing Obiang to attend the state funeral in Madrid of Adolfo Suárez, the man who steered Spain from Franco’s dictatorship into democracy in the late 1970s.

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