by Yiğit Saner
2021 saw a large increase in immigration waves to Europe due to political / military developments and the aftermath of the pandemic.
For months now we have been witnessing the tragic migrant crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland. And from November to today, the situation has not seen much progress and the lives of thousands of people continue to hang in the balance in harsh conditions. Poland does not seem to be willing to give in on the migrant issue. In fact, the Warsaw government has announced that the construction of a border wall will begin in the coming months. The work will be completed in the first half of 2022. According to the Polish Minister of the Interior, Mariusz Kaminski, it is “an absolutely strategic and priority investment for the security of the nation and its citizens”.
The wall has an estimated cost of € 353 million and is expected to stretch 180 kilometers, about half the total length of the Polish-Belarus border. In October 2021, the parliament gave its green light to the construction to “permanently” stop immigration via Belarus.
The “warm” waters of the Mediterranean
While attention remains high about the migrant crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus, on the other side of Europe, more precisely in Italy, another great wave of migrants arrives.
According to the statistics published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 62,941 migrants landed in Italy up to 19 December 2021, almost double compared to the same date in 2020 and six times as many as those arrived in 2019.
In November 2021 alone, over 9,000 people arrived, double that of November 2020 and also growing compared to September, October 2021. Among the countries of origin in the first eleven months of 2021, the main one is Tunisia (about 15,000 people, 24% of arrivals), followed by Egypt (7,800 people), Bangladesh, Iran, Ivory Coast, Iraq, Guinea, Morocco, Eritrea, and Syria.
In recent months, there has been a strong increase in arrivals of Egyptians, which have surpassed those from Bangladesh.
As for the gender and age of the people disembarked, 74% of the people arriving on the Italian coasts in 2021 are male, 7% women, and – mostly unaccompanied – 19% minors.
Concerning the arrivals through the Mediterranean area, in the first eleven months of 2021 about 113,000 migrants arrived in Europe, compared to 80.000 in the same period of 2020.
As for the landings, pushbacks, shipwrecks and deaths, there is no good news: Just two weeks ago about 163 migrants drowned in two separate shipwrecks off the coast of Libya.
“At least 163 migrants lost their lives this weekend off the coast of Libya: 102 missing off the coast of Surman, 61 bodies recovered off the coast of Sabratha”, wrote the spokesman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Flavio Di Giacomo with a post on Twitter.
The first shipwreck happened on Friday 17 December, while the second on Saturday 18; precisely the date on which the International Migrants Day is celebrated every year. On the same day on Saturday, the Libyan coast guard also intercepted a third boat with at least 210 migrants on board. This is just the latest in a series of tragedies that have occurred in the central Mediterranean for years. The death toll along this route – considered the most dangerous in the world – rises to around 1,600 victims in 2021, which is a number certainly below true level, because it only includes the deaths we know of. The number of deaths would have been much higher without the commitment of humanitarian ships (NGO ships) in the Mediterranean Sea. In November alone, over two thousand people were rescued at sea.
Nonetheless, NGOs have a marginal role in terms of landings in Italy with less than 15% of the total landings. And this in practice means that almost 9 out of 10 migrants reach the Italian coasts without the help of NGO boats and that, therefore, even without NGOs at sea these people would still have arrived in Italy. https://www.repubblica.it/solidarieta/emergenza/2021/11/26/news/canale_della_manica-327895719/
The point of view of the Italian government
While immigration flows to the peninsula are increasing, the Italian government requires greater European participation as regards migration issues. “Even in recent days there have been rescue interventions at sea, NGO ships loaded with migrants: it is right to save these people, it is unfair that only one country, ours, is responsible for them, only because of the first landing”. This was stated by the Minister of the Interior, Luciana Lamorgese, speaking at the Interior Ministry at the signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding that allows the arrival in Italy of 1,200 Afghans in need of international protection through humanitarian corridors.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the Rome Med-Mediterranean Dialogues conference maintained the line of his much-criticized Minister Lamorgese, calling into question a more supportive, more responsible and more participatory Europe: “We think of the flows of migrants arriving on our shores, and which very often originate far from the sea. We cannot control migratory movements alone, which have numbered 63,000 arrivals since the beginning of this year, six times as many as in 2019. We need a greater involvement of all European countries, including in the Mediterranean. Italy continues to promote a European advance towards collective management, based on an effective balance between responsibility and solidarity”.
