The European Union and African leaders have signed an agreement for the creation of an Emergency Trust Fund, initially of $1.9 billion, to assist African countries to take back nationals who migrated to Europe. Malta had pledged $270,000 to the fund.
The signing was the highlight of the Valletta Summit on Migration, held on November 11 and 12 in Malta.
African countries were reluctant to take up the offer as the deal would sharply reduce remittance income from immigrants in Europe.
African nations receive more than $32 billion annually in remittances, most of it from migrants. Many sub-Saharan Africa economies depend on remittances to bolster their sovereign credit ratings, which helps them lower their borrowing costs and lengthen their debt maturity.
Speaking at the summit, African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma warned against setting up migrant reception centres in Africa.
"These will end up being detention centres. The EU should stop advocating the 'fortress approach' being taken by some of its members," Ms Zuma said.
"We have to industrialise and modernise our continent, otherwise young people will continue to go elsewhere," she added.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and EU vice-president Federica Mogherini signed a deal for $2 billion in aid for the return and tackling of migrant smuggling, and support for the reintegration of returned Ethiopian migrants.
Senegal President Macky Sall cautioned the EU against repatriating Africans living in Europe. Instead, he urged that more energy be channelled to legalising and regularising their status.
"The money that the EU is pledging is not enough for the whole of Africa. We would like to see it more generously financed," President Sall, who is the chair of the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) said.
Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said that the EU should champion reform of global governance to make world trade fairer.
"What we are proposing is to offer more aid to African countries that do more to disrupt the work of human traffickers, secure their borders and keep their citizens from migrating. The EU will pay more for development projects to create jobs," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.
Somalia Prime Minister Omar Abdirashidali Sharmatke said that Africa does not need charity but investments that will make it economically independent.
At the EU-Africa summit, this issue was one of the fundamental conflict areas evident as the African side sought more possibilities for legal migration to Europe, with little or no willingness from the EU on that front.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the draft proposal would see enhanced collaboration with African countries to protect refugees, send home irregular migrants and stop those who smuggle them, while still offering Africans legal channels for migration.
The European Commission in Brussels has pledged $1.95 billion for the new Trust Fund for Africa, with other member countries expected to match that. So far, $54 million has been pledged.
According to EU estimates, more than 773,000 migrants seeking asylum or job opportunities entered Europe this year, the majority from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Somalia.
In October, the EU offered $3.2 billion in aid to Turkey, as well as easier visa rules for its business travellers and students, in exchange for controlling the high numbers of refugees entering Europe from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan through the country.
Incentives offered to African countries include reduced travel restrictions, more work permits for skilled immigrants and educational exchange scholarships. African countries are expected to create screening centres with tighter controls and take back immigrants whose asylum requests have been denied.
However, African countries feel that cutting off the flow of migrants and also allowing the repatriation of illegals will deny them remittances.
Somalia, one of the key source countries of illegal immigrants, is dependent on remittances for 40 per cent of its revenues.
According to World Bank data, sub-Saharan Africa's remittances are expected to grow to $33 billion at the end of this year and a further $38 billion in 2016. Last year, Nigeria received $21 billion from its citizens living abroad as remittances, almost half of it from Europe.
Ethiopia received more than $3 billion in remittances, while Eritrea got $1.2 billion. Somalia received $2.04 billion, and Mali, a transit point and a source country, got $772 million. Ivory Coast received $325 million. Morocco and Nigeria have the highest number of legal migrants in EU, with more than 100,000 of their citizens given permanent residency status last year.
Pedro De Vasconcelos, the co-ordinator of the financing facility for remittances at International Funding for Agricultural Development, said remittances inject millions of dollars into sub-Saharan economies.
"Remittances play a critical role in the transformation of vulnerable communities in developing economies. Remittances are estimated to equal at least three times the official development assistance to developing countries," he said.