The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States says it is trying to find new solutions to help end the wave of illegal migration from the region to Europe. Efam Dovi spoke to the ECOWAS president at a recent conference in Ghana and files this report from the capital, Accra.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas says ECOWAS and the International Migration Organization are in the process of convening a meeting of migration experts, next month in Dakar, Senegal.
"And, at this meeting we will try to elaborate a regional approach to this issue," he explained, "convene our ministers so that we can come up with policies for our governments to have an approach that will tackle the issues at their base, fundamentally."
Last year, tens of thousands of West Africans trying to escape poverty and difficult conditions tried to reach Europe - often using dangerous means. Some died at sea. Others were picked up on European Islands and sent back home.
The ECOWAS president says Africa and Europe have to work together to come up with a comprehensive framework to address the problem.
He says it is important to educate the youth in Africa on the dangers they face in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. However, he also calls for a more humane approach for when the migrants are picked up in Europe.
Chambas says ways have to be sought to make it easier for people to migrate lawfully to avoid exploitation.
"We have to look at the labor needs of Europe, which are there and when there is demand there will be this kind of push factor from Africans to go and, when they get there, they are used, in sometimes clandestine ways," he said. "We have to find ways to regularize and legalize these things, so that people don't use these traffickers to try and get into Europe."
But he also says African governments have a duty to prioritize investment in education and develop the continent's human resources and infrastructure. He says strong economies would be an incentive for people to stay. He says other measures are being taken to address the problem.
"We are engaged in economic partnership agreement with Europe, negotiating one, and some of the issues coming up are the issues of productive capacity in our region," Chambas noted, "ensuring that whatever agreement that we end up with does not open up West Africa to the ferocious competition from industries in Europe, which obviously our industries will not be able to stand, [and that it] does not lead to lost of jobs, because if that were to happen, then of course you will be pushing more of our youth to seek other avenues for employment, such as going to Europe."
Chambas says regional conflicts force people to leave their homes.
He says efforts are being made to ensure the peace process in Ivory Coast stays on course. He looks for United Nations-sanctioned elections there, in the near future.
He calls for continuous vigilance and for commitment to good governance, improving transparency and accountability, as well as rule of law in the West African region. He says stability is a major factor in discouraging migration.