Africa, Arab world are heard at G7 but are not a priority

Sunday 04/06/2017
A seat at the table. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) speaks with US President Donald Trump (R) as German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) looks on at the G7 summit expanded session in Sicily, on May 27. (Reuters)

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.