Italy & The European Migrant Crisis

The Politics of Immigration in Italy and Europe

Quibbl explains where the European migrant crisis starts and asks what might happen next

By Nora Jaquemet with Ben Purcell
Images depict the tragic realities of the migrant crisis

From a US travel ban to an EU summit in Paris, effects of the European migrant crisis are felt all over the world, but the movement of refugees from Africa (primarily the West African countries of Nigeria, Guinea and Ivory Coast) and the Middle East (primarily Syria and Afghanistan) begins in Italy, which receives about 85% of all migrants arriving in Europe.

The migrant route to Italy

  • Fleeing poverty-stricken, war-torn home countries, migrants seeking better circumstances in Europe move first to Libya, the North African country where smugglers are paid to take them by boat across the Mediterranean Sea to the nearest European ports in Italy. So far this year, over 94,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea, many rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and other aid organizations from sinking smuggler ships. According to Amnesty International, more than 2,000 have died along the route to Europe in 2017 alone.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, will the total number of refugees arriving in Italy be greater for 2016 or 2017? Quibbl here.

  • Italy’s position as the gateway to Europe is due to several factors. The UN pays the Turkish government to limit the flow of migrants from Libya to Greece along an Eastern Mediterranean route. While more migrants than ever are arriving on the coast of Spain, their Western Mediterranean route is certain to come under increased scrutiny in the aftermath of recent terror attacks in Barcelona. A consolidated effort on the part of the EU and the Italian and Libyan governments to reduce the number migrants ferried across by NGOs may be working, but some have warned against a strategy that leans on a Libyan crackdown.
  • Once in Italy, EU immigration laws make it possible for migrants to cross the border into other European nations. Individual countries have autonomy to decide how many migrants to take; Germany takes in the most asylum seekers.

Italian political fallout

  • Italy’s current prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is a member of the left-wing Democratic Party. Gentiloni took power after previous prime minister and fellow party member Matteo Renzi stepped down in the aftermath of a referendum defeat considered a victory for Italian nationalist parties. Gentiloni, Renzi and their party have historically held pro-immigration viewpoints, including supporting humanitarian aid for migrants.

According to the next Ipsos poll, which Italian party will hold the lead? Quibbl here.

  • In late June, the center-right parties Forza Italia and Northern League won several local elections, including the mayoral race in the Democratic Party stronghold of Genoa, a major coastal city and the country’s largest port. Nationally, both the 5-Star Movement, a left-wing Euroskeptic party, and former right-wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi are surging in popularity. The social and economic strains of the migrant crisis are identified as the main reason the public is turning toward anti-immigration parties and policies.

Will Italy grant citizenship to the children of immigrants before the end of September? Quibbl here.

By the end of August, will Italy deploy warships in Libyan waters to limit boats carrying refugees? Quibbl here.

The EU Response

  • The changing Italian political landscape is a microcosm of a Europe-wide increase in support for anti-immigration parties. Britain’s summer 2016 vote to leave the European Union and the runner-up finish for anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen in the recent French presidential election both frame the migrant crisis within a larger picture of rising European populism on both the right and the left.
  • While immigration is an issue throughout European Union, Italy bears the brunt of the social and economic strain. The European Commission recently promised Italy 35 million Euros to help deal with the crisis, but that figure is only a fraction of the costs the country incurs as it struggles through an already-stagnant economy. Calls from Italy to the rest of Europe for more aid are expected to continue.

Will the EU provide Italy with additional funding before November? Quibbl here.

  • If the current government’s use of warships is successful in closing access to Italian ports, the migrant crisis may shift to Libya, a country reluctant to be tasked with solving a social and financial problem that Italy and the EU could not.

What will happen next?

It’s safe to say Europe isn’t on the same page when it comes to solving this problem. The Pope’s recent proclamation from Rome that migrants’ rights should trump national security concerns barely made it over the Vatican walls before being dismissed by anti-immigration factions in Italy.

Of course, the uncertainty and tension stretches beyond Italy. In the aftermath of the recent terror attacks in Spain, Poland intends to stop all Muslim immigration. Nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen next, but the answers to the quibbls above will make a difference. 

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