INT’L DIALOGUE: Italy-Albania deal, why is Giorgia Meloni imitating Rishi Sunak’s unlawful ‘dance’?

Her electioneering campaign was characterised by tough talk and controversies, and her premiership, after her party, the Brothers of Italy, won the election and assumed office, has so far not been any different.

On the campaign trail, Giorgia Meloni thrilled her supporters with hard-line promises. Just like the former U.S. President Donald Trump, Ms. Meloni vowed to make Italy and, for that matter, Italians first above everything else. A video of a black man (said to be from Guinea) allegedly raping an old woman in broad daylight served as a boast for her to raise an alarm over her dislike for illegal migrants in her country.

Giorgia Meloni tweeted that video on her X account (formerly Twitter) to garner support for her campaign promise to clamp down on illegal immigrants if she was voted into office. “One cannot remain silent in the face of this atrocious episode of sexual violence against a Ukrainian woman carried out in daytime in Piacenza by an asylum seeker,” she said, as reported by Aljazeera, adding, “A hug to this woman. I will do everything I can to restore security to our cities,” she added. The chances for asylum seekers to get a peaceful stay in Italy were getting slimmer as now there was “evidence” to keep them at arm’s length.

The said video, after Giorgia Meloni tweeted it, divided opinions. While many lauded her, others also lambasted the far-right leader for tweeting unsavoury content on social media just for votes. For instance, the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, wrote on X that “it is indecent to use images of a rape. Even more indecent to do so for electoral purposes.”

But did Giorgia Meloni care or bother about her critics’ fire and fury? No! She faced and sailed through the barrage of criticism, deepened her campaign, and went on to win the elections. On October 22, 2022, she was sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister.

If Mr. Trump made and kept his promise of building a wall on the US-Mexico border, then Giorgia Meloni would, as well, keep the promise she made. Luckily for her, she somewhat has a template to follow to fulfil her promise too. Are you thinking of her building a wall like Trump? That was not what she promised the Italians. She will not build a wall. If for anything, after all, it was a naval blockade she initially promised to effect upon assumption into office. She later changed her mind about the nature the blockade should take. Giorgia Meloni probably must be schooled on the fact that naval blockades are tantamount to declarations of war, and with Italy not at war with any country as we speak, a naval blockade was too extreme a measure to suggest to just wade off none but migrants. Refugees and asylum seekers are not combatants to call for a naval blockade!

The template Giorgia Meloni has at her disposal to ward off immigrants is the unquenchable zeal Donald Trump had in building his wall. It therefore came as no surprise when, in July 2023, Giorgia Meloni, together with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, made a visit to Tunisia, upon which an agreement was reached with the Tunisian government to prevent migrants (mostly from North Africa), who pass through their country, from entering Europe.

But the deal, which the EU and the Kais Saied-led government termed a “strategic partnership,” was not free. It was to cost the former a whopping $1.07 billion (€1 billion) in economic aid. With Tunisia’s wobbling economic woes, it had no choice but to accept and do the EU’s “dirty” work of preventing migrants from sailing to Europe. The latest of the moves by Giorgia Meloni to fulfil her campaign promise of ending migration is another deal signed with Albania, a non-EU member.

The Italy-Albania deal announced on November 7, 2023, will see Italy outsourcing the processing and containment of migrants to Albania. It will cost Italy €16.5 million to build two migrant centres in Albania, among others. When leaders of the two nations met in Rome to sign the Italy-Albania deal, they should have reminded themselves of the maltreatment of Albanian refugees by these same two nations in 1991 and 1997, respectively.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (L) and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (R). Photo Credit: AP

To put it more succinctly, in what became known as the Tragedy of Otranto (in 1997), an Italian naval ship enforcing a naval blockade gruesomely killed over 80 migrants. Is Giorgia Meloni really aware of this history, and she still wanted the EU naval mission “Sophia” to blockade migrants’ boats on the Mediterranean? Why are nations persecuting migrants?

Recent statistical figures released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) show a staggering increase in the number of refugees and migrants who have been compelled to abandon their homes due to conflict, human rights violations, and persecution. The numbers reveal that more than 114 million people worldwide will have fled their homes by the end of September 2023. Sadly, this figure excludes the displacement caused by the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The number of displaced people globally is greater than the population of Ghana, Mali, La Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger combined.

According to the Global Peace Index (GPI) and the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), global violence has increased exponentially in Mali, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Ukraine, making 2022 the deadliest year in armed conflict since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the deadliest in the history of the GPI. These troubling episodes continue to fuel the migrant crisis in the international community.

The dilemma for the international community is how to efficiently handle the unfolding global refugee and migration’ crisis. This is evident in how countries such as the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Italy have dealt with migrants’ crises recently. In Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, one of the foremost declarations is that the UN may not interfere or intervene in the domestic affairs of a member state. This has become the bedrock that guides how countries treat migrants and refugees that enter their countries. The headache for the United Nations is how to successfully handle the migrant crisis with its member states in a complex international system where states are the principal actors in addressing their domestic issues, including the ongoing refugee crisis.

Today, migrants and refugees have become more vulnerable than ever. They are subjected to all manner of human rights violations and abuses, resulting in a more perilous situation for the very people escaping wars, conflicts, and even economic chaos. Safe havens have become terror centres where the lives of the helpless are under severe threat from receiving states.

