The EU and Nigeria will discuss a deal to send economic migrants back to Africa’s most populous country as Europe seeks to replicate a recent pact with Turkey that is dramatically curbing migration flows from the Middle East.
Nigeria may be looking to the terms secured by Turkey.
The EU has agreed to give Ankara €6bn in exchange for accepting migrants who land on Greek islands.
A “readmission agreement” would involve migrants from Nigeria being deported in exchange for EU economic aid for Nigeria.
It would be the bloc’s first major return deal with a sub-Saharan African nation — its only existing one is with tiny island nation Cape Verde.
The EU and Nigeria agreed to “take the necessary steps to launch negotiations” for a deal after meetings in Brussels last month, and diplomats there have since been working to secure a mandate from member states to start the negotiations, an EU diplomat told the Financial Times.
The move comes after the EU signed a deal with Turkey earlier this year, in which Ankara agreed to accept the return of migrants landing in Greece — including Syrian refugees — in exchange for benefits, including aid and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
Striking a deal with Nigeria has become a focus for EU diplomats after a jump in arrivals of people from the country to Europe since 2014.
While the number of Nigerians pales in comparison to arrivals from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the EU considers the flow of Africans as a long-term structural problem.
Italy is lobbying especially hard for the EU to come to an agreement. The vast majority of migrants reaching the country come from Africa. Figures from the Italian interior ministry show the number of Nigerians arriving has increased 37 per cent this year compared with the same period in 2015.
Nigerians arrive almost exclusively across the central Mediterranean from war-torn Libya. Many African migrants destroy their identification documents during their journey, meaning a returns deal could be difficult to enforce if European authorities cannot identify where people should be deported to.
Nigeria’s population of more than 180m is expected to jump to 300m by 2030. Economic growth is not keeping pace, however. The government in the oil-rich state failed to capitalise on high crude prices and poverty levels remain high. The oil price crash has caused a severe slowdown and growth is forecast to be less than 3 per cent this year.