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Divisions exposed as EU seeks Egypt’s help in stemming flow of migrants

Leaders of the bloc have held talks in Cairo over the issue.

Austria has urged its European Union partners to enter talks with Egypt to help stem the flow of migrants entering Europe from Africa, amid deep divisions over how to manage the challenge.

Mr Kurz, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and EU Council President Donald Tusk visited Cairo over the weekend for talks with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a top army general who took office in 2014.

Both men have praised him for stopping people from leaving its coast bound for Europe.

“Egypt has proven that it can be efficient,” Mr Kurz told reporters at an EU summit in Salzburg, Austria.

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Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria (Kerstin Joensson/AP)

“Since 2016, it has prevented ships sailing from Egypt to Europe or, when they have sailed, it has taken them back.”

Mr Kurz said Egypt is “now prepared possibly to deepen cooperation with us in talks. We should use that.”

He also said EU leaders support the idea of entering into talks with other North African countries as well.

In dealing with the migrants crisis of the past few years, the EU has been creative, willing to part with billions to secure deals around the Mediterranean with leaders with autocratic leanings.

The bloc lauds the deal it struck with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan for slowing migrant arrivals to a trickle over the last two years, in exchange for up to six billion euros in aid for Syrian refugees there and other incentives.

Italy alone paid billions to former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to stop African people from leaving his country’s shores.

Thousands were transported from Libya’s coast to its southern border.

Beyond keeping tight control over Egypt’s coastline, Mr Sissi could have important influence with the military and militias in lawless, neighbouring Libya; a main departure point for migrants trying to enter Europe through Italy.

Already, Mr Tusk is lobbying to hold an EU-Arab League summit in Cairo in February.

The call comes after a summer in which Italy’s anti-migrant government closed its ports to NGO ships, and even its own coast guard, carrying people rescued at sea.

Hundreds of migrants spent unnecessary days at sea or aboard boats while EU countries bickered over who should take them.

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi is seen by EU leaders as a key player (Evan Vucci/AP)

Looking for help from Mr Sissi is a new sign of the EU’s determination to outsource the migrant challenge, even though arrival numbers are barely a trickle compared to 2015, when well over a million people entered Europe, mostly fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

EU countries are studying plans to create “disembarkation platforms” in northern African countries, where people rescued at sea could be dropped off for screening.

No African country has expressed interest in hosting one so far.

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Migrants and refugees in a rubber dinghy arrive on a Greek beach (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The EU’s inability to balance responsibility for the migrants and share the burden of hosting them has been a vote-winner for far-right parties across the 28-nation bloc.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that Africa is not keen at the moment.

“If we take the approach of: ‘we don’t take them, you take them’, that doesn’t fly,” she said.

“But this doesn’t mean that North African countries would not be ready to cooperate with us, and with the UN, to have a reasonable, sustainable solution.”

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