Under Giorgia Meloni’s initiative, Italy’s far-right prime minister, leaders from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern states convened for a one-day International Conference on Development and Migration. The conference aimed to foster cooperation between immigration and emigration countries to regulate irregular migration flows. During the summit, a fund for investment projects to regulate migration flows was established, with a significant contribution of 100 million euros from the United Arab Emirates. The primary focus was set on “combating illegal immigration, managing legal immigration flows, supporting refugees, and promoting broad cooperation to aid the development of African countries, particularly those from which migrants originate” according to Giorgia Meloni.
The official list of participating countries remains undisclosed, but prominent leaders in attendance include President Kaïs Saïed of Tunisia, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani of Mauritania, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. Distinguished delegates from major international financial institutions were also present. Tunisia’s pivotal role in the migration landscape took center stage at the conference, particularly after the recent EU-Tunisia agreement, committing 105 million euros to curb irregular migrant departures from Tunisian ports. With an estimated 110,000 migrants attempting to reach Europe from Tunisia’s shores in 2023, its significance as a departure point is evident. Ursula von der Leyen’s remarks during the summit added further weight to Tunisia’s importance, as she described the aid extended to the country as a potential “blueprint” for shaping migration policies and fostering regional cooperation.
However, doubts have arisen regarding the true intent of the “cooperation” that Meloni is advocating at the summit. The conference appears to align with Meloni’s campaign promises to halt the arrival of migrants in Italy. Over the past year, her administration has consistently sought to limit assistance to migrants, exemplified by legislation forcing humanitarian ships to redirect rescued individuals to distant ports without delay. These actions raise questions about the sincerity and genuine commitment to addressing migration challenges in a humane and collaborative manner.
The recent EU agreement with Tunisia on migration has drawn criticism from NGOs, who view it as an alarming progression towards deadly policies. Human Rights Watch, in particular, has strongly condemned Europe for seemingly overlooking its complicity in the horrendous abuses inflicted upon migrants in Libya. The NGO has also exposed the human rights violations carried out by Tunisian security forces against African migrants, urging Europe to refrain from being complicit in such grave actions.
It is therefore crucial to prioritize the protection of migrants’ human rights when pursuing cooperation on migration matters. While the conference’s objectives regarding the regulation of irregular migration flows is seen as important, creating a fund to discourage migrants from leaving their countries may not be the most suitable solution. Such an approach could potentially lead to misallocation of funds or even corruption, and may not address the root causes driving migration. The Mediterranean and Middle Eastern states must instead seek a more humane and responsible approach to migration policies, learning from the lessons observed in Tunisia where suffering and abuse of migrants have been evident.
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