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Statement delivered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, Hon. Paolo Gentiloni, at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants

Mr. Secretary General,
Dear Colleagues,

I am really proud to be here today, bearing witness to the great humanity of the Italian people in receiving those who land every day on our shores.

For years, Italy has been left alone to face the migration crisis in the Mediterranean; and we have done it, thanks to the commitment and the generosity of the women and men of Lampedusa, of the Italian Coast Guard, and of the thousands of volunteers who devoted their time to help migrants and refugees after their perilous journey across the Mediterranean. To all those people, here in front of you, I would like to extend my gratitude.

Italy has long been calling for the involvement of the whole international community in managing the migratory phenomenon. I am therefore particularly pleased to see that, thanks to the sensitivity and vision of the Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, and of the High Representative for Refugees, Mr Grandi, the principle of shared responsibility is now welcomed by all the members of the United Nations.

After all, what we are trying to do is not simply to resolve an emergency or a crisis, but we are looking for durable solutions for a situation that will affect generations to come.

On the one hand, we are all aware of the international obligations regarding the protection of refugees. Such protection is due to those who are fleeing war and persecution. In my opinion, such protection should be extended to new categories of refugees, like people fleeing disasters caused by climate change.

On the other hand, even those seeking a better life, those fleeing poverty and the lack of a future have the right to an answer from us, they have the right to hope. They should be able to hope that a better life is attainable in their own country, in their own home.

In this spirit, Italy has promoted – also through our proposal of a “Migration Compact”, to our EU partners – a plan to develop a true partnership with African countries of origin. I have said this on other occasions and I really believe it: the future of Europe is in Africa. We have to invest in Africa to tackle the root causes of migration, primarily economic and demographic inequalities. But most of all, we should invest in Africa because it means we are investing in our own future.

However, we all know that this kind of commitment will produce results only in the long term. Meanwhile, we have to give a humanitarian, answer: we have to save lives. On this, I am asking for solidarity, I am asking for the full commitment of the whole international community.

Italy has been at the forefront of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean for years, with its Search and Rescue Operations. More than 75,000 (seventy-five thousand) people were saved in 2015, and more than 60,000 so far this year, by Italian units only. These are impressive numbers, but even more impressive and even more moving are the tales of pain and suffering behind those numbers.

To this emergency, we have to answer now. This is why, thanks once again to the support of civil society, Italy has promoted a resettlement program (the humanitarian corridor project) aimed at saving at least the most vulnerable among migrants: I am thinking particularly of women and unaccompanied children. We should be able to keep them from having to embark on a dangerous journey across the desert or the sea, in the hands of smugglers.

We hope that the Humanitarian Corridor project could be taken up, as a best practice, by other countries. Let’s give protection to refugees, but also let’s give hope to those who have lost it, to the weakest among migrants, like children, and like women who travel alone.

Let’s give them hope, and by doing it we will also give hope and a vision to our own society: by protecting the most vulnerable we are protecting our own values; by saving children’s lives we are saving our own future.

Let’s invest in our future, let’s invest in children, let’s empower women, let’s give them all a voice; this is the only way to build a fair and equal society. Let’s refuse the idea that today, for some young women, for some small children the only prospect is to rely on smugglers.

We need to give an immediate answer to those in need of protection and a practical solution for the most vulnerable migrants: this is Italy’s commitment here today. This is my appeal to all of you: protection not only for refugees, but also for vulnerable migrants. We will raise this issue with our partners during Italy’s Presidency of the G7 next year. Do not allow that a child fleeing from Aleppo find his death on a Mediterranean shore.