Africa, Arab world are heard at G7 but are not a priority
Tunis - Days after a suicide bombing killed 22 people in northern England, leaders of the seven world’s largest economies convened for discussions on terrorism, economy, climate change and migration.
The annual summit, meeting on Italy’s island of Sicily, 225km from the northern tip of Africa, planned to focus on migration but was overshadowed by the terror attack in England and friction between the United States and its European allies over free trade and the Paris climate accords.
A major point of contention during the conference was how to balance national security and migration policy concerns. The presence of a few Arab and African leaders at the summit did not change much of the focus, although it provided a different perspective to that of the major industrialised countries.
Italy, which has taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years, had hoped to convince its counterparts to open legal channels of migrants to stem the flow of risky sea crossings from Libya. However, there was pushback from the Americans and British.
“There was very strong opposition by the Americans and British who wanted to refocus on security and water down the expansive language on freedom of movement,” a European diplomat, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
The final G7 statement recognised the need to help refugees fleeing war and poverty but also to “reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels.”
G7 representatives were joined by the leaders of Tunisia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Niger and Nigeria, as well as the heads of the African Union, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
“Perhaps the choice (to be in) Taormina and Sicily says much about how important our relations are with Africa,” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in opening remarks.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi noted that geographic proximity creates bonds of common interest between his country and Europe. “I have made it here in only 35 minutes,” he said alluding to the time of his flight from Tunis.
He drew the attention of Western leaders to the budget predicament Tunisia faces as it faces the threat of terrorism, especially the challenge of securing Tunisia’s Libyan border from jihadists. “We have reallocated some of our development resources to fighting terrorism,” he said, noting that the country grapples with a “big youth problem,” as its young people are frustrated by the lack of opportunities.
The conflict in Libya has implications for the broader Sahel’s fight against terror, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou noted. He called on the leaders of the G7 countries to take urgent measures to end the Libyan crisis and derided them for not keeping promises of aid to fight poverty in West Africa’s poorest regions.
While the world’s most powerful democracies have called for “inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation” in Libya, a concrete plan on how to resolve the crisis is yet to emerge.
Lawlessness in Libya has facilitated the transit of hundreds of thousands of African migrants embarking on perilous voyages across the Mediterranean. It is now directly implicated in European terrorism after a Briton of Libyan descent in a suicide attack set off a bomb at a Manchester concert, killing 22 people, including several children.
During the G7 summit, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Manchester bomber’s links to Libya “undoubtedly shine a spotlight on this largely ungoverned space on the edge of Europe.”
“So we must redouble our support for a UN-led effort that brings all the parties to the negotiating table and reduces the threat of terror from that region,” she said.
In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Caid Essebsi stressed the need for collective action on Libya. The security challenge, in particular dealing with the proliferation of armed groups, would take “long months to stabilise,” Caid Essebsi said, a French official told Agence France-Presse.
US President Donald Trump, who clashed with European leaders on trade and climate issues, pointed to immigration as the central factor contributing to terrorism.
“Terrorism must be stopped in its tracks or the horror you saw in Manchester and so many other places will continue forever,” he said in a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “You have thousands and thousands of people pouring into our various countries and spreading throughout, and in many cases, we have no idea who they are.”
The G7’s final statement recognised that “the ongoing large-scale movement of migrants and refugees is a global trend that, given its implications for security and human rights, calls for coordinated efforts at the national and international level.”
“We recognise that the management and control of migrant flows — while taking into account the distinction between refugees and migrants — requires both an emergency approach and a long-term one,” the statement read.