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On the 31st December 2017, Italy’s Home Office announced that migrants’ arrivals have fell by a third from 2016 to 2017. Government could count 119 000 people compared with 181 000 people the previous year. The trend intensified from July as the new Home Secretary Marco Minniti has arrived. Since he has taken up office in December 2016, he had spared no effort in attempting to stop migrants stream.
At the present time, there are only two ships left on the sea: the Aquarius, from the French NGO Médecins du Monde, and the one from the Spanish NGO Pro Activ - Open Arms. It’s also strangely quiet off the coast of Libya. With only 3900 people rescued in August 2017 while there were 21 000 the previous year, at the same moment. Migrants’ inflow suddenly decreased.
While hope for a better life in Europe is still present in African spirits, how can we explain this turning point?
The Italy-Libya migration deal
According to Marco Minniti, new migration figures are explained by an agreement signed with Libya. “We could overcome this stream because we were the first to believe that a deal with Libya would be a History turning point” he said. Signed in February 2017 with the current national unity government in Tripoli, the deal is supported by the United Nations and assumed by the European Union. It provides a financial assistance, equipment and a training for Libyan coastguards, in exchange for Tripoli’s cooperation in the fight against people smuggling.
“At this moment, what is going on in Libya is not clear”
But this device has been denunciated by Human rights associations. Amnesty International published a report at mid-December to accuse European governments of becoming complicit in serious violations against migrants in Libya, where they often are stuck. Moreover, the NGO MOAS announced on September 2017 the withdrawal of its ship, the Phoenix. The reason is that they did not want to be a part of a device which is not giving any assistance on the sea or any guarantee of hospitality at the arrival. “At this moment, what is going on in Libya is not clear” they also said.
Indeed, if the Italian government assures that the main reason of the migrant inflow’s spectacular decrease is nothing but the recent equipment of the Libyan coastguards and the
fact that the presence of aid organisation produces a kind of suction effect for every candidate to immigration.
But the truth is everyone knows that the real explanation can be found on Libya’s side.
Italian government has been multiplying meetings with local leaders, mayors and tribal chiefs, assuring every one of its sincere desire to help. Could he make a pact with armed groups, even with traffickers themselves, in order to reach its goals? Of course, everything at the risk of strengthening and legitimating some militias sued for organised crime. This is what some Libyan sources are assuring.
Ahmed Al-Dabbashi changed side. Nicknamed Al-Abbu (“the Uncle”), the former trafficker would today fight the traffic itself, has been dominating the entire migrant traffic in Libya from the coastal city of Sabratha until July. Sabratha is nothing but the Libyan platform for every departure to Europe, located in the west of the country.
The Uncle’s unexpected collaboration would be the key to the migrant inflow’s spectacular decrease. According to the Italian newspaper Corriere dellaSera of the 9 September 2017, Libyan police officers had confirmed that the Uncle has been contacted by Italian officials before receiving 5 million dollars in order to block every boat departures from Sabratha.
These dark revelations were inevitably disputed in Italy. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino declared “We have positioned ourselves at the mercy of those who were used to be traffickers and who now control the anti-trafficking. It’s something unacceptable and it will work against us”. While Rome is contradicting every accusation. Marco Minniti qualifies them as “unfounded”. Italian government prefers to spotlight their official cooperation with Sabratha’s town hall, even if it’s more an advertising asset than an effective process.
However, we can wonder ourselves if these declining results can really be long-lasting. We already saw a coastal city closes access to the sea. Indeed, before Sabratha there was Zouara, which was the smuggling of migrants capital until 2015. After being shut off, the traffic went to another city and went even stronger. Moreover, we should not forget that the Uncle can changes his mind at any time.
What, then, to think about this possible arrangement?
The country is feeling abandoned by the European Union
“We’ve been abandoned by Europe on refugee crisis” said the Italian foreign minister. “Macron disappoints Italy”, “France will not open its doors, and Spain is on the same line” declared the newspaper La Stampa.
