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The Taormina Summit and the Issue of Migration

Sophie Barnett and Alessandra Cicci, G7 Research Group
May 31, 2017

Migration was expected to receive sufficient attention at this year's G7 summit. With the primary destination of asylum seekers being Europe, the current migrant crisis has particularly affected the G7, which has three members from continental Europe plus the United Kingdom. Migration is an especially pressing issue for the island of Sicily, with its geographic location along the migrants' central Mediterranean route. The 2017 Taormina Summit is thus symbolic for addressing the large volume of migrant flows to Italy and Europe, despite the temporary ban on rescue ships from docking in Sicily during the summit. Over the two days of the summit, certain key issues could be expected to make a sizeable appearance in G7 leaders' discussions, including Libya, migrant trafficking and smuggling, and the crisis in Syria.

Migration from Libya continues to be a critical issue for Italy. In 2016 alone, Italy received 181,000 migrant arrivals across the Mediterranean, 90% of whom came from the Libyan coast, but 4,500 drowned in transit. Over 500,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat over the past three years and a further 300,000 are waiting in Libya to attempt the dangerous crossing. In Malta in February 2017, European Union leaders agreed on a plan to reduce the flow of migrants from Libya by strengthening the country's coast guard, blocking smuggling routes, improving Libyan reception centres, strengthening EU involvement in neighbouring countries and supporting local communities on migration routes. In total, Libya's United Nations–backed government will receive EUR200 million in funding. In a recent joint session on security issues and Italy's G7 presidency, Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano also announced that Italy would host an international conference on the migrant crisis in July 2017, with representatives from Libya, the International Organization for Migration, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the EU.

The G7 addressed migration from Libya in 2015 at the Elmau Summit and continuing last year at Ise-Shima. The Elmau declarationexpressed concern for migrant smuggling from Libya, and the Ise-Shima declaration renewed these concerns, pledged to support the Libyan Government of National Accord in restoring national peace and security, and urged parties to work to reduce humanitarian suffering. When G7 foreign ministers met in Lucca on April 11, 2017, their communiqué also expressed concern for migrant trafficking and smuggling in Libya and called on Libyan parties to "ensure access for humanitarian organizations to improve their response to the needs on the ground to ensure the respect for the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants." The Taormina declaration was expected to make a similar statement on the situation in Libya, with particular attention to migrant trafficking and smuggling.

The Taormina Summit was also expected to address migrant smuggling and trafficking. In 2015 alone, human traffickers profited between USD3 billion and USD6 billion by exploiting migrants. The G7 recognized the severity of migrant trafficking and smuggling at the 2015 Elmau Summit, where leaders made six commitments to fight it. Here in Sicily, allegations were recently made against several rescue ships run by non-governmental organizations in the Mediterranean accused of colluding with migrant traffickers in Libya. G7 foreign ministers in Lucca already renewed previous calls for concern and pledged to continue their cooperation in the fight against migrant trafficking and smuggling in the maritime domain. They also committed to redoubling efforts to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking.

The Taormina Summit was also expected to address the trafficking of migrant youth in particular. UNICEF called on G7 governments to push for a six-point plan at Taormina to protect child refugees and migrants, including from trafficking as well as other forms of exploitation and violence. The number of unaccompanied child refugees and migrants has increased fivefold from 2010, surpassing the 300,000 mark in 2015 and 2016. Over three quarters of the 1,600 children between 14 and 17 years old who arrived in Italy using the Central Mediterranean route have also claimed that they were forced to work or held against their will at some point during their journeys.

The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis was also expected to receive attention at Taormina. G7 leaders first recognized the Syrian crisis at the 2013 Lough Erne Summit, and made their first commitment to address the resulting migrant flows at the 2014 Brussels Summit by promised support for its neighbouring countries bearing the burden of refugee inflows. At the 2016 Ise-Shima Summit, leaders expressed concern for humanitarian suffering in the region and pledged support displaced persons as well as work towards a stabilized Syria. In Lucca, G7 foreign ministers renewed these calls for concern and focused on addressing the root causes of the refugee crisis in the region by reiterating commitments to restore the sovereignty and independence of Syria and fight terrorism while also welcoming the outcome of the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in April, which agreed to boost international support for intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva and support displaced persons and host countries as well as Syria's postwar reconstruction. It would have been optimal for the Taorminaleaders' declarationtoendorse these ambitions accordingly and in doing so commit to address the root causes of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Taormina declaration did acknowledge the severity of the migrant crisis, but G7 leaders failed to build on the progress they made at Ise-Shima. They made only two commitments on refugees and migrants, compared to seven in 2016. Perhaps with a closing America, an increasingly weary Europe and a Japan long closed to migrants, committing to take effective action such as making resettlement pledges and addressing the root causes of displacement was off the table. Yet despite these disappointments, G7 members still have a chance to demonstrate their commitment to the migrant crisis. Will the next year's Taormina compliance report reveal high compliance on the few promises made? Two things are for certain: migration numbers are not declining and world leaders must act boldly and swiftly to address the issue.

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