BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union, under an agreement published on Monday, will provide funds to Mali to help it create jobs and strengthen border management in return for the African country’s aid in fighting people smugglers and accepting deportees from Europe.
The Mali agreement comes as they EU is stepping up migration collaboration with countries of origin and transit in Africa and the Middle East to prevent a repeat of last year’s uncontrolled influx of refugees and migrants to its shores.
Announced by the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders after his talks in Bamako, the deal also envisages EU support to Mali on development, biometric passports and advancing security in northern part of the West African country.
Ever since French forces intervened in 2013 to push back Islamists who had hijacked an ethnic Tuareg uprising in Mali’s desert north, world powers - especially former colonial master Paris - have invested huge sums in trying to soothe the tangled rivalries that caused Mali to implode.
Only last week, suspected Islamist militants freed nearly 100 prisoners during an attack on a jail in central Mali, the second attack of its kind in recent weeks. Militant groups based in the north have extended their campaign into central and southern regions, complicating international efforts at peace.
“There is support for the way in which we want to do a partnership with Mali, which involves very much working on the root causes in Mali, on why people are leaving,” Koenders said.
“We’ve worked a lot on the battle against trafficking, how we can work together to ensure that no people are dying on the road to Libya and Algeria,” he told Reuters.
The arrival of 1.4 million people to the EU this year and last - many of them crossing by boat from North African countries on the shores of the Mediterranean - has triggered political infighting between members and the bloc has increasingly made curbing immigration a priority.
EU states have since strengthened their common external borders and are working on similar deals to the Mali one with Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, as well as Afghanistan to be able to swiftly deport migrants who still make it to Europe but have no case for asylum.
Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon - the three countries hosting most of the refugees from the Syrian war - have also been receiving more EU funds to help them cope and prevent a massive rush to Europe of the people who have fled there.
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams