“What needs to be done in Africa is to build cooperation”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told her European Union partners Thursday that curbing migration flows from African countries has less to do with offers of charity than strong partnerships coupled with strategic investments in those nations.

Meloni told reporters at a year-end news conference that last month’s deal on the EU’s Migration and Asylum Pact partially improved the situation for Italy and other asylum countries, but does not represent a solution to increasing migrant arrivals.

“What needs to be done in Africa is not charity,” she said. “What needs to be done in Africa is to build cooperation and serious strategic relationships as equals, not predators.”

Meloni also stressed the need “to defend the right not to have to emigrate … and this is done with investments and a strategy.”

Reforms EU leaders agreed on last month are based on a new set of regulations governing how member states respond to people arriving in Europe. The deal has been harshly criticized by humanitarian groups, saying it will diminish the rights of people on the move.

Meloni also said that supporting Africa’s development and the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (AI) will be among the key themes for Italy during its one-year presidency of the Group of Seven (G7), which Rome took over at the start of January.

Italy outlined its proposed strategy in Africa in the so-called Mattei Plan – named after Enrico Mattei, founder of state-controlled oil and gas giant Eni — which aims at expanding cooperation beyond energy.

Meloni said the plan includes specific projects, but stopped short of providing details, adding they will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

The Italian leader admitted that results in tackling illegal migration – one of the top priorities of her far-right coalition government – are so far disappointing.

Meloni’s government garnered criticism by aid groups and left-wing opposition parties after approving harsher immigration laws, restrictions on sea rescue operations and plans to build migrant reception centers in Albania, But her electoral promises to stop massive migration flows to Italy have been mostly unfulfilled.

In 2023, the path from North Africa across the central Mediterranean to Italy became Europe’s busiest migration route.

According to the UNHCR, a total of 260,662 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Northern Africa to Europe since the beginning of 2023.

Data from Italy’s Interior ministry showed the migrant arrivals in Italy jumped 50% in 2023 from the previous year. About 155,750 migrants reached Italian shores last year, including more than 17,000 unaccompanied minors, compared to 103,850 in 2022.

“The data on migration are not satisfying, especially considered the amount of work we dedicated to that,” Meloni said, adding that she would continue to work with African countries to prevent illegal migrant departures.