Mediterranean nations told to 'close the gap' causing migrants to cross sea

Diplomats call for Mediterranean countries to work together for prosperity

Migrants on a boat off the coast of Sicily, southern Italy. AFP
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Mediterranean countries were told on Thursday to “close the gap” in prosperity that spurs migrants to cross from one shore to another.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told an intergovernmental forum of Mediterranean and other countries that it was up to all of them to address the root causes of migration.

“The truth is, refugees will not be crossing to Europe if they are provided with the dignified life and services that they deserve in the southern Mediterranean,” he said.

It comes as Italy's new far-right leadership puts Mediterranean migration back in the spotlight by taking a hard line on rescue ships.

At least 23,000 migrants are estimated to have died while trying to cross the sea since 2014, often attempting to reach Italy from North Africa.

“It is one of the most unequal borders in the world,” the EU's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, told the meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona.

“We need to step up our efforts to close the gap along the two shores of the Mediterranean,” he said. “We have often spoken about this, but the gap continues to grow, so let’s try to act more.”

The Mediterranean forum, made up of all EU members and 15 countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean, heard proposals for a brighter future from young people, described by Mr Borrell as the region's greatest asset.

Founded in 2008, the union has struggled for significance but its latest meeting came as the EU tries to shore up international alliances following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Many Mediterranean countries are facing high energy prices and some have been badly affected by the food security problems unleashed by the war.

“As we work to recover from the pandemic and the impact of the Ukrainian war in our region, we have a unique opportunity to leverage the potential of the region,” said the union's secretary general Nasser Kamel.

Speaking for Jordan, which hosts many Syrian refugees, Mr Safadi urged partners to help improve the situation in Syria to address one of the main drivers of migration in the region.

“We cannot look at Syria and do nothing to solve the crisis, and then not expect people to seek better lives for their kids. People are going to do what people do anywhere in the world,” he said.

“People wherever they are, no matter where they come from, they want to live in peace, they want to live in dignity, they want to live with opportunity, if they cannot find it in their region, they’re going to look for it elsewhere.

“Let’s not look at this as one threat from one region to another — this is a problem for which we’re all responsible.”

Updated: November 24, 2022, 3:15 PM