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Officials Discuss Ways to Slow Illegal African Immigration to Europe

Interior and foreign ministers from nearly 60 countries are meeting in Rabat to find ways to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Africa to Europe. Officials at the two-day conference are focusing on security and development.

An influx of thousands of illegal immigrants bound for Europe in recent months has become one of the thorniest issues facing African and European nations.

The European Union has become stricter about deporting illegal immigrants back to Africa. African countries argue that Europe must also address poverty and underdevelopment they say are at the root of emigration.

Representatives from 57 African and European countries meeting in Rabat say they aim to tackle both sides of the immigration debate. They are expected to agree on measures to boost development, trade and employment in the African countries immigrants come from, or pass through.

The conference is also expected to address new ways to reinforce police and judicial cooperation against illegal immigration between Africa and Europe.

A top Moroccan official, Youssef Amrani told the French News Agency that the conference will renew immigration cooperation between the two regions. But some critics, like Amnesty International, argue the conference is flawed from the start.

Amnesty's European director, Dick Oosting, explains why.

"The aim of this conference, which is titled migration and development, looks fine - to look at development as one of the root causes of why people leave, because most of them are economic migrants," he said. "But given the whole set up and lack of basic trust, and the divergent interests of Africa and Europe, all that is bound to come out of it is more patrol boats and more controls."

The idea of hosting this conference was first floated by Moroccan and Spanish officials a few months ago, after hundreds of would-be immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa tried to enter the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Even though Spain legalized hundreds-of-thousands of illegal immigrants last year, it has sent many others back home.

Across Europe, governments are adopting tougher immigration policies - including in France, where the center-right government threatens to deport thousands of illegal immigrants and their children this year.