'Youth and Med' conference promotes 'engaged dialogue'

Alessandro Azzoni introducing the conference

 ROME -- A New-Med conference on ‘Youth and the Mediterranean’ was held Thursday at the capital’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with eight young scholars from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) discussing topics such as climate change, radicalisation, state-society relations and migration.

 The conference ‘Youth and the Mediterranean: Exploring New Approaches to Dialogue and Cooperation,’ was organised under the auspices of the Italian Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mediterranean Contact Group.

 Its aim was to promote dialogue within and about the Mediterranean -- “a region defined by conflict,” said one of the introductory speakers Alessandro Azzoni, the Permanent Mission of Italy to the OSCE.

 “A new dialogue is needed,” said Azzoni. “Youth is where we should find answers, not only questions -- we are fed up of hearing of youth as a source of problems. Young people make up 60 percent of the Mediterranean’s population and is the largest growing section, so we should put youth perspectives at the centre of the dialogue and promote empowerment and engagement. This is key for security, peace and freedom.”

 “These young participants are here because of the future they have imagined for their region,” continued Azzoni. The young scholars from international universities were selected through a rigorous application process and were paired with a number of experts in their different fields to encourage new ideas and approaches on dialogue and cooperation in the Mediterranean region.

 The day was split up into four sessions, each led by a different Chair and two scholars -- “Environmental Challenges and Climate Change,” “Citizenship and the Weakening of the State System,” “Radicalisation and the ISIS Threat,” and “Migration and the Refugees Crisis.”

 This opening session focused on two key themes associated with the risks of climate change and environmental degradation -- water scarcity and the politics of water management, and food and nutrition security in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (the MENA region is considered the most food insecure in the world).

 The second session addressed some of the root drivers for state fragility in the MENA region, with a particular focus on the role of gender and youth in pushing for a renegotiation of the social contract based on a new vision of inclusive citizenship and equality before the law. 

 The penultimate session addressed the ISIS phenomenon from the standpoint of the youth in the MENA, analysing the narratives accompanying the rise of ISIS and means to counter the spread and appeal of its radical ideology. The panellists addressed the tribal, youth and gender dimensions of these issues, focussing in particular on Kurdish female fighters battling ISIS and the role of tribal and youth-based policies in Iraq.

 The final session focused on the different dimensions of the refugee crisis, analysing potential policy options capable of alleviating this growing burden on host countries. Panellists reflected on the prevailing characterization of refugees and migrants as a threat to their host countries and examined whether and to what extent innovative policy approaches may transform the issue of migration and refugees into an opportunity for MENA countries in the economic and social domain.