By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed discussed the issue of migration with focus on burden sharing, according to Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.
Conte arrived in Addis Ababa on Thursday and met with Ahmed and other top officials with whom he discussed ways to deepen bilateral relations in trade and investment and on how to enhance cooperation in the issue of migration.
The Italian prime minister will head to the Red Sea nation of Eritrea later on Friday with migration topping the agenda.
Italy has recently toughened its stance on migration and Conte's visit to Ethiopia and Eritrea is largely seen as a move to convince and support the source countries in a bid to keep migrants at bay.
The three Horn of Africa countries – Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea — top the list of African countries from where migrants set off perilous journeys to Europe via the Mediterranean.
However, Meles Alem, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, told Anadolu Agency that discussion mainly focused on the big contribution Ethiopia plays in hosting refugees from neighboring countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, among others.
"Ethiopia hosts more than one million refugees," Meles noted.
According to Meles, the Italian prime minister applauded Ethiopia’s open-door policy for migrants and refugees.
– Refugee exodus
Ethiopia and Eritrea began a successful fast-paced diplomatic thaw after Ahmed came to power and extended an olive branch to Eritrea’s Issaias Afeworki as one of his comprehensive reform measures.
The two countries then opened embassies in each other’s country and on Sept. 12 the two leaders opened the border for free movement of goods and people.
Kisut Gebregziabher, UNHCR spokesman, told Anadolu Agency that between Sept. 12 and Oct. 2 more than 9,000 Eritreans crossed the border, seeking asylum in Ethiopia.
“Prior to the opening of border, an average of 53 Eritreans used to cross the border to enter Ethiopia on daily basis. Now that figure went up to 390 persons per day,” Kisut said.
“We are overwhelmed,” he said, adding the situation forced UNHCR to expand the camp at the Aba Guna entry point.