A health care worker prepares a colleague's Ebola virus protective gear at an Ebola virus clinic operated by the International Medical Corps in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Picture: Michael Duff

Dakar - The European Union on Monday approved 1.15 billion euros in aid for West Africa through to 2020, nearly doubling its previous commitment to a region that is a major source of migrants seeking to enter Europe.

West Africa is home to some of the world's poorest and historically most unstable countries. Even in peaceful states with good economic growth rates, many governments are struggling to create enough jobs for a booming youth population. Some are choosing to flee across the Sahara towards Europe or join criminal or militant networks.

“We will work with a wide range of partners to tackle the challenges that remain in West Africa, such as peace and security, economic integration and trade, as well as sustainable development,” said Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.

The previous five-year European Development Fund programme had a 595 million-euro ($659.20 million) budget.

The statement announcing the aid package did not give a breakdown of funding. However, it said part of the money earmarked for security would go towards migration.

The funds will be distributed to 16 countries in the region, among them coastal states like Guinea and Ivory Coast as well as land-locked countries like Niger and Mali.

The region is struggling to end an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 11 200 people and is still affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The statement did not mention a specific provision for health, although the European Commission has already given more than 400 million euros to fight the disease.

The EU statement listed Gambia as one of the recipients, even though it expelled an EU diplomat last month, derailing efforts to unblock aid to the government.

Diplomats say EU aid can reach the country via other channels, such as the United Nations or non-governmental organisations. Reuters