(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)
It is a great pleasure to open Rome’s Second Ministerial Conference: “A Shared Responsibility for a Common Goal: Solidarity and Security”.
When we met at last year’s First Conference on Transit Countries (on 6 July), there were at least three fundamental reasons that justified our common commitment to overcome the extremely serious crisis caused by the migration flows in the Mediterranean.
There was – and there still is – a political reason: dictated by the outbreak of populism that exploits the migration issue to spread fear and win easy consensus. We had – and still have – the crucial task of reassuring our citizens on the issue of migration in order to combat populism and racism and to foster popular support for the European Union and legal immigration.
There was – and there still is – a security reason: because it is our common interest to defeat the business model of human traffickers whose revenues go to finance organized crime and terrorism. All the more now, with the tangible threat posed by the return of foreign fighters.
There was – and there still is – a humanitarian reason: there are still many, too many, refugees and migrants who die in their desperate attempt to cross the desert or the Mediterranean. It is unacceptable for something like this to happen in the 21st century. Just like it is intolerable that refugees and migrants be put in reception camps where their rights and dignity are violated.
These very important reasons united us in a common action that has obtained great international consensus: the new format that we created last 6 July, along with the innovative approach that we outlined, have also been validated at Head of State and Government level and at the last EU-Africa Summit at Abidjan. Moreover, I would also like to recall that we are approaching the most intense negotiating phases of the UN Global Compact for refugees and migrants. And it is my wish today that our common voice on the actions and experiences that we have shared through this initiative also be heard in that context.
Therefore, as I recalled last night, today’s Conference has a dual goal. On the one hand: to take stock of the results obtained up to now. On the other hand: to single out the criticalities and the challenges that still await us.
As for the results, I could give you a list of “cold” numbers: like the drastic reduction of the flows out of Niger, from 330,000 in 2016 to slightly over 60,000 in 2017; and if we only look at the flows to Libya, they have dropped from 291,000 in 2016 to 35,000 in 2017; the 34% comprehensive drop in the number of crossings in the Mediterranean; and the almost 40% fall in the death toll along the Central Mediterranean route. However, these figures alone do not give the idea of the great political and diplomatic investment that is at the heart of our common action. This is the most important result.
From Italy’s perspective, let me mention the example of the full reactivation of our Embassy in Libya and the recent opening of new Embassies in Niger, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
I would especially like to highlight the strategic importance of the relations with Niger. This year, not only did we open our Embassy in Niamey but we also made it fully operational. Between the resources of our Cooperation service and of the Africa Fund, in the past 12 months we have allocated to Niger more than 100 million euros with a view to establishing an all-round partnership.
Another very significant result of our joint action is having contributed to reactivating the UN on the ground, in Libya, in an effort to foster the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees. At the end of last year, it seemed an impossible mission. But today it is possible thanks to the cooperation with the Libyan Government and to the financial support to the International Organization for Migration and to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Progress has been made thanks to the work of these two UN Organizations: 1) to improve the conditions in the reception camps; 2) to favour the assisted voluntary return of migrants and the resettlement of refugees. Italy supported these measures also through cooperation competitions for NGOs as well as the measures that are now at the core of the international community’s strategy, as confirmed by the EU-Africa Summit in Abidjan that I have already mentioned.
It is obvious that we are deeply disconcerted by the terrifying conditions to which the refugees and migrants are submitted in some assembly centres. But to all those who have long been reprimanding and lecturing from the podium, I would like to say the following: pull up your sleeves, be brave and give tangible and immediate help, as we have all done and continue to do also thanks to the support of the UN.
In 2017 nearly 20,000 migrants were assisted by the IOM in their wish return home from Libya. However, there is still much to be done on resettling refugees and the most vulnerable people in Europe. Italy is doing its share, for example, through its project of human corridors. I hope that the EU Member Countries come to terms with the reality of things and express the necessary solidarity.
When there is no place to hide, when someone’s life is up against a wall, when the whole community is cornered by persecutions or wars or brutal dictatorships, then refusing shelter, and looking the other way means giving up the humanity that we all share.
In addition, we know only too well from the Libyan experience that the collapse of State institutions bears a considerable cost for local populations, for refugees and migrants and for the neighbouring Countries. This is why I am convinced that we need to make a large investment in institution building, including supporting the security forces to carry out an integrated control of the borders and giving greater support to the public administration. The aim is to create partnerships and a longer-term “twinning” between our law enforcers and public officers, which work on a much longer horizon than our politicians.
I am equally convinced that we must make a great investment in educating and training youth. For many of the countries in which we operate, it is essential that the skyrocketing population growth correspond to adequate job opportunities for youth. Education, training and culture are the first investments to be made in order to support an enterprising spirit and the wish to innovate, create the conditions for employment and growth, and avert the risk of radicalisation.
This is the spirit with which we want to relaunch economic investments, both in the communities originating migration flows and in the Countries of transit. And I have the pleasure to announce that Italy has decided to refinance the Africa Fund with another 80 million euros (for the 2018/2019 two-year period). We will mostly use these funds for new economic and social development projects and especially in favour of the population’s youngest segments.
I would also like to remind you that Italy was among the founders and is the second-largest donor (after Germany) to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (4.1 billion euros that will mobilise 44-billion-euro investments). We are proud to have contributed to these initiatives but also to have disseminated awareness on the fact that Europe and Africa are on the same road towards growth.
To sum up: rights and dignity, voluntary repatriations and resettlements, fighting traffickers, border controls, and economic development are, in our opinion, the key sectors to focus on in pursuing the goal of “solidarity and security”. But, at the same time, I hope that today’s debate might give rise to new ideas and new stimuli to further finetune our common strategy.
I was told that there is an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. We must go far. Nobody can overcome this challenge alone. And, along the way, we will create a much stronger partnership between Europe and Africa.