“In an era where so much attention is given to the right to migrate, we are not paying sufficient attention to the right to not be forced to emigrate, to not be forced to flee their own homes, to not be forced to abandon their land and leave family members in search of a new life,” Meloni said during opening remarks.
The conference comes against the backdrop of migrants being pushed back from Tunisia into Libya, where they are stuck in the desert, many exposed to the harsh elements.
Pope Francis, in his traditional Sunday blessing, called on leaders in Europe and Africa to find a solution to the thousands of people who are blocked at borders in North Africa.
“Thousands of them have been experiencing indescribable suffering for weeks, and have been trapped and abandoned in deserts,” the pontiff said. “May the Mediterranean no longer be a theatre of death and inhumanity,” the Pope said, calling for a sense of “fraternity, solidarity and welcoming”.
The Rome summit comes a week after one of the key participants, Tunisian President Kais Saied, signed a memorandum of understanding for a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in a meeting that included Meloni and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Financial details weren’t released, but the EU has held out the promise of nearly 1 billion euros ($1.65 billion) to help restart Tunisia’s hobbled economy, and 100 million euros ($165 million) for border control as well as search and rescue missions at sea and repatriating immigrants without residence permits.
Saied told the conference that Tunisia would not allow Europe-bound migrants to settle in the country and Tunisia will not be a “corridor for outlaws”.
He called for the establishment of a new global financial institution to tackle the root causes of migration and create prosperity and hope in poor countries.
Migrants pay traffickers thousands to make the perilous journey across Africa’s deserts. Many report suffering torture and other abuse along the way. And hundreds drown each year at sea trying to reach Europe in fragile boats.
More than 1900 migrants have died or gone missing and are presumed missing in the Mediterranean so far this year, bringing the total of dead and missing since 2014 to 27,675, according to the International Organisation for Migration. A further 483 are dead or missing in Africa this year.
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