Italy has once again accused France of continuing to exploit Africa, saying French policies are creating poverty and causing mass migration in the impoverished continent.
Speaking to journalists in the capital of Rome on Monday, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused France of still treating a number of African countries as “vassal states” and said French policies were fueling large-scale migration to Europe.
The leader of Italy’s anti-migration 5-Star Movement also told reporters that France was manipulating the economies of the 14 African countries that use the CFA franc — a colonial-era currency backed by the French Treasury.
“France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts,” Di Maio said. “If Europe wants to be brave, it must have the courage to confront the issue of decolonization in Africa.”
France argues that the CFA franc is a guarantee of financial stability, but others have attacked it as a colonial relic. President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 that it was up to African governments to decide what to do with the currency.
Earlier on Monday, the French Foreign Ministry summoned Italy’s ambassador over Di Maio’s previous remarks — on the weekend — in which he accused France of exploiting Africa and called on the European Union to impose sanctions on the country over the issue.
“The EU should impose sanctions on France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people (refugees) leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” Di Maio had said. “If people are leaving today, it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries.”
French diplomatic sources quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA denounced Di Maio’s remarks as “hostile and without cause given the partnership between France and Italy in the European Union.”
France does exercise outsize influence in parts of Africa, where it used to be a colonizer, but Di Maio’s party is also known for controversial and hard-line policies on migration, among other matters.
The Italian parliament has approved as law a tough anti-migrant and security bill drafted by far-right Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said 4,216 refugees crossed to Europe by sea in the first 16 days of 2019 — more than double the number arriving in the same period last year.
The IOM also said on Saturday that more than 100 people were feared dead after a boat carrying refugees capsized off the coast of Libya.
Italy was one of the main destinations for refugees fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East before the new populist government took office.
Italy’s other deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has openly spoken against incoming refugees since his coalition came to power in June last year, refusing to allow ships carrying refugees and asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean to dock at Italian ports.
Over the past five years, more than 600,000 refugees reached Italy by risking their lives on board rickety boats in the sea. Some 500,000 of them are still staying in the country.