German Chancellor Angela Merkel has embarked on an Africa trip Thursday in which she will visit Egypt and Tunisia, in efforts to tackle illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.
In her first visit to Africa this year, Merkel seeks a broader push to boost German investment, slow the flow of migrants into Europe and increase intelligence-sharing to combat terrorism.
She arrived in Cairo Thursday morning where she met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss several political and economic issues.
She will “inform herself of the situation of Coptic Christians” and “speak to (Tayeb) about tolerance and the peaceful co-existence of religion,” her spokesman Steffan Seibert said in a video uploaded on his Twitter account.
In a press conference held by both leaders, Sisi stressed on Egypt’s efforts to control and stop the flow of illegal immigrants.
He also said that over five million refugees live in Egypt, among other Egyptians, not inside refugee camps. Merkel highlighted Egypt's challenge in halting refugee outflow into Europe.
“There are a variety of refugees in Egypt, and we would like these refugees to have better opportunities - as Egypt faces a big challenge, we are discussing concrete points,” Merkel said at the joint news conference in the presidential palace. “We can imagine further support but have not reached this point yet.”
Germany wants to help Egypt strengthen its coast guard and crack down on illegal trafficking across the Mediterranean, where thousands of migrants die at sea each year. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have entered Europe in recent years.
“Egypt has made proposals for technical support that also must be further discussed, but I think that when it has to do with border security, Germany is very ready to deliver support,” Merkel said.
Merkel is also scheduled to visit Tunisia on Friday to meet Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.
“The chancellor will speak with Sisi about, among other things, economic cooperation and opportunities for German companies,” Seibert said.
A major focus in Egypt and Tunisia will be on their troubled neighbor Libya, a largely lawless country that also has porous borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan.
Merkel is also accompanied by a business delegation that could sweeten the diplomacy with investments badly needed by both countries.
She has previously described Africa, with its population of 1.2 billion people, as “the central problem” in the migration issue.