Italy promises to take more legal migrants in bid to halt sea crossings

Italy's foreign minister on visit to Egypt as PM prepares for Algeria trip

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, left,  and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. EPA
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Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Sunday his country was prepared to take more legal migrants as part of its efforts to block irregular migration.

On a visit to Cairo, Mr Tajani held discussions with Egyptian counterparts about ending the political deadlock in Libya as means of solving the migration crisis.

Egypt has largely prevented migrant boats from leaving its Mediterranean coast since 2016. The number of Egyptians crossing to Europe through Libya has risen sharply, with 20,542 disembarking in Italy last year, up from 1,264 in 2020, according to Italian government figures.

Egyptians also make up the largest group by nationality of migrants landing in Italy, Italian interior ministry data suggests.

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani (L) during his meeting with  Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, 22 January 2023.   EPA

Italy is “ready to have more legal migrants, including those coming from Egypt”, Mr Tajani said at a joint news conference with counterpart Sameh Shoukry on Sunday.

He spoke about pilot projects to give migrants grants to study and train in Italy, although he did not give any indication of the numbers who would be allowed in.

He also called for a resolution of Libya's political and security crisis as a prelude to elections and a new constitution. “The solution to the Libyan problem is also part of the solution of the illegal immigration problem,” Mr Tajani said.

Both Egypt and Italy have been invested in efforts to find a solution for the crisis in Libya, an energy-rich North African state where human traffickers take advantage of the lawlessness to do business.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a Nato-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country is now split between two rival administrations with claims to legitimacy.

On more direct relations between the two nations, Mr Tajani said he had received assurances from President Abdel Fattah El Sisi that his government would work towards resolving the case of an Italian researcher murdered in Cairo in 2016.

A second case concerns an Egyptian who is enrolled at an Italian university but is banned from leaving Egypt following his release in 2021 after two years in jail for publishing a contentious article about the human rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Italian Cambridge University student Giulio Regeni who was found dead in Cairo, Egypt in 2016. Photo by Tim Stewart News/Shutterstock

The cases of Giulio Regeni, the Italian postgraduate student found dead in Egypt in 2016, and Patrick Zaki, the Egyptian who was studying in Italy and is on trial for spreading false news, were addressed in talks with Mr El Sisi and Mr Shoukry, said Mr Tajani.

“The problem was raised with the president, who told me it was the intention of Egypt to resolve the problems, and remove all the obstacles,” he said without giving details what Cairo intended to do.

“I asked for and received assurances for strong co-operation on the Regeni and Zaki cases,” Mr Tajani wrote on Twitter.

The Regeni case rocked Cairo’s relations with Rome, with Mr Regeni’s family and Italian authorities accusing Egyptian security forces of torturing and killing him. They denied involvement in his abduction or death.

Mr Regeni, 28, was a Cambridge University doctoral student researching labour movements in Egypt when he was abducted on January 25, 2016.

His body was found along a roadside several days later bearing marks of torture.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 9:43 AM