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Italy migration conference aims to stem flows by helping Africa

July 21, 2023 at 6:52 pm

Irregular migrants are seen with Tunisian National Guard off the city of Sfax in the south of Tunisia. [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Mediterranean and Middle East countries will meet in Rome on Sunday to boost efforts to stem illegal migration flows, with Italy saying the aim is to help countries in Africa in order to reduce the impetus for migrants to reach Europe, Reuters reports.

The meeting will focus on building partnership for projects in sectors including agriculture, infrastructure and health, an Italian government statement said on Friday.

“The conference aims to govern the migration phenomenon, combat human trafficking and promote economic development according to a new model of cooperation between states,” the statement said.

Planned participants include Tunisia, Turkiye, Libya, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, along with the European Union and the IMF, Italian officials told Reuters.

However France, a major Mediterranean power which clashed with Italy last year over immigration, was not expected to attend the event and its absence could dilute any outcome.

READ: HRW: EU should suspend migration funding for Tunisia until human rights assessment

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has seen migrant landings surge in Italy this year, has made it a priority to engage other nations in plans to block people from embarking on the perilous journey to Europe.

Meloni, who has led a right-wing coalition since October, has so far floundered in her efforts to stem the increase. Some 83,400 people have come ashore so far this year, compared with almost 34,000 in 2022.

At least 94 people died when their ship broke up just off the coast of Calabria in late February.

The government said the conference would also discuss issues related to climate change and energy, as Italy moves to implement an energy cooperation initiative with Africa, the so-called “Mattei plan”, named after the post-war founder of Italy’s energy group, Eni.

The conference comes just a week after the European Union signed a partnership deal with Tunisia, one of the hot spots for migrant departures, pledging up to 1 billion Euros ($1.1 billion) in aid to combat human smugglers and help its battered economy.

Advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, said it “failed to include guarantees that Tunisian authorities would prevent violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers,” referring to President Kais Saied crackdown on foreigners.

READ: Libya joins Italy to work against irregular migration