By SYLVIE CORBET
PARIS (AP) — The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain are meeting Monday with counterparts from Libya, Niger and Chad to discuss ways to curb illegal migration across the Mediterranean Sea to European shores.
As a key transit point on the route, Libya is expected to be a focus of the discussions convened by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. The leader of Libya’s internationally-backed government, Fayez Serraj, is representing the troubled north African country.
The leaders also plan to discuss security cooperation, and the European leaders will then hold separate talks focused on European Union matters.
A top diplomatic official at the French presidency said the goal of the meeting is to produce a common “roadmap” that would define priority actions on migration routes.
One issue to be addressed is helping Libya and other countries of Africa’s Sahel region to fight human smuggling. Another is developing a resettlement policy for migrants who appear to fulfill criteria for obtaining asylum, the French official said.
An idea under discussion is establishing “protection missions” in Chad and Niger that would be operated by the United Nations’ refugee and migration agencies in cooperation with EU countries’ domestic migration agencies. The pre-asylum centers would receive European financing.
The official, in keeping with French presidential policy, requested anonymity and would not provide details on the precise locations and procedures for the missions.
Macron commented last month about establishing “hotspots” in Libya, Niger and Chad where people hoping to migrate to Europe could be screened for asylum eligibility. The comment prompted confusion, and his office later downplayed the remark.
Another top French official said “this is not about gathering migrants in centers and controlling the flows.”
“The goal is … to be able to go close to populations potentially eligible to claim asylum to examine their demand on-site and resettle them,” he stressed.
The official spoke anonymously because he was not allowed to speak ahead of the meeting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of the meeting that she wants more support for Libya’s coast guard and a “migration partnership” with Niger to inhibit migrant smuggling.
While European and African leaders were to meet in Paris, interior ministers from Libya, Chad, Niger and Mali met Monday at Rome’s interior ministry Monday morning.
A joint statement after the meeting said the ministers expressed satisfaction with the Paris summit’s agenda, which they said “can constitute the beginning of a new relationship between Europe and Africa.”
The ministers also renewed a pledge to back peace accords among Libya’s southern tribes and to stress the importance of backing Libya in the creation of a border guard force.
They agreed with the aim of setting up in Niger and Chad and of improving in Libya “reception centers for irregular migrants, coherent with their own legislation, with the aim of bringing them up to international humanitarian standards.”
Frances D’Emilio in Rome and David Rising in Berlin contributed.