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Egypt signs $8bn deal with EU to stem immigration from North Africa

EU officials promise aid to cash-strapped country set in 'difficult neighbourhood'
A man carries a tray of freshly baked bread in the old quarter of Cairo on 6 March 2024 (Amir Makar/AFP)

The EU has signed an $8bn package of loans, grants and energy cooperation deals with Egypt as it aims to prevent the flow of immigration from North Africa.

A senior European Commission official told reporters that the deal with Egypt, which is undergoing a financial crisis, is set to include billions in loans over coming years, and aims to step up Egyptian energy imports to help Europe "move further away from Russian gas".

"Egypt is a critical country for Europe today and for the days to come," said the commission official, who asked not to be named, according to AFP.

He added that the country occupied an "important position in a very difficult neighbourhood, bordering Libya, Sudan and the Gaza Strip".

Earlier in March, Egypt signed a $8bn deal with the International Monetary Fund after months of speculation.

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The World Bank estimated that nearly 30 percent of Egypt's population was poor in 2019 and many millions more were at risk of falling below the poverty line. 

Egypt's headline inflation reached 33.7 percent in December, and is expected to reach a peak of 45 percent in the fourth quarter of 2024, according to Oxford Economics think tank.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen was expected in Cairo on Sunday, along with the leaders of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, to sign deals later in the day with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

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The EU has for years been concerned with limiting migration across the Mediterranean from North Africa and has signed deals with numerous countries bordering the sea for that purpose.

According to the UN's International Organization for Migration, Egypt already hosts around nine million migrants and refugees, including four million Sudanese and 1.5 million Syrians.

The EU official told reporters that the new deal would include steps on "security, counter-terrorism cooperation and protection of borders, in particular the southern one", in reference to Sudan, which is currently mired in conflict.

Human Rights Watch has warned of "arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by Egyptian authorities" and has slammed "the EU's cash-for-migration-control approach" which it said "strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists whose work involves great personal risk".

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