Let us now see which other points the Italian government questions concerning the hot topic of immigration. Lamorgese, again at the signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding, underlined: “It is right to save these people. It is unfair that only one country, ours, is responsible for them, just because it is the first place to land. It is also unfair because we are in a pandemic and we have organizational difficulties. I have always talked about this with the European Commissioner Ylva Johansson and I will do it again in these days. Greater participation of European countries is needed for a just redistribution of migrants. A redistribution not only of men but a redistribution of responsibility according to a principle of solidarity which should be the cardinal principle on which Europe was formed. If these common ideals do not exist, it is bad for Europe itself”.
“This summer military planes brought about 5,000 Afghans to Italy. Today we signed the memorandum of understanding to get another 1,200 and I hope that, with everyone’s commitment, we will reach two thousand. In a recent international meeting I noticed that not all European countries have this propensity to welcome, to respect human rights. Europe is not always present, not everyone agreed with hospitality, they said ‘let’s give resources but at home’”, added the Minister of the Interior complaining about Europe’s lack of participation in the matter of migrants.
In the article titled “Migrants, the betrayal of Europe”, the newspaper La Repubblica severely criticizes the attitude of Europe on the redistribution of migrants: “The loneliness into which Italy has plunged back is all in one number: 97. This is the number of migrants Italy has managed to redistribute in Europe, of the 50,000 arrivals registered by the abacus of the Interior Ministry in the last seven months, from April to today. Nothingness. The Easo, European Asylum Support Office, is desperately trying to continue to do its part. And, by the end of November, it promises to make concrete the departure for Germany of a small group of migrants. But these are people who arrived in Italy months and months ago, migrants that Berlin had committed to welcome at the time but who remained in the Italian centers”. The centers – again according to La Repubblica – are mostly reduced to dormitories and the reception system is in collapse.
The statistical dashboard published by the Italian Ministry of the Interior shows that as of 15 December 2021 the migrants hosted in the reception system are 78,001 of which 101 in the hotspots, 52,185 in first reception facilities (Cas and Cara) and 25,715 in the centers of Sai (Reception and integration system).
The consequences of the pandemic and the increasing migratory flows have taken European reception and asylum systems by surprise, revealing their vulnerabilities and highlighting the dramatic urgency of a common asylum system. After all, in Italy as well as in most of Europe the reception operating systems work on the basis of the “emergency” model.
This situation made the impact of the pandemic on migrants much worse than it could have been, with serious shortcomings on the public health and human rights fronts. The closure of borders and travel restrictions during the pandemic have led to the suspension of travel procedures between EU countries, in return forcing for many months people to return to situations where they fear persecution or torture. This happened in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
Meanwhile, 12 European Union countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia) have asked to modify the Schengen border code to allow states to erect “physical barriers” to protect the external borders of the EU.
Some founding countries are missing in the list, but it is not limited to the four of the Visegrad group (V4 is a political and cultural alliance in which Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary take part. Relations between the Visegrad Group and Brussels in recent years have been strained due to issues such as immigration and European integration).
In the letter of request from the signatory countries it is noted that the measure in question should be financed in an additional and adequate way through the EU budget “as an urgent matter“.
The EU Commission does not like the proposal too much, due to persistent divisions between Member States over the proposal. However, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson was open to and understanding the reasons of the 12: “We really need to strengthen the protection of the EU’s external borders. Some Member States build barriers and I understand them. I have nothing against it. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to use EU funds”.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen promptly replied to the requesting countries, disappointing them: “I was very clear that there is a longstanding view in the European Commission and in the European Parliament that there will be no funding of barbed wire and walls.”
The Lamorgese proposal
The Italian Minister of the Interior does not agree at all with the proposal made by 12 member countries: Lamorgese is convinced that the hypothesis of creating anti-migrant walls “raises concern”.
