Italy’s Migrant Crisis: A Burgeoning Disaster

Of all the countries in Europe to be affected by the migrant crisis, Italy has been left with the brunt of the burden. In the past four years, over half a million people have landed on the Italian coast, and this number does not include those who have come by foot or by plane. This year alone, more than 95 000 migrants have crossed over into Italy, and the government is finally feeling the strain.

Europe’s disunity has only furthered Italy’s suffering. When EU member states closed their doors, there was no option for Italy to follow suit, due to simple geography. Italy’s shores are some of the closest to North Africa. Despite this crisis being transnational in nature, Italy has been left alone by Europe to fend for itself.

The main migrant routes begin in Libya, so Italy has been communicating with the Libyan government, discussing how Italy can best allocate its limited resources to alleviate the situation. Since the Arab Spring and the death of former dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya has been unstable, and “the absence of a single government […] has allowed human traffickers to work with impunity.” Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj has come out and directly asked for Italy’s aid in stopping the traffickers, who are emboldened and “exploited by political populists.” The Italian government has made several attempts to strengthen and “improve the capability of the Libyan Coast Guard” and to “discourage several nongovernmental organizations from operating migrant rescue boats off the Libyan coast.” As well as training the Libyan Coastguard, Italy has launched several of its own naval ships in order to intercept boats carrying migrants. Italy is now treating the boat landings as national emergencies, and has asked the European Commission to “revise the bloc’s asylum procedures and consider the possibility of blocking boats without Italian flags from docking in Italy.” Besides addressing the immediate situation within Italy’s borders, Italy also “sought to stem the flow at the source of the migration.” This boils down to focussing on development in African nations to discourage people from making the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean in the first place.

Since mid-July, this tactic seemed to be working. In only one month, Italy received just over 4000 migrants, a mere fraction of the numbers seen in June. However, this lull in migration is not thought to last long. While strategies to strengthen the Libyan Coastguard have been effective, there is little hope that it will be enough to put a full stop to the independent militias and smugglers that profit so much from the trafficking trade.

The migrant crisis has “inflamed one of the most divisive debates in Italian politics.” It will no doubt be the deciding factor in the country’s next election. It has driven a wedge between Italy and the European Union and invigorated right-wing politics and nationalist sentiment. The reality is that a migration influx, especially one this big and far-reaching, strains a nation’s resources, and puts unwanted pressure on their government. The ugly truth is that we are all in support of migration and refugee acceptance, until it starts to affect us close to home and interrupt our daily routine. Many countries in Europe have been quick to admit their reluctance and refusal to accept new refugees and migrants. Hungary, Austria, Poland, and France have all been explicit in their unwillingness to accept asylum-seekers.

But anti-immigration sentiment has been on the rise, and its effects are being felt all over the world. In Italy, it is the Eurosceptic, populist Five Star Movement that is gaining momentum. In Poland, the far-right party Law and Justice hold the power. Even Canada has its own far-right groups, with attention being given now to Quebec’s La Meute. La Meute is known for its stance against radical Islamism and illegal immigration. The group has been most active in recent weeks and has even engaged in violent clashes with counter-protesters and police. They protest against the recent increase in illegal immigration and arrival of asylum-seekers from the U.S. Almost 7000 migrants, many of whom are Haitian, have crossed the Canadian border since the beginning of July. The increase in immigration comes mainly as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s overtly idealistic tone following his election. Trudeau ran on a platform that promoted openness and tolerance, and followed through on his promise to welcome 25 000 Syrian refugees. Especially with the political climate south of the border bearing such an intolerant tone, it is no wonder that the highly publicized acceptance of over 40 000 Syrian refugees and overall optimism of the Trudeau government would compel people to cross over the Canadian border in hopes of a better life.

But just as Justin Trudeau was forced to come out and reset the tone, in order to dispel any overly romanticized notions people have of starting a new life in Canada, so too has Europe lost interest in opening its doors. As a result, Italy has been left to deal with the migrant crisis on its own.

While the migrant crisis has pushed countries to their limits, by using up national resources and disturbing the status quo, there is no good reason for Italy to be left to fend for itself. The current crisis requires Europe to come together and address this issue in unison. Geography should not be the deciding factor in which country gets left to deal with such a difficult and massive crisis. Not only is it unjust to the country, but also to the migrants themselves, who are often treated in inhumane and careless ways. A global crisis requires global outreach. Unfortunately, the world stands divided on this issue, and those who are losing out are the ones who have already been stripped of all their worldly possessions and are now forced to give up their dignity and their humanity.