EU relies on stability in the Sahel for its own security

French President Emmanuel Macron (C-R) flies over Gao during a visit to France's Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa's Sahel region, northern Mali, 19 May 2017. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

“Europe’s security, and that of Spain, depend on security in the Sahel,” said the EU Special Representative for the Sahel, Ángel Losada. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

The Sahel, a 5,400-kilometer belt of the world’s 11 poorest and most conflict-prone countries, is a stronghold of jihadists, trafficking networks and one of the main crossing points for migrants wanting to join Europe.

The EU currently has three missions in the Sahel: the EUTM Mali military mission, to support the restructuring and reorganisation of the Malian Armed Forces, the EUCAP Sahel Mali civil mission, and another operation against terrorism and organised crime, the EUCAP Sahel Niger.

EUCAP Sahel Niger mostly operates in the Nigerian region of Agadez, the main transit point for migrants in the area,. The EU’s presence there has made it possible to reduce passage on this road by 80% between January and May 2018, according to Losada.

Passages on this route, which starts in West Africa and in the Horn of Africa and leads to the Mediterranean, have significantly dropped, today there are 12,000 crossings each year, far from the “huge figures of a few years ago”.

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European leaders will Friday give a financial boost to a joint African force tackling jihadists in the Sahel at an international conference in Brussels, as fresh violence highlights the region’s fraught security situation.

Political dimension

Ángel Losada believes migration issues have above all an “internal political dimension”, which is illustrated by the current figures which are no longer “those of five years ago, when there was a real migration crisis”.

“There are internal disagreements in the EU about how to deal with this issue, but the truth is that people do not know that migration within the African continent accounts for 90% and that the percentage of those heading to Europe is much lower”.

The EU also supported the tricky implementation of the G5 Sahel regional force (formed by forces from Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad) to tackle terrorism and “which is facing the geographical challenge of monitoring an area of 5 million square kilometres with 5,000 men. Slightly unrealistic numbers”.

More funds for G5 Sahel after Brussels conference

The funds mobilised in support of the armed forces of the countries in the Sahel region amount to €414 million following the summit in Brussels. However the issue of securing funding on a long-term basis has not been solved.

Testing grounds

European presence in the Sahel, where the EU is the main donor, has turned the African region into a “testing ground” for the new reinforced European defence policy, in which Losada believes Spain will play a key role.

Europe faces the challenge of accelerating the “slow pace of peace dividends” on the ground, under the pressure of its African partners and is already working on new funding mechanisms for its security and development actions.

“The EU is ready to stay in the Sahel for as long as necessary,” stated Losada.

According to him, the cooperation of the African authorities is essential: “We remind you that your citizens are dying in the desert, in this terrible ocean”.

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