European efforts to tackle migration in concert with African countries of origin and transit are beginning to bear fruits, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday, four months after the bloc adopted its controversial sticks-and-carrots approach.
The European Union has been grappling with migration flows after more than 1 million people reached the continent last year. Many were fleeing war and violence in the Middle East, but others came to escape poverty and seek a better life.
In June, the European Commission proposed striking deals with partner countries aimed at fighting smuggling networks and boosting economic conditions so people have less reason to leave, while also tying development policies to cooperation on migration issues.
Work has now started with five priority countries: Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia, the commission said Tuesday.
Initial results include a decrease in migrants passing through Niger to reach the EU and an increase in the voluntary return of people not entitled to stay in the bloc, as well as the arrest of migrant traffickers in the country, Mogherini said.
Projects are under way in Mali and Senegal to tackle the root causes of migration, such as poor governance, she added, while negotiations are due to start soon with Nigeria on a deal to send migrants back to the country, she added.
The EU was also helping Ethiopia to cope with the more than 700,000 refugees living in the country amid a "worrying political situation," the EU's top diplomat said. The Ethiopian government has declared a state of emergency following anti-government riots.
"More has been obtained in these few months than in several past years," Mogherini said.
Projects worth more than 900 million euros (977 million dollars) have been approved from an EU trust fund set up for Africa, the commission said, adding that another 500 million euros have been made available for the fund.
But the approach is controversial, with human rights groups accusing the EU of seeking to bribe poorer countries and striking deals with repressive regimes.
Mogherini rejected the charge on Tuesday, arguing that it was proving far more fruitful to cooperate using positive incentives.
"There is no conditionality of aid. That is crystal clear. That would not meet our legal standards and also our basic principles," she said.