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EU sounds out Egypt on possible refugee deal

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EU sounds out Egypt on possible refugee deal

About half a million displaced Syrians are in Egypt. Pictured is a protest in Cairo against the war crimes of Bashar al-Assad, in 2012.

[Freedom House/Flickr]

Libya is not the only North African country hosting a large number of refugees: Egypt finds itself in a similar position. Cairo has indicated its interest in brokering some form of agreement akin to the EU’s deal with Turkey. EurActiv Germany reports.

The deal made between the EU and Turkey has a raft of critics, but despite this, speculation increases that Brussels is on the hunt for similar agreements with the countries of North Africa, as it seeks to deal with the refugee crisis.

Much to the chagrin of the European Commission, these countries are not always receptive to talks just out of concern for the refugees: the large amount of money on the table is often the most attractive factor.

Recently, talks were held in Vienna with representatives from Libya on such an agreement; now it’s Egypt’s turn. While Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Taher Siala protested against the prospect of refugees being sent back to his country, his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, has shown willingness to discuss the matter.

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One of Austria’s ruling political parties has proposed a “union of interests” between the EU and Turkey, in place of actual membership. EurActiv Germany reports.

Egypt is a country of some 100 million people, but due to rapid population growth and poor economic performance, further waves of migration from the Land of the Nile seem likely.

Egypt has emerged recently as a major hub of mass movement for migrants and refugees. Currently, 400,000 Iraqis, 500,000 Syrians and 4 million Africans, most of them still not registered, are hosted in the country. Whether these numbers are grounded in reality is still a matter of debate in Brussels.

What is certain is that the majority of these people harbour hopes of crossing the Mediterranean, despite the immense danger posed by the crossing, especially during the winter months. As the pressure grows, the people trafficking market only gets more favourable.

More and more boats are being intercepted by the Egyptian coastguard and subsequently returned to the country. Many critics claim that people returned to Egypt are then jailed after their failed attempt at crossing the Med and the state of the accommodation provided for most refugees is lamentable, as Cairo struggles to provide basic facilities.

As a result of this, the idea of brokering an agreement similar to the Turkey deal has gained traction. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz met with Shoukry in Vienna last week to test the waters. In addition to discussing the two countries’ economic ties, the refugee crisis and the fight against terrorism featured heavily on their agenda.

Kurz said that “we are aware that we are facing a big challenge, tackling terrorism in the region. Egypt is playing a central role in regard to this.”

Ultimately though, the decision on negotiating a deal will be taken by Brussels, which will have to decide whether the backlash experienced after the Turkey agreement was implemented can be ridden out once again.

Poverty-stricken Chad shows Europe how to host refugees

The influx of refugees into Europe is put into perspective by Chad, a nation of 13 million that is playing host to 645,000 displaced persons. EurActiv’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.