Italy chose to host a Group of Seven summit of wealthy nations on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean, looking to draw attention to the migrant crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people set sail from Africa in search of a better life in Europe.
But world leaders on Saturday said little that will help Italy manage the steady flow of migrants to its shores or enable it to cope with the growing number of new arrivals.
“Even though this summit took place in Sicily, a stone’s throw from where so many migrants have died, it produced no concrete steps to protect vulnerable migrants or to address the root causes of displacement and migration,” said Roberto Barbieri, the local director of humanitarian group Oxfam.
Rome had hoped to persuade other major industrialized nations to open more legal channels for migration and to focus attention on food security — policies which were meant to lower the number of people who set off for Europe.
But the plan was scrapped before the two-day summit even started, with the United States, Britain and Japan unwilling to commit to major new immigration initiatives.
The final communique outlined medium-term commitments to bolster African economies and promote sustainable agriculture, but it focused more on the need for each country to guarantee national security than on how to limit migration.
Countries “reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels,” said the communique.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the language was decided “weeks ago” by diplomats from G7 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and the United States.
“It wasn’t an issue that was the focus of debate, other than recognising the humanitarian importance of taking people in as this region has done,” Gentiloni said of Sicily, which has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants arrive since 2014.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there had been “excellent” discussion on the need boost economic opportunity, in particular during outreach sessions with five African leaders on Saturday, so that people “are not driven to take desperate measures to improve their lot”.
Both the United States and Britain opposed the Italian pre-summit initiative to draft a stand-alone G-7 statement entitled “G7 Vision on Human Mobility”, an Italian official said.
Open, safe, legal paths
That document included language on the need for open, safe and legal paths for migrants and refugees, according to excerpts seen by Reuters.
Italy has been put under increasing pressure as EU partners have refused to relocate large numbers of asylum seekers, and some have closed their southern borders to keep migrants out of their own countries, effectively sealing them in Italy.
More than 175,000 asylum seekers live in Italian shelters. With sea arrivals at a record pace this year, the issue is hotly debated by politicians facing a general election within a year.
Over the past 10 days, almost 10,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, where people smugglers cram them onto unsafe boats. Dozens died, including many children.
“We know that the deadliest season is upon us. It starts pretty much now, at least it has for the last few years,” Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said on Friday. “We expect these coming weeks to be much worse.”