Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 16:54 UK

EU opens 'job centre' in Africa

African migrants in a boat
Many young Africans risk death to reach Europe

The European Union has opened its first immigration centre outside Europe, in Mali's capital, Bamako.

Thousands of young West Africans try to make it into Europe illegally each year and many die on the way.

The EU hopes the new centre will help people find legal work in Europe and cut down on illegal migration by warning about its dangers.

It is also expected to encourage development within Mali, which lies at the centre of key migration routes.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross says young Malians desperate for work would have hoped this new centre would be a recruitment agency, but at this point the EU is stressing that no specific job vacancies will be on offer.

In the future, however, European countries may recruit via the Bamako office.

Spain is already doing this in Senegal by offering seasonal contracts picking fruit or working in hotels to several hundred people each year, with demand so high it is in effect a job lottery.

'Natural phenomenon'

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure was in Bamako to open the centre on Monday, as was EU development commissioner Louis Michel and French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux.

People will continue to look for ways of migrating without taking into consideration the regulated channel
CISP's Sandro De Luca

Mr Toure said Mali and France "will have to find solutions to our common problems".

"Let's be clear, a solution of 100% security is not realistic but neither is [a] 100% humanitarian solution," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"The real trouble is finding work for young people."

Mr Michel said migration was a natural phenomenon, as old as the world and criticised the idea of creating what some refer to as "Fortress Europe".

He said a repressive response to migration was counter productive and dangerous because he said it would promote xenophobic or racist feelings.

Patrick Taran, a migration expert at the International Labour Organization, said Europe - with its ageing workforce - is increasingly realising it needs workers of different skill levels.

"It makes a lot more sense for people to come through legal channels so that their rights are protected and they can demand and receive fair pay for their work," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Risky routes

Thousands of young West Africans set off from the north of Mali each year across the Sahara Desert towards Europe.

They are often ill-prepared for the journeys and many die on the way.

Travelling by sea from the West African coast to the Canary Islands is also a popular and risky route.

Young men from countries like Ghana and Nigeria often pass through Mali on their way to the coast of Senegal or Mauritania, where they are crammed into rickety fishing boats.

Last week, the Spanish coastguards rescued a group of 230 young Africans - the largest single boatload of illegal immigrants to reach Spain.

A sharp increase in the cost of food and fuel has recently made life even harder for people in this region, our correspondent says.

In many West African countries, even university graduates struggle to find employment and a menial job in Europe is therefore a surer way of supporting a family.

Many observers say that making world trade fairer is the best way to tackle illegal migration as it would help reduce the main cause - poverty.

Mali is one of the world's poorest countries and growing cotton is a popular livelihood.

But subsidies paid to US cotton farmers make it almost impossible for Malians to compete.

Sandro De Luca of the Rome-based International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) said it was too early to judge the immigration centre initiative, but it would not solve the problem of illegal migration alone.

"People will continue to look for ways of migrating without taking into consideration the regulated channel of doing this," he told the BBC.

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