Meloni convenes a Mediterranean conference on migration in Rome

Giorgia Meloni invited Mediterranean countries to Rome on Sunday for an “international conference” aimed at expanding the model agreement signed by the European Union with Tunisia aimed at stemming the influx of migrants to the old continent.

His government says Italy’s far-right prime minister is expecting leaders from the region, the European Union and international financial institutions to visit the capital.

Ms Meloni has confirmed the attendance of Tunisian President Kais Saied, and Prime Minister Robert Abela of Malta and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Madbouli of Egypt have indicated they will attend. Guests have also included the Algerian, Greek, Jordanian and Lebanese prime ministers, but also European leaders Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen.

During the 2022 legislative campaign that brought her to power, Giorgia Meloni promised to “stop the landing” of migrants in Italy. His government has since fitted sticks to the propellers of humanitarian ships, but without stopping departures.

And it is not the agreement with Tunis that will change the situation, says Federica Infantino, a researcher at the Migration Policy Center of the European University Institute in Florence.

“We cannot imagine migration as water coming out of a tap that we turn on and off according to the liking of some politicians,” she says.

Federica Infantino says that even if the stated objectives are not met, in Giorgia Meloni’s view it is “a strong symbolic issue” of internal politics.

– ‘Not a perfect democracy’ –

Some 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to the peninsula’s shores since the beginning of the year, according to Rome, compared with 33,000 in the same period last year, mostly from the Tunisian coast.

Faced with this observation, Ms. Meloni and the European Commission, with the support of other EU member states, have stepped up their “dialogue” with Tunisia, pleading it to the International Monetary Fund, which is demanding strong reforms in exchange for its aid, and promising funding if the country acts to combat migration from its territory.

Brussels and Rome last week signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tunisian president that specifically offers 105 million euros of European aid to stop the departure of migrant boats and fight against smugglers.

The agreement also provides for the greater return of Tunisians in irregular status to the European Union, as well as the return of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa from Tunisia to their countries of origin.

Tunisian Presidency photo in which Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is welcomed by Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, July 16, 2023 (Tunisian Presidency/AFP – -)

“This partnership with Tunisia should be a model for building new relationships with our neighbors in North Africa”, Ms Meloni urged in Tunis, where she was accompanied by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

A senior EU official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the EU is keen to negotiate similar partnerships with Egypt and Morocco.

An ambassador stationed in Rome, who requested anonymity, said, “We should cooperate with the countries of North Africa, even if we have to accept that they are not full democracies.” “There is unity in the EU on this principle,” he told AFP.

– “Crime Scene” –

On the other hand, NGOs are taking a stand.

C-Watch regrets that “the European Union and its member states continue to harden their lethal policies of isolation”. The organization condemned, saying, “The Mediterranean Sea is not just a cemetery, it is a crime scene.”

Human Rights Watch said, “Europe has learned nothing from its complicity in the brutal abuses committed against migrants in Libya.”

Migrants disembark from a Spanish Coast Guard boat on the island of Gran Canaria, July 10, 2023 (AFP/ARCHIVE - Desiree Martin)
Migrants disembark from a Spanish Coast Guard boat on the island of Gran Canaria, July 10, 2023 (AFP/ARCHIVE – Desiree Martin)

The Europeans argue that migrants will continue to want to cross the Mediterranean and therefore other solutions must be found.

For independent researcher Yves Pascouu, the fact that there is a “discussion channel” between Europe and the countries of departure is a positive thing.

Yet it is worrying to note that now “migration is being recognized as a problem even in the countries of the South”. And as long as migration policies are up to European interior ministers, the issue will only be addressed from a security perspective.

He regrets, “What is lacking in relations between the EU and third countries is long-term thinking.”

According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 migrants will reach Europe by sea in the first six months of 2023 from the coasts of North Africa, Turkey and Lebanon. In 2022 they number a little over 189,000.

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