Those attending the two-day conference in the Moroccan capital of Rabat hope to establish a system of co-development so that Africa can take care of its own populations and make Europe less of a temptation.

A plan developed last month in Dakar, Senegal, is being put to ministers and other representatives for approval on Tuesday.

"This is a... pioneering meeting," said Taib Fassi Fahri, Morocco's deputy foreign minister. "No country can succeed alone to master the migratory flux."

Africans are increasingly attempting the risky journey to mainland Europe - and up to 40% are dying on the way.

Tackling the chronic poverty and violence that fuel illegal immigration to Europe is one of the key challenges facing Europe today, compounded by joblessness on the European continent and growing racial tensions.

More than 10,000 people have arrived in Spain's Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa, since the beginning of 2006 - already more than twice as many as arrived in 2005, according to Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration.

No 'zero immigration'

Countries attending the conference hope to agree on joint patrols in the Mediterranean or off the West African coast and on expanding language training and education of potential legal immigrants, among dozens of other measures.

Spain said it was committing $13 million to help would-be African migrants set up small businesses, while Mauritania, a starting point for many illegal migrants sailing to Spain, got a $3.1 million EU grant to help it cope with migrants.

"We must watch so that measures taken to restrain irregular migration don't stop refugees from obtaining the international protection they need"

Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees

France has proposed a system of micro-credits to encourage citizens of Africa to stay home and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

It also insisted it did not have a policy of "zero immigration", although Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, said that no European country could accept "limitless immigration".

Rights concerns

Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, called on governments and non-governmental organisations to assure that refugees and migrants' rights were respected.

He also said that globalisation and demographic changes were likely to translate into larger numbers of refugees and migrants.

"We must watch so that measures taken to restrain irregular migration don't stop refugees from obtaining the international protection they need and have a right to," he said in a statement.

A group of about 300 Moroccan activists also held a protest outside the meeting, denouncing what they described as a "European war on African migrants".

"We believe that despite rhetoric about aid, Europe's approach on migration is a war against African migrants," said Abdelhamid Amine, head of Morocco's AMDH rights group.