G7 leaders tackle the issue of migration on the second day of their summit in Italy

Leaders are seeking ways to combat trafficking and increase investment in countries from where migrants start out on often life-threatening journeys.
Italy G7
Posted at 8:08 AM, Jun 14, 2024

Leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations turned their attention to migration at the start of the second day of their summit Friday, seeking ways to combat trafficking and increase investment in countries from where migrants start out on often life-threatening journeys.

The gathering in a luxury resort in Italy’s southern Puglia region is also discussing other major topics, such as financial support for Ukraine, the war in Gaza, artificial intelligence, climate change, as well as China’s industrial policy and economic security.

But some divisions also appeared to emerge over the wording of the summit's final declaration, with disagreement reported over the inclusion of a reference to abortion.

Migration is of particular interest to summit host Italy, which lies on one of the major routes into the European Union for people fleeing war and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Right-wing Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, known for her hard-line stance on the issue, has been eager to increase investment and funding for African nations as a means of reducing migratory pressure on Europe.

Italy “wanted to dedicate ample space to another continent that is fundamental to the future of all of us, which is Africa, with its difficulties, its opportunities,” Meloni said at the summit opening Thursday.

“Linked to Africa, and not only to Africa, there is another fundamental issue that Italy has placed at the center of the presidency, which is the issue of migration, the increasingly worrying role that trafficking organizations are assuming, clearly exploiting the desperation of human beings,” she said.

Meloni has a controversial five-year deal with neighboring Albania for the Balkan country to host thousands of asylum-seekers while Italy processes their claims. She has also spearheaded the “Mattei Plan” for Africa, a continentwide strategy to increase economic opportunities at home and so discourage migration to Europe.

More than 22,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea so far in 2024, according to UNHCR figures. In 2023, more than 157,000 arrived, and nearly 2,000 died or went missing while attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

The United States has also been struggling with a growing number of migrants at its southern border. President Joe Biden introduced new policies to curb migration after a bill he tried to get through Congress failed to pass.

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However, immigrant rights advocates filed lawsuits on Thursday over the new policies, and it is unclear whether they will be able to withstand the legal challenges in the U.S. courts.

Tackling migration “is a common challenge,” European Council President Charles Michel said after arriving at the summit.

“This is the route that we intend, together with our partners, to put in place: this coalition to fight against the smugglers, these criminal groups which are abusing (vulnerable people) to make money and to destabilize regions and countries across the world,” he added.

Apart from the G7 nations of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S., the Italian hosts have also invited several African leaders — Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Kenyan President William Ruto and Tunisian President Kais Saied — to press Meloni’s migration and development initiatives.

Pope Francis will also become the first pontiff to address a G7 summit when he delivers a speech on artificial intelligence Friday. Other invitees include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The summit opened Thursday with a strong show of support for Kyiv: an agreement reached on a U.S. proposal to back a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using frozen Russian assets as collateral.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the freezing of Russian assets as “theft” and vowed it “will not go unpunished.”

“Western countries have frozen a part of Russian assets and foreign exchange reserves, and are now thinking about some kind of legal basis in order to completely appropriate them,” he said in a speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday. “But, despite all the scheming, theft will remain theft, and it will not go unpunished.”

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Biden also signed a bilateral security agreement with Zelenskyy on Thursday evening, aiming to send a signal to Russia of American resolve in supporting Kyiv.

Describing it as a “truly historic day,” Zelenskyy said the agreement was “on security and thus on the protection of human life.”

But some cracks appeared among the G7 leaders, with French President Emmanuel Macron deploring a lack of reference to abortion in the draft of the summit's final document.

The statement after last year’s summit in Hiroshima, Japan, expressed a commitment to provide access to safe and legal abortion to women and girls, and pledged to defend gender equality and the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

A senior EU official confirmed Friday that the word “abortion” was not in this year's final communique, although a reference to promoting sexual and reproductive health rights was.

“It was not possible to reach agreement on these things in the room,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to reveal details of the private discussions.

Asked on Thursday about reports that abortion would not be included in the final text, Macron said, “I regret this.” France “has included women’s right to abortion, the freedom of decision on one’s own body, into its Constitution,” he said, adding that France defends “this vision of equality between women and men.”

“It’s not a vision that’s shared across all the political spectrum,” Macron said, replying to a question from an Italian reporter. “I regret it, but I respect it because it was the sovereign choice of your people.”

Meloni, who campaigned on a “God, Faith and Fatherland” motto, has denied she is rolling back rights to abortions, which have been legal in Italy since 1978. But the center-left opposition has warned that her initiatives are chipping away at those rights, including by giving pro-life groups access to women considering abortions.

Italy's ANSA news agency said this year’s text says the G7 “repeats our commitment expressed in the final communique of the G7 of Hiroshima for a universal, adequate and sustainable access to health services for women, including the right to reproduction.”