Illegal immigration topped the agenda of this week’s meeting in Cairo between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani. It was Tajani’s first visit to Cairo since he assumed the post in October last year.
In the press conference that followed the meeting Tajani said Italy is ready to welcome regular migrants from Egypt.
“The solution to the Libya problem is part of the solution to the illegal immigration problem,” he said. Italy could receive “more legal migrants”, including from Egypt, if illegal crossings are brought under control.
He gave no details of the numbers of legal migrants Italy might accept, or of the procedures involved.
Egypt has long struggled to curb illegal migration: Egypt already hosts six million migrants, and the situation in Libya has made the job more difficult.
Egyptians, and migrants living in Egypt, are high on the list of those arriving illegally on European shores. Many travel through Libya before taking the dangerous sea voyage. Egypt’s western neighbour has become a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking to travel to Europe, with Italy one of the main destinations.
Tajani underlined the importance of reaching a solution to the Libyan crisis and praised the role Egypt is playing.
The meeting also tackled bilateral relations, with a focus on ways to bolster economic and trade ties, as well as cooperation in the field of energy.
Both countries are members of the Cairo-based East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), formed in 2019 to establish a regional gas market in the Eastern Mediterranean and enhance trade relations between the forum’s eight member states.
At the press conference, Shoukri said regional files were also reviewed, including the Palestinian situation.
Tajani also met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The issue of stepping-up cooperation in the field of energy security, particularly in the field of natural gas, topped their meeting.
Enhancing bilateral relations is a priority to the two countries. Al-Sisi underlined the importance that Egypt attaches to further advancing mutual relations across various fields while Tajani said his visit reflected a history of solid relations and the Italian government’s will to further consolidate ties.
The issues of Giulio Regeni and Patrick George Zaki were raised during Tajani’s meeting with Al-Sisi.
The body of Regeni, an Italian student at the University of Cambridge, was found after he went missing in Cairo in January 2016 with signs that he had been tortured. The subsequent investigation into Regeni’s death strained relations between Rome and Cairo and led to the withdrawal of Italy’s ambassador to Egypt in April 2016.
Zaki, an Egyptian studying in Bologna, was arrested in February 2020 when returning to Egypt for a visit and accused of spreading false information in an article he had written. He was released in December 2021 pending trial, and has been unable to travel since.
“I asked for and received assurances of strong cooperation on the Regeni and Zaki cases,” Tajani wrote on Twitter.
During his press conference with Shoukri he said that Cairo “is ready to remove roadblocks” to resolve both cases but provided no further details.
Tajani also met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit.
Energy supplies have become a pressing issue since the war in Ukraine began and Italy is keen to secure its energy needs, a fact that formed the backdrop not only to Tajani’s visit to Egypt but to this week’s trip by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to Algeria.
Recent months have seen a surge in visits and meetings between Egyptian and Italian officials.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli held a meeting last week with Italy’s Ambassador to Cairo Michele Quaroni, during which he said Egypt was keen to enhance relations with Italy in different fields to achieve mutual interests. Madbouli said Cairo hoped to build on the positive momentum created by the meeting held between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Meloni on the sidelines of COP27.
Italy is one of Egypt’s largest trade partners in the European Union. Trade between Egypt and Italy reached $5.8 billion in 2021, up from $4.5 billion in 2020, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Italian investments in Egypt rose by 40.3 percent to $448.8 million during the first quarter of FY 2021-22 (July-September), compared to $320 million during the last quarter of FY 2020-21 (April-June).
Remittances of Egyptian expats in Italy reached $94 million during FY 2019-20, compared to $82.6 million in FY 2018-19. Remittances of Italians working in Egypt reached $7.9 million during FY 2019-20, up from $6.3 million in FY 2018-19.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly