Rome, Feb 6 (IANS/AKI) The number of migrants who reached Libya from Niger fell dramatically in 2017 from the previous year, as did those crossing the Mediterranean from the conflict-wracked North African country, Italy’s Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Tuesday.
Just over 60,000 migrants entered Libya from Niger last year, compared with 330,000 in 2016, he said, adding that the number of migrants arriving by boat from Libya plunged to 35,000 in 2017 from 291,000 the previous year.
Africa and Europe are on a “common path”, Alfano said at a conference at the Foreign Ministry here on migration from Africa to Europe attended by delegates from Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Libya, Malta, Niger, Spain, Sudan, The Netherlands and Tunisia as well as the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Senior officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR, from the UN migration agency the International Organisation for Migration and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were also attending the conference.
The drop in migrant flows came after Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti last July rolled out a controversial new rules for charity rescue ships in the Mediterranean and struck a deal with tribesmen in southern Libya last March that made it easier to stem the flow of migrants from Chad, Mali and Niger.
The Italian Navy and Libyan Coast Guard agreed a new level of cooperation that included four patrol vessels in the Mediterranean under an accord Minniti signed with the leader of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez al-Serraj in February last year.
Alfano also said that governments and institutions have a duty to inform and reassure citizens on migration to combat racism and fear of migrants stoked by populism.
“We need to fight the forms of populism that exploit the issue of migration to spread fear and make easy political capital.
“We have the crucial task of reassuring our citizens about migration in order to oppose populism and racism and safeguard support for the European Union and legal immigration,” he said.