EU seeks to stem illegal migration via Mediterranean

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LISBON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The European Union hopes ameeting on migration with its poorer neighbours from the Mediterranean region today will help stop thousands of illegal immigrants from reaching its shores.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, whose country holds the EU presidency, said illegal immigration was at the root of many serious crimes and the EU was anxious that it should be prevented.

''Illegal migration is an unthinkable humanitarian drama that leads to crimes like human trafficking and sexual exploitation,'' Pereira said in an interview with Reuters.

''We are keen to fight to eradicate this problem,'' he said ahead of the meeting in Albufeira, southern Portugal.

The first Euro-Mediterranean conference on migration between the EU and countries including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey aims to develop partnerships between the two regions to fight illegal migration.

About 120,000 people enter the EU illegally across the Mediterranean every year, according to EU estimates. Thousands more have died after their rubber dinghies and small wooden boats sank trying to make the trip.

Despite the risks, and with the United Nations expecting the population of Africa's cities to double by the year 2030, analysts say more people are expected to attempt the perilous ordeal in coming years.

''The EU's growing wealth is a magnet for a growing number of people living in poverty on the other side of the Mediterranean,'' said Miguel Monjardino, a political analyst and professor at Lisbon's Catholic University.

EU ministers also want to work with some countries in the Mediterranean region to attract more skilled workers to an ageing EU and help solve future labour shortages.

The European Union statistics office expects EU deaths to outnumber births from 2010 and the region's working population to fall by 52 million by 2050.

''That is why we cannot view the EU as a fortress nor do we feel immigration is necessarily negative,'' said Pereira.

Pereira said the EU and its Mediterranean partners must help those who arrive legally in the EU to succeed and create incentives for others to return home with more skills and wealth.

''We're talking about offering micro credit, creating a website with job opportunities and training centres for immigrants,'' he said. Pereira did not say when the EU would implement these measures.

Portugal has made migration a priority during its 6-month EU presidency that ends in December. The country will host an EU-Africa summit next month.

REUTERS SZ VC1906

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