Sicily, Italy. The first Euro-Arab youth conference opened last 26 July 2010, in southern Sicily with the presence of approximately 120 participants coming from over 65 European and Arab countries. The conference was organized by the Council of Europe and the League of Arab States, in close partnership with the Forum Nazionale Giovani, the European Youth Forum and the Tunisian Union of youth organizations.
On July 25th participants arrived to Sicily after a long day trip from Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia, where they have been participating to the third Euro Arab Coordination Meeting for Youth Organizations (III EACMYO) and a seminar on the role of youth organizations in fostering the intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding.
The 10 hours trip from Tunis to Sicily ended when the ship landed in the port of Palermo, from where the participants have been transferred to Ragusa by bus. Fully part of the conference, the trip between the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea connected the southest European city to the Maghreb region.
Recently Sicily became one of the three gates to Europe – with Spain and Greece – used by the illigal immigrants coming from the Subsaharian countries. Motivated by this situation, the trip assumed a symbolic mean due the migration phenomenon that interests the island.
Arab Youth Conference took place in the castle of Donnafugata, in the province of Ragusa, Sicily. The idea of the conference was to discuss about the migrant issue and make a forwarder step in the cooperation between people and institutions of the Mediterranean area with the help of tens of workshops (visa, migrants, migration and climate change, world conflicts, etc) about the different motivation that could push people to migrate from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe.
The workshops were leaded by a group of young European and Arabs people came to Sicily on July 20th, a week earlier than the group coming from Tunis. The group have been trained by a few experts coming from Italy, Egypt and Poland, to organize a workshop, to deal with the participants cultural differences, to help young people to express their potentiality.
The conference was also an opportunity for Sicily and its possibility to be a real bridge between the two banks of the Mediterranean Sea. During the conference typical Sicilian dishes and products have been presented. The conference participants had also the possibility to meet the Sicilian-Italian candidate of the Peace Nobel Prize, Mr. Bruno Ficili who have been working on the Mediterranean peace and cooperation between countries.
Mr. Rui Gomes, Head of Education and Training Unit of the Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe said: “I came to Europe illegally to work illegally. I have been a migrant and now I am lucky to be in a conference where we discuss this topic. This town (Ragusa) represents our Mare Nostrum and here, now, we are participants and not spectators of an historical process that started ten years ago. We have the unique possibility to know the real meaning of Euro-Arab relations”.
“This topic is based on people and human beings – he continued – and the dialogue and cooperation are preferable than hate. Even if sometimes politicians spends themselves for fears, we have to spend ourselves for bridges of tolerance because all of us will gain and benefit for being together”.
“Discrimination has not place in Europe and should not have space also in our Mare Nostrum. Taking part to this process is also a respect for the fundamental values of diversity and equality because if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. For this reason the Council of Europe (CoE), that promotes democracy, the role of law and human rights, wants to develop the young people autonomy to make them improve the areas where they live. It is very easy to be pessimistic – he stated – which brings people to build walls, instead to break them down”.
The conference was attended also by Mr Khaled Louhichi, Director of the Polulation Policy and Migration Department of the League of Arab States. During the opening ceremony he said to be happy to be in Sicily, one of the most beautiful Mediterranean city famous for its culture and history.
He said that “after the first meeting in Tunis, where we launched the Euro-Arab Conference, Sicily will be the place where young people from Europe and MENA countries will express their ideas and solution to improve the cooperation”. He added that “this conference will be an amazing occasion for the Mediterranean countries because the high quality backgrounds and experiences of the participants will let them realize a real political statement with ideas and suggestions to improve the quality of life in the Mare Nostrum”.
The Sicilian candidate for the Peace Nobel Price, Mr. Bruno Ficili – who also invited all the participants to the town of Scicli, UNESCO world heritage site – said: “I am working to spread peace in the world since 30 years. I am trying to spread a message of peace in all the Mediterranean countries, and it is an important to spread this message to you because you represent countries all around Europe and the Arab region. I am convinced that nationalism, war and racism have their origin in the spirit of men. For this reason I am convinced – he said – that it’s this the right place (man’s soul) where we have to build the borders against racism and watch the others as friends and brother, and not as enemies”.