Italy's Renzi urges EU's comprehensive policy towards Africa to tackle migrant trafficking

April 23, 2015 10:27 am 

By Alessandra Cardone

ROME, April 23 (PNA/Xinhua) — Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday urged Europe to consider a comprehensive policy towards Africa which he said is crucial to solve migrant trafficking at its roots.

"The European Union (EU) has to take action in African countries, if it wants to tackle the problem at its origins," Renzi said, while addressing the Italian parliament.

PM Renzi made the remarks a day before the EU Council is due to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the migrant crisis, after hundreds of people are believed to have died in a latest shipwreck in the Mediterranean last weekend.

In his speech, the Italian PM suggested international organizations should strengthen their presence south of Libya to discourage migrants departing from sub-Saharan countries, with the EU taking on a leading role in this strategy.

"The work carried out in Niger was a first step, yet it must be the EU to try and reach those areas, in coordination with the United Nations," Renzi said.

Up to 850 people were on board of the migrant craft that sank between Saturday and Sunday off the Libyan coast, according to Italian prosecutors. Only 28 migrants were saved, and 24 bodies recovered, after a frantic search-and-rescue operation was launched by Italy and Malta.

The tragedy led to renewed pressures on the EU for a more intense action against the human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

The EU's first response on Monday was to unveil a 10-point emergency plan, which included delivering more funds and equipment to its Triton patrol mission in the Mediterranean, plus trying to target the human smugglers and to destroy as many boats used in the migrant traffic as possible.

Yet, the Italian PM suggested the EU's strategy should go further.

"Our brothers who are dying in the Mediterranean are not Libyans, they come from other countries where hunger and war reign, " Renzi said.

"The problem goes much beyond the simplistic point of whether keeping all these people where they are, or welcoming them all here (in Europe). The solution lies in what we think of Africa, and in whether it can become a key political issue for Italy and the world," he said.

Renzi' perspective might prove the most useful, provided the EU is ready to consider Africa as a priority, according to an Italian analyst.

"This is a crucial point," Gabriele Iacovino, analysts' coordinator and North Africa expert with Rome-based Center for International Studies (CeSI), told Xinhua.

"For too long, the EU has been inattentive to the appeals launched by Italy and other southern European states on the dangerous situation evolving in North Africa and the Sahel," Iacovino said.

The expert agreed only a comprehensive EU strategy would help African countries grow and their societies become more stable, which in turn would stem the phenomenon at its roots.

"The inflow of migrants (from Africa) has always existed," Iacovino explained.

"The situation has become explosive due to the lack of sustainable growth policies and anarchy that prevailed in several countries such as Niger, Mali, Senegal, or Cameroon… not to think of the dire situation in Libya, Syria, Somalia, or Sudan".

The analyst seemed also to partially share the optimism expressed by PM Renzi on Wednesday that the EU would now be ready to "have a change of pace" on the issue.

"What happened last weekend could have become a 'game-changer in the EU's attitude towards human trafficking, and this adds chances for a new comprehensive strategy to be outlined," Iacovino said.

He cited a major change in Britain's latest stand as example.

"The UK government was openly against any enlargement of the Triton mission only one year ago, and it is now ready to provide some navy vessels for patrolling the Mediterranean," he said.

Yet, the expert warned the EU should not miss its momentum.

"A comprehensive strategy needs time to be developed, and in the meantime, European partners should be careful not to lose their focus," he said.

"This is why I believe the crucial prerequisite is for the EU to start defining Africa, and not just Libya, as a political priority," he said. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/EBP

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