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Migration and asylum in a Mediterranean Country: the Italian case
   
 
 
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Migration and asylum in a Mediterranean Country: the Italian case

 
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 15:31
 
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by Antonio Ricci*
EPOS Insights

 

Historical background

During the 70s Italy shifted from being a country of emigration to being a country of immigration and since the 90s in a land of asylum. Currently, there are 5 million immigrants residing in Italy and half a million of asylum applications were submitted from the end of the WWII to the present.

Italy, because of its specific geographical location, as well as being a necessary step to reach other European countries, over time has become a territory of destination for migrants arriving by the sea, without any authorization and using makeshift equipments that expose them to serious life threats. A real "useless massacre" which in 25 years has led to the deaths of more than 20 thousand people in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean sea. This year, in the first 8 months of 2014, the people died crossing the sea were approximately 2,000 (August 2014 estimate update): in the same period the landings were more than 100,000, while in the previous 15 years were over half a million (see: IDOS-UNAR, Dossier Statistico Immigrazione 2014, Rome, 2014): a number that cannot justify any political and media manipulation.

They are "mixed flows", composed mostly of asylum seekers but also of non authorized economic migrants. Because of these arrivals the national concern has been focused not only on public safety issues but also on the humanitarian aspects and on the fundamental rights of the people involved as well as on the exploitation they are subject (in terms of smuggling and trafficking), that the national and the EU regulations are not always able to counter effectively. The public debate is extremely complex and problematic and not always there is an agreement with the actions undertaken by the government to stop the irregular flows.

Periods of greater openness (in the past) have been followed by periods of increasing closure (nowadays). In more than twenty years there was a shift from a policy of relative openness (1998) to the maintaining of the same but strengthened by several measures aimed to a more rigorous approach (2002). It is then followed the escalation represented by the "security package", inspired by a "zero tolerance" approach (2009) and, ultimately, an attempt to mitigate some of the repressive measures following the decisions of the European Court of Justice and the Italian Constitutional Court (2011). Given the huge increase of landings in 2014 (in 4 cases out of 5 in Italy), the fact that the European Union has praised Italy for the assistance provided, without the adoption of any further supporting measure, has increased the closure of the Italians, leading them to believe that their country has endured an exaggerated load and to blame the effects of the Dublin III Regulation.


Deficiencies at the Italian and the EU level

Scholars and experts’ analyses about the phenomenon of mobility have pointed out that:

1. For the most part asylum seekers have settled in countries (much poorer than EU countries) bordering areas of conflict (see: United Nations, Trends in International Migrant Stock: the 2013 Revision, New York, 2013).

2. In most cases, those who come to the EU are not "fake refugees" looking for economic and social benefits (for instance, in Italy the majority is granted a status of protection as they effectively come from areas of conflict and persecution; see: Migration Policy Centre, Is what we hear about migration really true? Questioning eight stereotypes, European University Institute, Florence, 2014).

3. At the EU level there is clear process of "re-nationalization" of migration and asylum policies, ignoring the discourse initiated by Italy on the "burden-sharing", as regard the patrol of the common borders, the rescue activities and the implementation of a European resettlement plan of the people arriving by sea, so that not leaving Italy alone in front of this "unwanted migration" (see: Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rapporto sulla politica estera italiana 2014, Rome, 2014, pp. 58-61).

4. In any case, the expected development of events in the African continent and in the Middle East leads us to believe that the current EU regulations cannot be considered entirely adequate.


 

The demand for a greater EU intervention does not avoid to recognize the deficiencies found in Italy. The law enforcement action undertaken in recent years by the Italian government has stepped up the coastal patrols (especially thanks to "Mare Nostrum" mission launched in October 2013), the rejections, the expulsions and the signature of bilateral agreements for the repatriation of irregular migrants, without prejudice to the commitment of protecting in the due manner asylum applicants and persons seeking for humanitarian protection.

In this regard, as well known, there has been heated criticism, for example in the case of the secret agreement with the Libyan regime in 2008 and of the practice of rejections at sea, condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment on the “Hirsi case” of 23 February 2012; some difficulties of access to the asylum system have been also highlighted for those who - despite having potentially the right - have failed to reach the Italian territory. At the background there are the economic poverty of the countries of origin and their political instability, that inevitably lead to fundamental rights deficiencies.

The situation in the reception facilities (CARA) has not been satisfactory and sometimes the contractors have proved totally inadequate. The reception system implemented after landing, despite having made ??sensible steps forward, was not completely freed from an emergency and expensive approach, which limits its effectiveness, not ensuring that everyone has access to the second level reception facilities (SPRAR).

The need for a more fair use of resources also affects the EU, which in 2007-2013 has spent 1,8 billion euro to protect the borders (purchasing new equipments and technological infrastructures) and just 700 millions euro to improve procedures, reception services and integration policies regarding asylum seekers (Amnesty International, The human cost of fortress Europe, London, 2014, p. 9).

As regards Italy it is important to point out the effects of the global crisis: the annual “entry quotas” of foreign workers fell from 520,000 in 2006 to a few thousand (mainly on a seasonal basis) in 2013 and 2014; the residence permits were not renewed to many non-EU citizens previously legally residing (262,688 in 2011, 166,321 in 2012 and 145,670 in 2013); finally, in a context of austerity measures imposed to the Italian population in terms of pensions, taxation, social benefits and economic expenditures, the EU is now expected to allocate tasks suited to the actual national limits.

 

An all-encompassing conclusion

It must be recognized that the expected exodus from Africa will require more funds and more adequate regulations at the EU level, insisting on agreements with countries of origin, on the public awareness and on the rationalization of the existing provisions (costs of facilities, decent level of reception, length of stay), avoiding that the restrictive law enforcement measures are the only topic on which it is possible to reach an agreement at the EU level: this, as blamed by Pope Francesco in Lampedusa in July 2013, would be in fact the enforcement of the "globalization of indifference".

A final consideration. The fact that asylum constitutes a specific aspect of the phenomenon of mobility not justifies treating it separately from the rest of migration policies. Refugees and migrants, once accepted, will be the "new citizens". IDOS Research and Study Centre, with the support of public bodies (Ministry of Labour and Union of Commerce Chambers), professional organizations (National Confederation of Crafts and SMEs) and financial institutions (Money Gram), has recently produced a report on entrepreneurship of immigrants and refugees to show their positive contribution also in this field and the tendency to consider them always in a negative way.

 

* PhD in Political Science. Senior researcher and founder of IDOS Study and Research Centre. From May 2004 to March 2014 he was the national project manager within the European Migration Network, a Europe-wide network set up by the European Commission. He has edited several books on migration and asylum, among which: "Polonia nuovo paese di frontiera. Da migranti a comunitari" / Poland new border Country. From migrants to EU citizens (book in Italian), IDOS, Roma, 2006; "Immigrati e sicurezza sociale: il caso italiano" / Migration and social security: the Italian case (bilingual edition), IDOS, Roma, 2014 ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy


Last modified on Wednesday, 10 September 2014 16:11
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