Alternatively, on the sidelines of the Internal Affairs Council in Brussels, Luciana Lamorgese spoke of a system of relocation of migrants on a “voluntary” basis, with the participation of available countries, while studying a system of “penalties” for those calling out. In addition, she insists that agreements be made with the countries of origin, in order to prevent departures: “We have two principles, one is the voluntary redistribution of migrants, because there will always be countries like those of Visegrad that will not participate. We will also have to think, with the Commission, about what will be possible penalties and start a relocation plan with those countries that have already participated at the time of the Malta agreement. (…) We are on this line, just as we are on the line of strong partnerships with third countries, because it is very important that resources reach countries that are in difficulty so that the country’s economy can recover: we must work to prevent departures afterwards, we only need to work for the rescue. And then for the relocations with other countries”.
Right-wing opposition and Draghi’s conclusions
On the minefield of immigration, the balance of the majority is increasingly precarious and the attacks of the opposition are becoming much more daring. The right wing is not only concerned about the direction taken by Lamorgese in the immigration field but also about the management of relevant issues such as illegal raves and demonstrations during the pandemic. Fighting in the frontline are the Lega Nord (Northern League) of the majority and the Fratelli di Italia (Brothers of Italy) of the opposition, ready to do battle.
The Fratelli di Italia moves to attempt a change in the Ministry of the Interior. Giorgia Meloni’s party has begun collecting signatures in September to present the motion of no confidence to Luciana Lamorgese. And last month, the leader of the most popular opposition party, Giorgia Meloni, made it known on Facebook that “Over 150 thousand Italians have already signed up to support our motion of no confidence in the interior minister. Citizens are tired of suffering the inability of Lamorgese,#SfiduciamoLamorgese”, restarting the petition asking the parliamentarians to sign the motion of no confidence against the minister.
On the issue of the management of migrants by Lamorgese, Meloni had expressed her disfavoring opinion several times: “The landings continue under the indifferent eyes of the Minister of the Interior. With her management, Italy is a safe haven for illegal immigrants, but an insecure place for Italians”.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega Nord, from summer 2021 until today, continues to harshly attack the minister Lamorgese in matters of immigration: “Without prejudice to the Afghanistan tragedy, up to now almost 40 thousand irregular immigrants have entered Italy by sea alone, by Spanish, German and Norwegian ships that did not take them to France, Greece or Malta but to here. It seems to me that this is a security risk, but also a health risk. If we add to this that in Africa the number of vaccinated people is equal to 2 per cent.” – “Italians do not need dozens of migrants who enter Italy to steal, commit crime and rape as happened in Milan. There is a situation of generalized insecurity in the country”.
But Salvini neither asks for Lamorgese’s resignation nor he thinks to vote the no-confidence motion presented by the Fratelli di Italia towards the Minister of the Interior. According to widespread opinion, the leader of the Lega wants Premier Draghi to ask for Lamorgese’s resignation: “Lamorgese should control who enters and who leaves the country”. He then adds: “I am convinced that the Prime Minister, from this point of view, is as dissatisfied as I am, like the Lega and the great majority of Italians”.
And regarding Prime Minister Mario Draghi, he says: “He is a man of numbers, and the numbers say that in 2019 the landings were 11,000, in 2020 35,000, and this year 63,000. There is something that is not working”, recalled Matteo Salvini.
But Draghi does not seem to share Salvini’s complaints against the Minister of the Interior. The premier personally participated in all the decisions taken by Lamorgese on immigration matters.
On October 20, the Prime Minister during his speech in Parliament clarified the orientation of his government on immigration: “As far as migration is concerned, Italy had promoted a discussion on the issue at the June European Council, with the aim of encouraging a truly European management of flows. On this last aspect, Europe should commit itself more, following, for example, the model of the so-called humanitarian corridors. (…) It is essential that the European Commission present clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes in the Mediterranean, including the southern one. These plans will then be rapidly implemented. The European Union must also lend attention to the specific nature of the maritime borders and the effective political stability of Libya and Tunisia”.
Towards the end of his speech Draghi added, “The government’s approach can only be balanced, effective and humane. It must be effective in two ways, in protecting national borders from illegal immigration and immigration trafficking, but also effective in welcoming. To transform migrants into brothers it is necessary to know how to welcome them, well and with a sense of the importance of being Italian. Otherwise we will not be able to welcome them and we will make enemies of them. And we have already made enemies”.
Rome wants clear plans and humanitarian corridors. The European Union must implement the commitments made in June 2021. And Italy must continue saving human lives at sea on the Mediterranean route.