BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With the number of migrants making the dangerous Atlantic crossing from West Africa to Europe up sharply, two senior EU leaders arrived Thursday in the African coastal nation of Mauritania, where they are expected to sign deals with the president on migration, security and green energy.
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez landed in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, for talks with President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.
In January alone, some 7,270 migrants landed on Spain’s Canary Islands, the archipelago that is used as a stepping stone to continental Europe, about as many as in the first six months of 2023.
The Canary Islands had already been struggling with a record number of arrivals last year when nearly 40,000 people arrived on its shores on boats from West Africa.
Despite the presence of both Spanish and Mauritanian patrols of the coast, the majority of this year’s migrant arrivals have departed from the impoverished nation.
Mauritania has been hailed as a key partner of the EU and Spain in the fight against people smuggling and is seen as one of the most stable countries in the volatile Sahel region. Many of the migrants embarking on smugglers’ boats leaving from Mauritania come from neighboring Mali and Senegal.
In addition to announcing more funds for migration control and humanitarian aid, European officials are expected to sign several financing and development projects on green hydrogen as part of an EU energy transition initiative.