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Address by the Hon. Minister at the Presentation of the Report “At the Root of Exodus: food security, conflict, and international migration”

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)

Executive Director David Beasley,

Prof Enrico Giovannini,

Your Excellencies the Ambassadors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very grateful to the World Food Programme, the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development and the Italian Cooperation Agency for engaging in the teamwork that produced this initiative aimed at exploring in depth the connection between food security, conflict and migration. 

In the Mediterranean we have only seen the “tip of the iceberg” of an “exodus” – as the Report quite rightly titles – of Biblical proportions: global migration flows involve 244 million people while forced migrations (refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons) have peaked at 65.3 million people. 

In particular, the Report confirms that food insecurity very often represents the driving factor of migration: the tipping point that drives individuals to leave their homes and relations. 

The document contains points of great interest on the connection between migration, food security and peacekeeping, which are increasingly becoming the focus of humanitarian aid and development policies, in the ever-more integrated perspective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is another qualifying point that certainly does not come as a surprise to us: migrants want to remain as close as possible to their countries of origin. It is not surprising because this is a sentiment that is extremely natural for a human being. As a matter of fact, in Africa 9 migrants out of 10 are “internal migrants”, which means that they migrate within their Continent from Countries in crisis to Countries that are not too far from their homes and relations. 

The Report is an appeal to the International Community to do much more to solve this problem at the root. And in order to do this, I am convinced that “responsibility” and “solidarity” are the key words with which the International Community must come to terms…and act.

These words also describe Italy’s approach: we have shown that there is no “derby” between rigour and humanity, between rules and solidarity, between security and human rights.

Food security has always been crucial for us in this effort. You might recall how, just a couple of years ago, at the Milan Expo, we made food security the leitmotif of an event that was visited by more than 20 million people. 

A more recent example is the Final Communiqué of the Taormina G7 Summit which sets forth a strong political commitment, defined in close cooperation with the Rome-based UN food and agriculture Agencies, to enhance development cooperation actions, with the aim both of assuring food security and promoting sustainable agriculture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. We confide in the Rome-based UN Agencies as our essential partners in continuing this mission together. 

We are leaders in this sector because we can draw inspiration from the traditional Italian agro-industrial development model. And because we can count on the extraordinary contribution of the Rome-based UN Agencies with which we take tangible steps together towards achieving the goal of “zero hunger”. 

The independent recommendations contained in the Report validate many of the key features of the “Italian Way of Life”. Let me only mention two: 

Firstly, placing the same emphasis on humanitarian assistance as on the protection of the human rights of the more vulnerable individuals. 

I have carefully read the in-depth report on the Countries of Transit, which was based on numerous interviews, especially on the living conditions in Libyan camps. Some of the interviewees, after months of suffering, even stated that “they no longer felt human”. This is unacceptable!

We cannot compromise on human rights. Italy is a Country that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives at sea and, in so doing, it has saved the honour of Europe. Now we cannot allow Europe to look the other way and accept the risk of a new human tragedy on land: of displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who not only suffer hunger but also indescribable violence. 

Italy intends to do its share by financing Cooperation tenders enabling NGOs to improve the conditions of these people in Libya’s reception centres. 

Much still remains to be done in terms of humanitarian protection and assistance, taking the good example of the Italian Cooperation service, which has increased its annual humanitarian budget to 121 million euros this year, and thanks to the resolute action of the UN Agency for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration and of the same World Food Programme.  

Secondly, we need to more strongly support the economy of the Countries that host large communities of refugees and migrants. This is one of the priority goals of Italian Cooperation in partner Countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. 

This is an important commitment for Italy also in Transit Countries like Libya and Niger. For example: the most important agreements that we are finalizing with Libya concern municipalities, both in the North and in the South, in order to help develop the economy and create jobs. 

Our short and medium-term strategy focuses both on humanitarian aid and on the 200-million-euro Fund for Africa that I launched at the beginning of this year and that has enabled the signing of the agreements on migration and enhanced cooperation efforts with Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Chad and Sudan. We saw the effects already last summer, during the warm summer months when the flows normally increase: in May 2016 there were up to 70,000 migrants in Libya from Niger. In July 2017, the number dropped to 4,000.

In the medium-to-long term, we intend to especially invest on Development Cooperation. And allow me to recall, with a bit of pride, that during the last few years the Governments in which I served have almost doubled the amount of Public Development Aid: from 0.14% of GDP in 2012 (2.1 billion euros) to 0.27% in 2016 (4.5 billion euros). We are still far from the international commitment of 0.7% of GDP. But we are determined to continue this positive course of action.

The Development Cooperation service is very well equipped to continue tackling the “deep causes” that determine food insecurity and large movements of people, which are the main objectives of the Italian Cooperation Strategy.

Convinced of this long-term commitment, the Italian Cooperation service is also among the founders of the EU Trust Fund for Africa. Italy is also the largest donor to this Fund, with a contribution of more than 90 million euros. Italy’s contribution accounts for almost half of the contributions of the other European Countries together. And therefore, we call on our European partners to do much more! 

In addition, Italy has given its support to the EU’s External Investment Plan for Africa and the EU Neighbourhood countries. With initial resources amounting to 3.35 billion euros, thanks to the leveraging of private sector investments, the Fund is expected to generate investments worth 44 million euros in sectors such as energy, transport, social infrastructure, the digital economy, the sustainable use of natural resources and local services. It is also expected to encourage the private sector to invest in countries that are fragile or torn by conflict, by offering guarantees in order to finance the riskier projects.  

Our commitment in Africa is a sort of “vertical investment”: 

…just as the United States and Canada have hauled growth and development in Central and South America…

…just as China and Japan have hauled growth and development in Southeast Asia …

…it is now time for Europe to fearlessly invest in Africa, because the return on growth and development is a two-way process.

Only thus will we also solve the great food security and migration crises. In other words: if we recognise that Europe and Africa are on the same path towards growth and development.

We know that, if well managed, migration can make a positive contribution to human and economic development, promoting growth opportunities both in the Countries of origin and of destination, also by building on the diaspora community of people and on the productive investment of remittances. 

Let me wind up by thanking the World Food Programme for its in-depth analysis and by recalling Italy’s foresightedness when it took the important decision to host the UN food and agriculture Agencies in Rome. It all began with the vote on the location of the seat of the FAO in 1949, the first building block that later led to the World Food Programme (in 1962), now the world’s largest humanitarian organisation providing food assistance in order to combat hunger. 

We are proud to cooperate with the World Food Programme in achieving the goal of “zero hunger”. 

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