Europe’s “big four” continental powers and three African states agreed on a plan to tackle illegal human trafficking and support nations struggling to contain the flow of people across the desert and Mediterranean sea.
The 28-nation European Union has long struggled to find an answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa and the crisis is testing co-operation between member states.
Hosting the leaders of Germany, Italy, Spain, Chad, Niger and Libya on Monday French President Emmanuel Macron said it was time for greater co-ordination.
“We must all act together – from source countries to Europe and transit countries, especially Libya – to be efficient,” he told reporters. “It’s a challenge as much for the EU as for the African Union.”
While the meeting was sparse on detail, the leaders agreed on the principle of setting up a mechanism to identify legitimate migrants fleeing war and persecution and to use the United Nations to register them in Niger and Chad to prevent exploitation by traffickers.
“At the core, it’s all about fighting illegal migration,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.
She said Berlin was willing to increase its efforts.
“If we want to stop human traffickers this can only be achieved through development aid,” she said.
The migrant crisis has put Paris and Rome at odds. Italy accuses France and other EU states of not sharing the migrant burden and has asked the EU Commission for more budget flexibility to help it tackle the crisis.
Nearly 120,000 migrants, including refugees, entered Europe by sea so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. More than 2,400 drowned while making the dangerous journey, often without enough food or water in over-crowded dinghies operated by people smugglers.
“We are all committed to reducing the damage, the death of Africans in the desert, the death of Africans crossing the Mediterranean,” Chad President Idriss Deby said.
“The fundamental problem will always remain development. We need resources,” he said.
The informal meeting did not outline any new financing and the leaders repeated stabilising a chaotic Libya, where thousands of migrants end up before embarking on a perilous Mediterranean sea journey to Europe, would be key to any long-term solution.