- The government of Cape Verde is moving on further distance to its regional partners in the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) to forge closer ties with the European Union (EU). Despite an existing free movement agreement for ECOWAS citizens, Cape Verde now plans to limit access to its territory for other West African nationals to help curbing illegal immigration towards Europe.
Cape Verde's Prime Minister José María Neves declared his government's intentions on suspending the ECOWAS free movement agreement earlier this week. The current ECOWAS agreement abandoned visa requirements between the 15 regional member states (West Africa from Nigeria to Senegal) and is even preparing for a common ECOWAS passport or other travel document.
According to PM Neves, who was quoted making an interview with the Portuguese news agency 'Lusa' on Wednesday evening, Cape Verde will now impose restrictions on the entrance of citizens from all ECOWAS member states. Currently, ECOWAS citizens only need to produce a national or community passport or ID card to freely enter Cape Verde, but the Praia government now is considering different types of visa requirements.
According to Carlota Teixeira, the Prime Minister's press spokeswoman, details in the new ECOWAS travel restrictions will be developed together with the European Union (EU). "Restrictive measures" were to be agreed upon to enable Cape Verde to strongly limit the entrance of other West Africans, who may want to use the archipelago as a step-stone for illegal emigration to Europe.
"The measures will be taken in cooperation with the EU, as the government already is studying how European authorities can assist African states that are the starting point for most migrants trying to get to Europe illegally," Ms Teixeira was quoted by the Spanish news agency 'Europapress' as saying. "We have still not been able to advance with these studies," the spokeswoman added.
The new planned restrictions for ECOWAS citizens is the second signal only this week that Cape Verde is radically changing its diplomatic outlooks from West Africa towards Europe.
On Tuesday, Cape Verde's 'A Semana' reported that the Praia government did not want to participate in ECOWAS' negotiations with the EU over a new Economic Partnership Accord (EPA). The archipelago had opted to negotiate its own EPA directly with Brussels. Cape Verde's Economy Minister, João Pereira Silva, had been given indications that such a direct deal was "not an impossible task" to achieve.
Closer ties with the EU, which also could mean an easier travel access to Europe for Cape Verde citizens, however could be jeopardised by the growing number of ECOWAS citizens migrating illegally to Europe, especially to Spain's Canary Islands. Cape Verde has been known to develop as one of the main departure points for the dangerous boat rides to the Canary Islands, but citizens of relatively rich Cape Verde are not among these illegal migrants.
The Praia government has been among the most active West African states to assist Spanish authorities to stop the illegal migration flow. Cape Verde has already signed treaties with Portugal, Spain, France and the US, allowing for these nations to patrol its national waters in search for illegal movements. A large NATO rehearsal also recently took place on the archipelago, assumedly aimed at migration control.
Meanwhile, Cape Verde is going notably on distance to its West African partners at ECOWAS. The community, in addition to Cape Verde, is composed of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
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