If Italy concerns a lot the European Union, it is because the country is the migrants’ first front door since agreements with Turkey in September 2015 and since the Balkan route has been shut off at the beginning of 2016. Yet, the clandestine immigration Balkan route was way more murderous than the Mediterranean crossing.
If the number of welcomed refugees in Europe is 70 times lower than during the Summer 2015, Italy is now facing a continuous flood of 10 000 to 15 000 migrants each month for more than 3 years. As much people who fill all the reception centres of the country. In 2017, more than 100 000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to reach Europe. Italy welcomed three quarters of them by itself.
European Commission declared last summer the launch of an emergency aid of 35 million euros for Italy and the release of 46 million euros for Libyan authorities under the Italy-Libya agreement. It must be remembered that this agreement remains vigorously contested by Amnesty International because of the violence underwent by migrants, the arrangements with the coastguards and the smugglers.
The agreement’s second part consists in estimating who can pretend to asylum among the migrants arrived in Italy and Greece, and in allocating them to different European countries. But these relocations create many reluctances from several EU members.
They took a while to be organised and they only have concerned 32 000 refugees, when the intended target was 160 000 in September 2015. Only 11 000 of the people arrived in Italy were concerned by these relocations. If France and Germany mentioned an increase of their efforts, which generally remains negligible, several Eastern countries of the EU confirmed their refusal to welcome refugees. Leaving aside the fact that the EU considers itself as ready to help Italy by welcoming “political refugees” (Syrians, Iraqis, Eritreans), but doesn’t want to hear anything about the “economic migrants”. Most nationalities arriving on the Italian coast are not eligible to obtain the “politic refugee” status, and Italy no benefits from any help from its neighbours.
The country, abandoned by Europe, tries to find new ways to reduce the mass of migrants, even if this does not excuse the fact of dealing with Libyan mafia.
Migrants’ impact on the economy
Legal migrants constitute a significant input to the Italian growth. In 2016, 2,5 million immigrant workers have produced 131 billion euros, which represents 9% of the country’s GDP. This amount brings a positive contribution to the health care system and the pension fund.
Italian people shows a certain kindness regarding the 5 million legal migrants today present in the country. According to a World Bank’s survey, we can confirm that migrants’ work is not in a competition with the “classic” Italian’s work. It’s in fact compatible, because migrants work in the sectors where there was a real lack of working forces. While migrants represent only 8,3% of the country’s population, 17% of the workforce comes from the immigration.
In several sectors as building, hotel, agriculture or restaurant industries, they became essentials. They paid 7,2 billion euros to the tax office and 11,5 billion euros of social security contributions in 2016. They contribute to the positive INPS’s positive balance (INPS is the Italian social security system). They also spend money in Italy, despite the significant aid they send to their families in their countries of origin.
However, not every migrant has already obtained his regular situation status, and the part of the undeclared work has considerably risen with the refugee crisis since 2015. Despite the Mateo Renzi’s “Jobs Act” reform, which was supposed to create permanent contracts and reduce the insecure jobs, undeclared work increased by 7% since 2012. Such increase contributes to the public accounts deficit.
Illicit work concerned in priority areas deeply affected by the economic crisis. For the people who have a little money, undeclared work could more be a necessity than a choice. This situation calls to an unfair competition disadvantaging companies which are in a regular situation.
“Migrants are more profitable than drugs”
In Calabria, Southern Italy, freshly landed African workers spend the night piled up in very unhealthy camps. During the day, they are sold to farmers. Italy is trying to face this situation and a law has been enacted at the end of 2017 in order to shut down these slave trades. Powerful local mafia is also accused of infiltrating one of the biggest asylum centre of Italy and of embezzlement. “Migrants are more profitable than drugs” declared The Guardian in January 2018.
With legislative elections on the horizon, immigration has been a key issue, particularly for Italy’s right and the populist Five Star Movement, which is taking advantage of the worrying situation and winning voices.
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Written by Eva Bellet│ Independent Geopolitical Analyst
Edited and Corrected
by Vee Venski
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