The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez have traveled to Mauritania to finalize a series of agreements on migration and energy. This visit comes as data from Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is expected to reveal a significant increase in people-smuggling operations to the Canary Islands.
Frontex’s forthcoming figures are anticipated to show a sharp rise in individuals risking their lives to reach the Spanish islands from the west African shores. The EU leaders, during their meeting with Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, will focus on discussions related to security, migration, and stability in the Sahel region.
Mauritania, along with its southern neighbor Senegal, serves as a major departure point for many people attempting to reach the Canaries. Sources indicate that this route has become the “most active” for people-smugglers enticing travelers into high-risk journeys to the EU. Data reveals that in January alone, 7,270 people were smuggled across the 900-mile stretch of water, compared to 566 in the same month in 2023, as reported by the Spanish interior ministry.
Frontex recorded 380,000 irregular border crossings in the previous year, marking the highest number since 2016. As the European Parliament elections approach in June and anti-migration sentiments intensify in various member states, the EU aims to strengthen ties with Tunisia, Egypt, and now Mauritania as part of a strategic alliance policy.
In addition to efforts to curb migration numbers, the EU is considering the creation of legal pathways for migrants, recognizing their importance in filling jobs in countries with aging populations and contributing to the clean energy industry.
Hans Leijtens, the recently appointed head of Frontex, emphasized the importance of managing migration while ensuring human rights are integral to the agency’s operations. He expressed the difficulty of completely stopping migration and highlighted the need for effective returns of those refused asylum in the EU to rebuild trust.
Leijtens emphasized Frontex’s commitment to incorporating human rights into its core values, with consequences for any violations. The European Commission stated that the Mauritania trip would involve signing ceremonies for finance and development, including discussions on hydrogen energy with delegates from Mauritania, Spain, the EU, and the European Investment Bank (EIB). This visit aligns with the EU’s interest in investing in African infrastructure, strengthening security in west Africa, and supporting Mauritania’s efforts to decarbonize and develop new energy sources. The initiative is backed by the European Commission, France, Germany, Spain, and the EIB.