The leaders of G7 nations turned their attention to Africa on Saturday, with Italy, the host nation, calling for massive investment in the continent to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
But there was concern among analysts and aid organisations that the heads of state would lack the resolve to make any serious commitment to lifting African countries out of poverty.
Providing greater assistance to Africa to persuade potential migrants to stay at home rather than make the dangerous journey to Libya and across the Mediterranean is an urgent issue for Italy, which has received hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last few years.
This year alone, more than 50,000 migrants have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy, adding to the 181,000 who were saved last year.
The choice of Taormina in Sicily as the venue for this year’s summit is highly symbolic – the island’s proximity to North Africa means that it has received huge numbers of migrants and refugees, who are delivered after being rescued by military and coast guard ships as well as private NGOs.
Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, gave an introductory address in which he called for a new “partnership” between G7 nations and Africa involving aid and investment. “Today our discussion on Africa will focus on the need for a partnership across all sectors … with innovation and development our core objective,” he said.
Italy asked the leaders of Tunisia, Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia and Kenya to take part in the talks. Theresa May was absent from the discussions, having flown back to Britain on Friday evening in order to deal with the fall-out from Monday’s terrorist attack in Manchester.
Italy was hoping to persuade rich countries to open up legal channels for migration so that desperate migrants are not forced into the hands of ruthless people smugglers in the Sahara and along the Libyan coast.
But those proposals were rejected before the summit even got underway. “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 told Reuters.
Aid groups said that if the G7 failed to make commitments to Africa, the entire summit would have been a wasted opportunity.
In the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, 20 million people are at risk of famine in four countries – Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. The crisis has been caused by a devastating combination of conflict and drought.