Migration and trade issues are topping the agenda as West African and European Union officials hash out future relations at a one-day high-level meeting in the Nigeria capital. An influx of illegal immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe is of great concern to the EU.

The European Union is promising more aid and cooperation to ease West Africa's severe economic crisis, which is contributing to the growing number of illegal immigrants leaving Africa for Europe.

Refugee boats continue to arrive in unprecedented numbers on the southern European islands and shores.

According to the Spanish government, more than 18,000 immigrants, mostly young men from Sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived in the Canary Islands in fishing boats this year compared to the nearly 5,000 who arrived in 2005.

Over the weekend, around 22 immigrants died on their way from West Africa to the Canary Islands. European Union representative, Leonidas Tezapsidis, told the Abuja meeting, that a more comprehensive approach must be adopted to stem the problem.

"We all have in mind the recent tragic images of people trying to reach the Canary Islands," said Tezapsidis.  "A common and comprehensive approach is necessary in order to address the root causes in a long-term development view but also to react to the short-term challenges. The recent African and European consultations to enhance dialogue on immigration issues such as the Rabat and the African Union conferences are steps in the right direction."

Analysts say the harsh economic realities are pushing young Africans into taking risky boat rides to the Canaries.

Tezapsidis says despite the European Union's desire to assist in the region's economic development through enhanced trade, West Africa lacks the capacity to take full advantage of these important trade concessions.

"What we want to do is to help the region diversify its economic base, help the region improve its competitiveness," Tezapsidis continued. "And, this can be done through greater investment in the region through greater confidence in the potential of the region. This is the only way to improve the capacity of the region for export. It is only through investment that the region will be able to take advantage of the trade preferences which are there. What we have seen is that despite the unilateral trade preferences given to the region, the region's importance as a partner to the European Union has diminished over the years. The interest of the EU is to have a politically and economically strong West Africa region."

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States was established in May 1975 to foster economic cooperation and integration of the member states.