Africa's Sahel region - a terrorism and migration hub - has "strategic value" for Italy and is one of Europe's de facto southern borders, according to foreign minister Luigi Di Maio..
"The Sahel has acquired strategic value for Italy and now truly is one of Europe's southern borders," Di Maio said during a visit to Niger's capital, Niamey, on Sunday.
"It is here that many of the challenges faced by our African partners intersect: terrorism, climate change, migration, organised crime, and economic recovery after the (Coronavirus) pandemic," Di Maio said.
Di Maio was addressing members of Italy's military contingent in Niger, where up to 470 soldiers are deployed to combat migration and migrant trafficking to Europe and to help guarantee security in the area.
During his visit to Niamey, Di Maio was due to hold talks with president Mohamed Bazoum, premier Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, foreign minister Hassoumi Massoudou and interior minister Alkache Alhada as well as local officials from the UN refugee agency, according to the foreign ministry.
Strengthening cooperation on migration issues and consolidating bilateral relations were the main focus of Wednesday's talks, said a foreign ministry statement.
The Niger visit was Di Maio's second to sub-Saharan Africa after he travelled to Mali's capital Bamako last month.