Italy has set up a fund to help African countries better seal their borders to keep migrants from boarding flimsy and often deadly rubber boats bound for Europe, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano’s announcement of the 200 million Euro (216 million dollars) fund comes two days before European Union leaders meet in Malta to discuss their plan to stop African immigrants from arriving in Europe.
A record 181,000 migrants reached Italy over the Mediterranean in 2016, most of them leaving from Libya where smugglers operate with impunity.
More than 5,000 are believed to have died attempting crossing the Mediterranean in 2016, aid agencies estimate.
“The strategic objective is to help African countries control their external borders and to stop departures,” Alfano told reporters in Rome.
“African countries can request training and equipment to beef up border controls.
“At the moment, Libya, Tunisia and Niger are the three strategic partners for the fund,’’ Alfano said.
However, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt and Ethiopia could be future partners.
Italy has repeatedly criticised the EU response to the migration crisis, in particular the failure to agree between EU states over how to share out those refugees and migrants, who make it into the bloc.
All 28 EU states agree, however, on the need to prevent them from coming in the first place and are increasingly offering money and other assistance to countries in the Middle East and North Africa to that end.
The bloc’s executive European Commission last week proposed mobilising a further 200 million Euros for projects such as training and equipping the Libyan coast guard and boosting voluntary returns.