BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union offered Niger 610 million euros (£511.4 million) on Thursday to curtail migration from Africa through the Mediterranean to Europe and said it was seeking more such money-for-migration deals ahead.
Some 1.4 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe this year and last, and the EU wants to cut back on the uncontrolled influx of people.
Niger’s desert city of Agadez is a popular waystation for people trying to cross the Sahara to reach Libya and eventually Europe via Italy. This year has become the deadliest on record for those seeking to make the journey.
The EU has already offered similar schemes to Senegal, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mali, as well as to Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, among others. On Thursday, EU leaders agreed in Brussels they would seek to engage more African countries in such collaboration.
The bloc has also strengthened control of its external borders and is trying to deport more people who make it to Europe but have no case for asylum.
But they remain divided over how to share the burden of caring for those asylum-seekers who are already in the EU. More than a year of bickering over how to distribute them among EU states has produced no results so far.
The EU leaders, meeting for their final 2016 summit, said their aim now was to overcome the differences by mid-2017.
That is all but certain to prove difficult. Italy, Greece and Malta - the countries where refugees and migrants land after crossing the Mediterranean - demand those outside the main migration route take in some refugees as well.
They are backed by wealthy countries like Germany, Sweden and Austria, which receive by far the most of those who make it.
But eastern EU states, including Poland and Hungary, refuse to take in any, saying that would carry security risks and would change the make-up of their societies.
Other EU states have also dragged their feet. Fewer than 9,000 people have now been relocated from Greece and Italy under a decision dating back to September 2015. It was supposed to cover 160,000 people.
Italy has overtaken Greece this year as the main gateway to Europe. A controversial EU deal with Ankara has cut the influx of people from the Turkish coast to Greek islands, but is it all but impossible to replicate with the lawless Libya.
EU leaders are instead hoping to provide more funds to non-governmental organisations working with migrants in Libya to help send them back where they came from, the leaders also agreed on Thursday.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Larry King