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Italy-Africa deal is 'border control disguised as aid', say rights groups

January 31, 2024 at 12:25 pm

African Union President Azali Assoumani (L) and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni (R) attend a joint press conference at the end of the Italy-Africa Summit at the Italian Senate in Rome, Italy, on January 29, 2024 [Riccardo De Luca – Anadolu Agency]

Rights groups have warned that the new deal signed between Italy and African states is border control disguised as aid with questions being asked about the partners in the deal, who include a defence company.

On Monday, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni launched a much-awaited Italy-Africa summit aimed at unveiling concrete projects of her ambitious plan to curb illegal migration flows and turn Italy into a hub of energy supplies from Africa to Europe.

Dubbed the ‘Mattei Plan‘, after the founder of Italy’s oil and gas company ENI, the deal pledges to forge a new “non-predatory” relationship between Europe and Africa, with an initial endowment of €5.5 billion ($6 billion) focussed on energy diversification, development and preventing cross-Mediterranean migration.

Rights groups have said that “whilst some of the announcements are a positive step, organisations have raised concerns.” They highlighted previous efforts to “use development funding to prevent migration have a poor record; involving funding and cooperation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and violent militias that have committed numerous human rights abuses at sea, returning people to horrific conditions in Libya.”

Adding that “implementing partners in the Mattei Plan include defence company Leonardo (Finmeccanica), whose work includes border control and surveillance, as well as providing armaments to conflict zones which produce displacement.”

Director of EuroMed Rights, Sara Prestianni, said: “The Mattei Plan aims for a new era of development cooperation. But in practice it risks replicating the failed policies of the past; paying countries – which are often non-democratic and with dubious human rights records – to prevent people crossing their borders, often with violent results and leading to serious human rights violations.”

“Paying private companies in the field of defence, security and surveillance to provide migration control is not aid. We need guarantees that development funding protects people rather than reinforcing borders.”

Policy analyst, Antonella Napolitano, warned of the “opacity” of the deal, which she says “seems deliberate”.

“The Italian plan is neocolonial extractivism and funding for border externalisation masquerading as development cooperation. This strategy, approved by EU officials, will only increase forced displacement and border violence,” warned Josephine Valeske, from the Transnational Institute.

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