BARCELONA (Reuters) - Europe, North Africa and the Middle East need to cooperate more to confront illegal immigration and “terrorist barbarism”, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Monday.
Rajoy made the call at a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28 European Union countries and eight countries on the southern rim of the Mediterranean. It was the largest gathering of its kind since 2008.
The meeting comes as southern European countries such as Spain and Italy press for the EU, preoccupied by the Ukraine conflict for the past 18 months, to pay more attention to threats and problems emanating from the south.
Conflict in North Africa and the Middle East has prompted a wave of migration, which has led to thousands drowning in the Mediterranean and stretched the resources of countries such as Italy. Security officials say Europe faces a growing threat from groups such as Islamic State gaining a foothold in Libya.
“Jihadist terrorism is a direct threat for the security of our countries and our citizens and without doubt is our main threat right now,” Rajoy said, opening the one-day conference in the Pedralbes palace in Barcelona. “I am convinced that a shared commitment between both shores of the Mediterranean will allow us to defeat terrorist barbarism.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters it was important to talk about young people and “how we can provide them with opportunities and how we can address their grievances so they are not easy prey for recruitment or for the warped ideology of terrorists and extremists.”
Spain was the site of one of Europe’s worst attacks in 2004 when Islamist militants bombed commuter trains and killed nearly 200 people.
Members of a suspected Islamist cell arrested last week in Spain were trying to obtain explosives to bomb a synagogue or public offices in Barcelona, an investigating magistrate said last Friday.
Rajoy said cooperation with countries of origin and transit was the only way to tackle illegal migration.
The European Commission is working on a new migration strategy, due by mid-May. One idea under consideration is setting up camps in the Middle East and Africa where people can request asylum on site without risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.
Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Tunisia sent representatives to the meeting. Libya and Syria, both torn by conflict, stayed away.
Additional reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Tom Heneghan, Larry King