As Merkel set to visit Africa, migrant crisis is top issue

JOHANNESBURG - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making a three-nation visit to Africa next week, with the migrant crisis leading the agenda.

A German official said Thursday that Merkel will visit Mali on Sunday, Niger on Monday and Ethiopia on Tuesday. Another top issue is support for the fight against terror. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department rules.

Niger is a major transit point for African migrants making their way north toward Europe, and Merkel is expected to visit a centre run by the International Organization for Migration. On Thursday, Merkel said in a speech to Germany's main industry lobby group that some 90 per cent of the migrants who reach the Libyan coast come through Niger.

Libya has been a launching point for thousands of migrants setting off toward Europe on often deadly voyages across the Mediterranean.

Merkel said it's important to help ensure "that the first thing young Africans say when they get a smartphone in their hands isn't 'I have to go where I see a better world,' but rather (that they) live in a country in which things are at least getting better step by step."

Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, according to the United Nations, taking in more than 700,000 people fleeing conflicts in South Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere.

Merkel is expected to meet with Ethiopia's prime minister and address the country's recent unrest. She also will meet with opposition representatives. Months of sometimes deadly protests have demanded wider freedoms in what is one of Africa's best-performing economies.

The German official on Thursday stressed Ethiopia's role as a "regional heavyweight."

In Mali, Merkel will meet the president and is expected to focus on the implementation of a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali's government and armed groups in the northern part of the country. Unrest continues in the region, and Germany contributes more than 550 soldiers to the U.N. peacekeeping mission there.

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Moulson reported from Berlin.

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