BRUSSELS — European Union (EU) and African leaders trying to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean in perilous conditions unveiled a raft of measures on Thursday designed to boost development and crack down on human trafficking.
A summit bringing together about 80 leaders from the two continents touched on security, business and climate change, with sideline talks on the violence-hit Central African Republic.
The summit caused two days of traffic snarls in Brussels.
After tragic scenes of migrants storming fences in Spain and drownings off the Italian island of Lampedusa, delegates drew up a detailed plan to boost legal immigration while trying to dissuade Africans from trying to reach Europe illegally.
"If we concentrate on improving the skills of our people, investing in them, they will not have to come through Lampedusa," said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, head of the African Union (AU) Commission. "They’ll come through the airports and the ports and they will be welcome," she said.
In the plan, the first of its kind, the two blocs commit to putting their resources together to normalise migration, with a focus on development and education on the one hand, and tightening borders and fighting traffickers on the other. A joint statement said the EU and AU would "upscale efforts in combating trafficking in human beings" and "fight irregular migration".
Immigration charities estimate 17,000-20,000 migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe in the past 20 years, but fighting the phenomenon from both Africa and Europe has proved difficult.
Delegates failed to agree on migration at the last Africa-EU summit in 2010 — an unusual affair hosted in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya — with the Africans reluctant to impose tighter controls at their shores.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy declared that the EU-AU agreement was a "real breakthrough, a very important declaration". In one of the worst Mediterranean migrant tragedies, a boat overloaded with refugees, mostly from strife-torn Somalia and Eritrea, caught fire and capsized last October off the island of Lampedusa. About 366 people died, prompting calls for an overhaul of European migration and asylum policies.
Also at the summit, Belgian premier Elio Di Rupo lectured African leaders on tolerance, saying they have to accept gays and lesbians in their countries.
Mr Di Rupo urged African leaders to respect the rights of minorities, including those who were being victimised for their sexual orientation.
The remarks were made at a welcome dinner on Wednesday for the EU and African leaders attending the summit, including the presidents of Uganda and Nigeria, where draconian antigay laws were recently implemented to international outcry.
"We cannot tolerate that some are denied their rights and persecuted for their origins, their sexual orientation, their religion and their convictions," Mr Di Rupo, who is openly gay, said.
Many African countries, with the notable exceptions of South Africa and others, have laws that ban or repress homosexuality.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill earlier this year that calls for "repeat homosexuals" to be jailed for life and requires people to report homosexuals in Uganda.
Nigeria in January banned same-sex marriage and civil unions while homosexual acts already carry the death sentence under sharia Islamic law which applies along with federal law in the north of the country.
Reaction to the legislations has been fierce in the West, with several European countries having cut off aid to Uganda in protest and the US comparing the measures to anti-semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa.
The EU hoped to include in a final draft a pledge to uphold "the rights of the most vulnerable groups, including persons belonging to minorities", according to a copy obtained by news agency AFP.
But the latest such document, also obtained by AFP, instead calls for the respect of rights "of the most vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, the elderly and refugees, as well as to women, youth and children rights".