Figures from the Italian interior ministry show that over 25,000 Nigerian migrants have entered Italy in the past 16 months, which is an increase of 37 per cent this year compared with the same period in 2015.
After meetings in Brussels in March, the European Union (EU) and Nigeria agreed to “take the necessary steps to launch negotiations” for a deal on how to send migrants back to Nigeria in order to curb migration flows into the union.
This “readmission agreement” would likely see migrants from Nigeria deported in exchange for EU economic aid to Nigeria. The readmission agreement was recently employed between the EU and Turkey, which has dramatically curbed migration flows from the Middle East.
It would be the EU’s first major return deal with a sub-Saharan African nation — its only existing one is with tiny island nation Cape Verde.
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Italy is lobbying especially hard for the EU to come to an agreement. The vast majority of migrants reaching the country come from Africa.
Nigerians are said to arrive Italy via the central Mediterranean from Libya, seeking greener pasture through dangerous means, with many more expected in the days ahead as Nigeria’s population of more than 180m is expected to jump to 300m by 2030.
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 Nigerian migrants pale in comparison to arrivals from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the EU considers the flow of Africans as a long-term structural problem.
Since 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, the flow of migrants into Greece has significantly reduced.