The head of the Central African Republic on Thursday accused the West of triggering a migration crisis by pillaging Africa’s natural resources through slavery and colonization.
Taking the podium at the United Nations General Assembly, Faustin-Archange Touadera addressed the migrant crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of African migrants arrived last week, overwhelming the local community and causing a major headache for the European Union.
“These young people who symbolize the present and the future of our continent are desperately seeking to join the countries of the European continent in search of an El Dorado,” Touadera said.
“This escalation of the migrant crisis is one of the appalling consequences of the plundering of natural resources of countries made poor by slavery, colonization and Western imperialism, terrorism and internal armed conflicts,” he added.
Western governments and aid organizations have poured billions of dollars into African countries suffering from hunger, armed conflict and other crises over the years, but critics say delivery of the aid is often hampered by corruption from local governments and militants.
Touadera’s statement contrasted sharply with comments Wednesday by Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who blamed the crisis on migrant smugglers and charged that Africa was in fact a rich continent.
Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, located less than 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Tunisian coast, has long been a landing point for migrant boats from North Africa.
But it was inundated last week, when some 8,500 people — more than the entire local population — arrived in 199 boats over the course of three days, according to the UN migration agency.
EU officials scrambled to respond and the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, was scheduled to visit the island on Sunday.
Touadera lauded the “solidarity and the incredible efforts” by the countries hosting the migrants, but said that Africa must be given a greater say in solving the migrant crisis.
“The UN must go beyond our common commitment to revive global solidarity by involving African countries in the search for global solutions to the migration crises and the existential issues facing young people on the African continent,” he said.
In her UN speech, Italy’s Meloni, who heads the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party and took office in part on pledges to crack down on migration, called human traffickers a “mafia who earn as much as drug smugglers.”
“I believe it is the duty of this organization to reject any hypocritical approach to this issue and wage a global war without mercy against the traffickers of human beings,” she said.
Meloni said Italy would work to address root causes and help African nations “grow and prosper.”
“Africa is not a poor continent. To the contrary, it is rich with strategic resources,” Meloni said.
Fissures quickly emerged in Brussels on how to respond to the Lampedusa crisis.
While Meloni called on Italy’s EU partners to share more of the responsibility, France said it would not welcome the migrants from the island but is willing to help return them to friendly countries, such as Ivory Coast and Senegal.
EU border patrol agency Frontex on Wednesday said it would boost support to Italy following the surge of arrivals on Lampedusa.
Addressing the General Assembly later in the day, Kenyan President William Ruto said investments in technology, infrastructure, green initiatives and agriculture in Africa will “enable our young people to find the livelihoods they desire at home, and reverse the tide of migration in the opposite direction.”