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Unceasing immigrant emergency darkening Italy's shores PDF Print E-mail
May 04, 2014 at 02:52 PM

Image Close to 5,000 immigrants have landed on southern Italian shores this past week alone in an unceasing and growing exodus that is likely to soon prove unmanageable. Since January of this year, something like 25,000 asylum-seekers have been rescued and brought into Italian refugee camps. And recent reports say that some 800.000 people are currently amassed in the failed state of Libya hoping to sail towards Europe, which generally means Italy or, in fewer cases, Spain.

On Friday alone, an Italian navy vessel rescued some 1200 people (including more than two dozen children) brought from North Africa by unscrupulous people-traffickers who abandon them in international waters before escaping to load up with more badly-informed people who think they will find a happy life here.

Since last October, when 400 would-be immigrants drowned off the Italian coast, the Italian government has adopted a controversial (and expensive) policy of rescue operations. The Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue teams are navy ships which transfer the travelers from their unsafe craft and bring them into shore where they are processed and, unless they escape, are moved into overcrowded and not always sanitary "welcome" camps.

Image Totally commendable from a humanitarian point of view, the policy is coming under attack from some right-wing Italian political parties who say (and they do have a point), that with millions of Italians already unemployed the country has little to offer. With its refugee system already on the brink of collapse, the Italian government has repeatedly appealed to the EU for help in coping with the emergency. The fact is that many of the refugees, who seem to come primarily from Eritrea, Mali, Ghana, Belize, Niger, Sudan, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, are not particularly seeking a new life in Italy, which is simply the closest landing point. Last year, some 40,000 boat people reportedly arrived in Italy, nearing 2011's record levels of 62,000 migrants, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said earlier this month. He added that 200 human traffickers have been caught in flagrante and arrested but this does not seem to have had much affect,

The arrivals have been going on for several years now, increasing in spring and summer when weather conditions make ocean travel easier. In the past, the immigrants were primarily people from poorer countries seeking a better life and if they had documents they could be - and sometimes were - sent back home. Now many of those arriving are fleeing war and rioting in countries such as Libra, Syria and elsewhere and there is nowhere to send them back to.

IImage taly's anti-immigrant party, the Northern League, says the Mare Nostrum policy only encourages migrants to risk their lives in unsafe craft and cross the Mediterranean and may hearten the traffickers as well. Party leader Matteo Salvini says the waves of immigrants represent an "invasion" of Italian shores and has called on political allies across Europe to join the League in fighting "mass immigration" in the lead-up to May's European Parliament elections.

In the past, Italy had succeeded in stemming some of the immigrant flow with an aggressive and controversial "push-back" policy, since discontinued. Years earlier, immigration by Albania boat people was successfully contained by investment in Albania designed to improve the local economy and convince people to stay at home. Some people feel this is what Europe should be doing with poor African countries.
In the meantime, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Italy must have more financial help. and has urged European Union members to work together on solutions to the migrant situation, which is expected to worsen.

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