By closing ports to migrants, Italy’s new government has joined a host of European nations that have toughened their stance on immigrants and splintered any hope of a pan-continent policy on welcoming refugees.
It’s not surprising that the first act of Italy’s new coalition, composed of the hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant Lega party (headed by Salvini) and the populist, economy-focused Five Star Movement (headed by the 32-year old Luigi Di Maio), should center on the migrant issue.
Fixing Italy’s sluggish economy requires much more complex maneuvering, due to the country’s limited ability to act alone and possible negative reaction on international markets, than unilaterally declaring Italy’s ports closed.
And the Lega especially made migration its key plank in last spring’s national elections.
Spain has decided take in 600-plus migrants stranded at sea aboard the rescue ship Aquarius after Italy and the island country of Malta turned them away. That simply transferred the unresolved issue of vast flows of migrants into Europe that started more than four years ago, beginning from ports in Turkey then through Libya on the way to Italy and now, momentarily, Spain.
Italy’s hardline stand followed an influx of about 600,000 migrants over the past few years, during which efforts by the European Union to disperse the arrives elsewhere in the continent came to almost nothing.
To be clear: Italy’s policy is not an outlier.
Poland and Hungary refused EU demands for countries to host a quota of arrivals and are backed by other Eastern European countries.
A new Austrian government is speeding up deportations, taking cash from arrivals and banning headscarves on girls in school.
Britain’s Brexit vote was partly based on anti-immigrant sentiment.
Denmark seizes any assets exceeding $1,450 from asylum-seekers in order to help pay for their stay. Items of “sentimental value,” such as wedding rings, were exempted.
The Netherlands has toughened aid levels for arrivals over the past four years.
The German coalition headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, opened its borders to a million migrants in 2015, is falling apart over her open-border policy.
Even France, which constantly broadcasts the EU mantra of solidarity, shut its border with Italy to block migrants from flowing into southern France.
Spain has been praised for integrating millions of migrants from South America, but also pushed back against arrivals in the Canary Islands back in 2007. Besides stepping up its own patrols, Spain signed a series of agreements with Senegal, Mauritania, and other transit countries to seal off Western Africa route to the Canaries and routes into Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish cities on the Moroccan coast. Spain invested heavily in African sea patrols and radar systems to detect boats trying to leave for Spain as well as in aid, trade, and employment programs in Africa.
But as a Spanish diplomat told me the other day, Spain could deal with Senegal because Senegal has a government. Libya’s government is under siege from rivals and the country possesses scores of out-of-control militias willing to smuggle migrants out to sea.
The chances for a unified and presumably humane pan-European immigration policy is not in the offing—even Spain is trying to broker its migrant gestures into a European policy. The fact is, most Europeans want to limit migration and Italy’s case follows that opinion. EU unity on this does not exist.
Financial Times describes pressure on Germany after crimes committed by migrants.
Guardian says Italy’s Salvini declared victory.
Politico on Europe’s latest migrant policy failure.