A top EU leader called on Friday for the European bloc to pressure Egypt to sign a migrant deal similar to the one it currently has in place with Turkey.
The comments came as authorities in Egypt said they had now recovered more than 100 bodies from the biggest ever migrant shipwreck off its shores on Wednesday.
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said the EU “must” adopt a deal with Egypt to curb migrant flows, suggesting that the promise of much-needed IMF loans could be used to persuade Egypt to accept such an agreement.
“This is the path we must take,” Schulz told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview on Friday.
Schulz said any agreement with Egypt must be “comprehensive,” suggesting that the north African country could not be allowed to receive IMF loans if it refused to cooperate with the EU on curbing migrant flows.
Egypt is hoping to receive $12 billion worth of IMF loans over the next three years, in return for meeting the lender’s conditions.
The IMF’s mission chief for Egypt signed off on the loan in August, but it is still pending approval from the body’s executive board.
Schulz said the EU’s deal with Turkey – which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described as a “model” for similar agreements with other countries – proved that the bloc could co-ordinate on curbing migration without “abandoning its principles”.
The deal with Turkey came into force in March – Turkey agreed to take back asylum seekers who are deported from Europe after their claims are rejected.
In return, the EU pledged to resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in return for each refused asylum seeker sent back to Turkey.
The deal prompted sharp criticism from lawyers and rights groups, who accused the EU of “turning its back on a global refugee crisis”.
Egypt also denounced the deal, saying it caused an increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum – and routes to Europe – via Egypt.
“You see what has happened as a result of the deal with Turkey,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hisham Badr told members of the European parliament last month. “The pressure on Egypt has increased.”
Egypt is now considered the second-largest departure point for migrant boats after Libya, where years of political chaos allow smugglers to operate with relative impunity.
On Wednesday a boat crammed with around 600 people set off from a small village close to Alexandria.
It capsized just 12 kilometres into a journey across the Mediterranean, reportedly to Italy.
The bodies of at least 108 people have since been recovered – some 160 were rescued, but it is feared that the hundreds of people who are still missing may have drowned.
The Egyptian military says it has stopped boats carrying a total of 900 people over the past two weeks.
Source: Middle East Eye