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[BRUSSELS] EU leaders meeting at a summit Thursday are stepping up calls to boost Africa's economic development in exchange for sharp curbs on migrant flows following a similar arrangement with Turkey.
The European Union has been turning its sights on the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy after a March aid-for-cooperation deal with Turkey slowed to a trickle the number of migrants landing in Greece, the main entry point for Europe last year.
The draft summit statement calls on EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to present a report at the next summit in December on how much progress has been made with the five African countries toward reducing migrant arrivals and increasing returns.
The EU wants so-called "compacts" with those African countries - Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal - ready for the spring, when the weather improves and migrants are likely to head en masse again to Europe on rickety boats.
"More efforts are needed to reduce the number of irregular migrants, in particular from Africa, and to improve return rates," according to a draft leaders statement to be released later Thursday at the summit in Brussels.
The statement says EU countries aim to "apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade" in order to reduce migration flows and return migrants.
Under international law, EU countries must admit genuine refugees fleeing war and persecution, as in Syria and Afghanistan, but can block or send back migrants deemed job seekers, who Brussels say account for most of the African migrants.
EU officials have for months discussed a proposal to promote private investment in countries where many migrants come from in order to encourage them to stay home.
Unlike Turkey, it is difficult for EU countries to work with still lawless Libya to curb the migrant flow and possibly easier to try to ease poverty in Africa.
More than one million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa flooded into Europe last year, sowing divisions across the 28-nation bloc and fuelling the rise of far-right parties.
Some 145,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of 2016, almost the same number for the whole of last year.