It is becoming an uncontested fact that the international community is failing to collectively protect the rights and welfare of migrants, particularly with the rise in the number of draconian measures taken by most developed countries to mitigate the escalating global migrant crisis.

The United Kingdom, a leading human rights advocacy nation, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda, seeking to hand over some asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. The policy, formally known as the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, was intended to discourage people from embarking on dangerous voyages to the UK to seek asylum. The UK argues that anyone who enters the country illegally will be relocated to the Republic of Rwanda, and that under the scheme, the UK’s legal obligations with respect to these migrants end once they are relocated to Rwanda. The UK government had said that anyone entering the UK illegally after January 1, 2022, could be relocated to Rwanda with no limit on the number of deportees. The UK had paid ₤140 million to the Rwandan government.

However, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the UK-Rwanda deal was unlawful. The court stated that the policy breaches part of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)—the UK is a signatory and party to this convention—which prohibits torture and inhumane treatment. The Supreme Court also heard evidence from the UNHCR, which accused the Rwandan government of rejecting 100% of all asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen between the years 2020 and 2022. Despite the Court’s landmark ruling in November 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke about his commitment to stop the boats and overcome all the legal tussles of the Rwandan deal.

Indeed, on December 5, 2023, the UK signed a new treaty with Rwanda. According to James Cleverly, Secretary of State for the Home Department, the new treaty would overcome all obstacles that impeded its original plan of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Under the new treaty, Rwanda would not be permitted to send asylum seekers to a third country where their lives or freedom would be jeopardized. Both countries hope that the new treaty will take effect soon.

The UNHCR’s estimation indicated that low- and middle-income countries host about 76% of the world’s refugees, with only 24% living in wealthy countries. If the UK succeeds with its immigration plans, it will only compound the burden on low- and middle-income countries hosting these asylum seekers.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, aimed at protecting the fundamental rights of all people, irrespective of race, colour, religion, social origin, sex, language, and political opinion. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights vividly pinpoints that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights. Two articles in the declaration directly touch on migration matters.

In Article 13 of the Universal Declaration, the right of everyone to free movement and residence within the borders of each state is clearly enshrined, and it is further emphasised that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his or her own country, and return to their country. More so, Article 14 provides that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries from persecution. Despite these declarations, the document is not binding on states to protect the vulnerability of asylum seekers and migrants.

In the current global political climate, states, which are by law the major actors in international politics, continue to prioritise national security matters over issues pertaining to refugees and migrants. For instance, the Pakistani government announced the Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan on October 3, 2023. This aims at deporting en masse all undocumented immigrants, mostly Afghans, starting on November 1, 2023.

Pakistan’s caretaker Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, said that the mass deportation is a symbol that Pakistan is “putting its house in order.” He said, as reported by Foreign Policy, that since the Taliban insists that Afghanistan is now peaceful, “they should help their countrymen to settle themselves.”

Islamabad argues that anyone who wants to stay in Pakistan must do so legally, and this seems to be the only way out for the over a million undocumented refugees in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch reports that more than 375,000 Afghans have been forced to return to Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities. Sadly, most of the refugees’ money and other valuable items, such as jewellery and livestock, have been taken away from them, leaving them in a worse situation.

The United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that 92% of Afghan refugees leaving Pakistan claimed that they feared detention by the Pakistani authorities.

The bottom line, as aforementioned, is that the world is facing a crisis of migrants and asylum seekers, and it is putting pressure on receiving states. Nonetheless, draconian measures such as Giorgia Meloni’s imitation of Rishi Sunak’s unlawful UK-Rwanda ‘dance’ will not solve the problem. Developed nations must not be callous towards migrants (especially from Africa) fleeing from both conflicts and economic chaos. After all, Walter Rodney wrote in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that Europe is in one way or another complicit in the turmoil the continent is experiencing.

In his bestselling book, Has China Won?, Kishore Mahbubani makes a shocking revelation about what someone thought was the best way to manage the migrant crisis. “At the January 2019 meeting of the World Economic Forum, I was shocked to hear a moderate and sensible European whisper to me: ‘Kishore, there is only one solution to African migration. We will let them drown in the Mediterranean,’” wrote Mr. Mahbubani.

The bitter truth is that Europe must expect millions of African migrants if the economic and political situation on the continent does not improve. Kishore Mahbubani, again, even paints a bleak reality: “In 1950, the EU’s combined population (379 million) was nearly double that of Africa’s (229 million). Today, Africa’s population (1.2 billion in 2015) is double that of the EU countries (513 million in 2018). By 2100, Africa’s population is projected to be almost ten times larger, 4.5 billion versus 493 million.”

If Giorgia Meloni and the EU will channel the billions of dollars they are dolling out to African governments to stop migrant boats from setting sail into productive economic ventures like industries and commercial farming for the continent’s youth, many will abandon their dream of seeking greener pastures abroad.

In the meantime, Europe can learn from Angela Merkel, one of the best leaders it ever had, who, in 2015, allowed a million Syrian refugees into Germany.

The writers, Solomon Mensah and Solomon Annan, are Ghanaian journalists who have an interest in the world’s politics with an unflinching eye. Views expressed here are solely theirs and do not, in any way, reflect the editorial policy of this media organisation.


X: @aniwaba & @abisolo7

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