Rome’s Migration Crisis: Security Management Limits

Migration experts and many African governments continue to advocate for policies and international solidarity networks that favor economic solutions capable of securing the most vulnerable populations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

The pressure is not decreasing on the Italian government, faced with unprecedented waves of illegal migrants since the beginning of the year, and it is trying everything to transfer a large part of them to the governments around the Mediterranean.

At the initiative of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, an international conference on migration opened yesterday in Rome, in the presence of leaders from several countries in the region and beyond, the European Union and international financial institutions.

To see the list of participants in the meeting, G. Meloni seems to have succeeded in giving the meeting a dimension that changes from the unilateralism that has seen him deal so far with Tunisia, Libya or Egypt in particular.

Tunisia, the country from which most of the migratory flows that target the Italian coasts from North Africa have been surging since the beginning of the year, is represented by the first personage of the State, President Kaïs Saïed.

The man, faced with an internal economic situation that leaves him little choice on the migration issue, has practically aligned himself for months with the theses of the far-right Italian government, to the point of surprising his world. Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, president of Mauritania, is also making the trip, as well as that of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed ben Zayed.

The Emirates, theoretically little concerned by the crisis in the Mediterranean, are probably participating in it for a possible cooperation on the financial aspects that will not fail to emerge from the conference.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, as well as UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, are also in attendance. A presence that somewhat mitigates the lack of commitment of many European governments alongside the Italian government on the subject. France and Spain, although directly concerned by the problem, did not consider it useful to send delegates there.

Bilateral disputes, particularly with France, give an air of boycott to these defections. Malta, Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Jordan, Niger, Lebanon are also represented by their heads of government. Representing the President of the Republic, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the Prime Minister, Aimene Benabderrahmane, takes part in the conference for Algeria.

Meloni is going all out

The Italian Prime Minister, at the opening of the conference, defined the axes of what she calls “the Rome Process”. “Fight against illegal immigration, management of legal immigration flows, support for refugees, and above all, the most important thing, otherwise all we will do will be insufficient, broad cooperation to support the development of Africa, and particularly of the countries of origin” of the migrants, she pleaded.

In short, two fronts of action, which, on paper in any case, contrast with the “security” vision, deployed so far. Elected on a program that promised to “stop the landing of migrants” in Italy a year ago, the Meloni government could not live through a worst-case scenario in terms of its stock balance sheet. The year 2023, since its beginning, has brought irrevocable discredit to its electoral commitments.

Nearly 80,000 migrants have been able to cross the Mediterranean since last January and arrive illegally on the Italian coast, according to the authorities of the peninsula, compared to 33,000 at the same time last year. The UN authorities indirectly confirm these figures, by counting nearly 100,000 illegal arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean, the Italian coasts being largely those which receive the largest flows, from the Tunisian and Libyan coasts.

At the end of the year, records will most likely be broken in terms of the number of migrants managing to reach the European coasts of the central Mediterranean, with, unfortunately, their sinister and tragic corollary of numbers of missing and dead. Giorgia Meloni has however done everything, including multiplying the breaches of humanitarian principles, to deter migration attempts and activists who provide assistance.

NGOs engaging rescue ships in the Mediterranean have regularly denounced the Italian government’s obstacles to their actions on the ground. On December 28, 2022, the government thus imposed a “code of conduct” on humanitarian associations working on the migration corridors, and requiring them, among other things, to “deliver” rescued migrants.

Sea Watch, one of them accuses: “The Mediterranean is not just a cemetery, it is a crime scene”, and believes that “the EU and its member states continue to toughen their deadly policies of isolation”.

The Pope himself, celebrating a religious ceremony yesterday at the Vatican, echoing these denunciations, called on European governments to “bring help and assistance” to migrants crossing the Mediterranean, just as he was scandalized by the “abandonment of migrants” in the deserts of southern Tunisia and Libya. The Italian government regularly denies the accusations, but it is not just NGOs that find fault with its methods.

One of the most spectacular quarrels with the French government arose from the refusal of the Italian authorities to allow one of its ships to dock on its shores. Italy for its part regularly complains of the “resignation” and lack of solidarity from its European partners and neighbours.

What partnership with North Africa?

Since the beginning of the year, Meloni and his government have turned to the countries of North Africa to try to curb the flows. They found in Kaïs Saïed, the Tunisian president, an attentive interlocutor who was committed to the idea of radical action. Tunisia, which provides the bulk of the migrant contingents landing in Italy, is itself facing severe economic constraints that are aggravating a delicate political situation internally.

Reluctantly, the country has become a “passive” corridor for flows from the south of the Sahara. The European Union and Rome managed to sign last week, with the Tunisian president, a memorandum of understanding which quickly released aid of 105 million euros, in terms of the fight against the departure of migrant boats and the repression of networks of smugglers.

The agreement also covers the return of Tunisians in an irregular situation in the EU area, as well as the return from Tunisia to their countries of origin of sub-Saharan migrants. “Returns” which Tunisia is already carrying out and which it is now called upon to intensify with new funding.

It is an old European desire to make the countries of North Africa play the role of “outposts” in the fight against sub-Saharan migratory flows, which seems to be coming true. “This partnership with Tunisia must be a model for building new relations with our neighbors in North Africa,” said Giorgia Meloni in Tunis, where she went accompanied by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for the signing of the agreement.

The half-assumed half-hidden idea is therefore to extend the agreement to other countries in the southern Mediterranean, affected by the “migration crisis”. According to the specialized press, discussions have already begun between the EU, Egypt and Morocco to forge partnerships on the model of the agreement with Tunisia.

While awaiting the conclusions and resolutions of the Rome conference, experts on the migration issue as well as many African governments continue to plead for policies and international solidarity networks that favor economic solutions capable of settling the most vulnerable populations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

And not just funding for operations to push back migrants and campaigns against smuggling networks.

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