Solving Italy’s Immigration Crisis

Europe must join forces to govern immigration—supporting development in impacted African countries and integration in the most dynamic economies—because one country alone cannot end this problem, writes Attilio Moro.

By Attilio Moro
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

Look at Via Merulana, in the center of Rome, between the two basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni. On the street and the surrounding area, up to Stazione Termini (Rome’s central train station), groups of young Africans sell various trinkets. Others lay on the sidewalk, half asleep.

One in three stores in the area are run by Bangladeshis. They sell to tourists small reproductions of the Colosseum, statues of Madonnas, religious calendars, and big pictures of the pope.

Bangladeshis, of course, are Muslim. Some of them are just employees. Some others have even taken this business over from Romans.

On one side of the street is Chinatown.

On the other, the posh neighborhood of Colle Oppio, overlooking the Colosseum.

The Bangladeshi and Chinese are established immigrants in this area. Africans are not. Most of them have just arrived. So newly arrived African immigrants and the Roman bourgeoisie live side by side—the former on the street, the latter in their villas.

Foreign residents as a percentage of the regional population in Italy in 2011. (Wikipedia Based on data from

Of course, the bourgeoisie of Colle Oppio are among the staunchest supporters of the hard line on immigration of the new Luigi Di Maio-Matteo Salvini government. But so are the inhabitants of the most deprived neighborhoods of Rome, where immigrants tend to concentrate, resulting in a sordid fight among poor.

This picture is typical in most Italian cities. Most of the young Africans here have arrived recently, rescued at sea by the marines of “Operazione Sofia,” or Operation Sophia, an Italian naval mission on the Mediterranean Sea, sponsored and paid for by the European Union.

Sophia was intended to destroy the smugglers’ vessels and rescue migrants in distress. In three years since it was launched, Sophia has destroyed 500 hundred small boats, which were meant to be lost any way by smugglers, who typically charge migrants 2,000-3,000 euros ($2,320-$3,480) just to take them to the nearest Sophia sea cruiser. Sophia also has left hundreds of thousands of migrants in Italian ports.

The Italian government at the time of the Sophia negotiations in 2015 agreed that the immigrants would be accepted exclusively in Italian processing centers (hotspots), considered to be the nearest from the Libyan coast, as established by maritime international law. Although for most vessels coming from Libya, the nearest ports are in Malta. Or sometimes in Spain.

The Result of Fiscal Irresponsibility

But why did the former government welcome all of them to the Italian ports of Pozzallo, Catania or Lampedusa? The answer is simple: Italy is the most indebted EU country after Greece, and has openly and persistently violated the Maastricht criteria—the rules that determine whether a country is ready to adopt the euro as its national currency—with a public debt at more than 130 percent of the GDP. (The limit, in order to remain in the euro, should be 60 percent). This means that Italy needs “understanding” from its European partners in order to keep running a high deficit and remain in the eurozone.

Syrian and Iraqi immigrants getting off a boat from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Ggia / CC BY-SA 4.0)

From their side, the European partners are happy to condone illegal fiscal excesses on the condition that Italy keeps migrants from Libya within Italian borders. The agreement is similar to that between the EU and Turkey. For keeping migrants from Syria, Ankara is rewarded by the EU with 6 billion euros per year, or $6.9 billion. But while Turkey keeps them in refugee camps, Italy leaves them free, hoping that most will make their way to their final destination: Germany or France. But since both countries closed their borders, they remain stuck in Italy.

Instead of cooperating, European countries fight among themselves over immigration. In general, the EU still considers the mass immigration from Africa an Italian problem. Timid relocation schemes from Italy to other European countries have totally failed.

Germany and France now are only interested in keeping new immigrants out of the country. As a result, Italy is swelling with migrants and refugees, in an economy which has experienced little, if any, growth, reducing chances of decent integration to zero.

Needless to say, the failure of the European immigration policy has been a powerful boost for the so-called “populist” parties, who accuse former Italian governments of selling out political autonomy to Germany and the EU “elites” and for being responsible for this colossal failure, while blaming the traditional left for the current state.

Nicola Zingaretti in 2012. (Niccolò Caranti / Wikimedia)

The Future of the European Left

For the Italian (and most of the European) left, the question is:  How do they react to this loss of political and cultural ground? How do they deal with such a complex (and epochal) problem? At stake is the destiny of the Italian and European left.

After years of passive orthodoxy, some people of the Italian left (among them Nicola Zingaretti, the probable next leader of the Democratic Party, the bulk of which is made up by former communists) are now trying a new, less ideological and more realistic approach. Pushing the issue of immigration onto the European agenda and making clear that no one, especially Italy, can cope with this problem alone. Not even if the EU shows some leniency for Italian fiscal profligacy.

The time of instrumental compromises over immigration is over. No more dubious deals can be made based on money. Europe should join forces to govern immigration, intervening to wind down African and Middle Eastern wars that create refugees and support development in impacted African countries, while offering real chances of integration in the most dynamic economies.

This will not happen in Rome, which is dealing with one of the worst crises of its (recent) history.

The solution is just common sense. But letting common sense prevail is difficult.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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18 comments for “Solving Italy’s Immigration Crisis

  1. Nop
    September 15, 2018 at 22:36

    No-one can cope with a problem they are unwilling to confront.
    The neo-feudalist program calls for the creation of a globalist class of rootless serfs to be admitted in as replacements to countries where labour is expensive or demanding.

  2. September 15, 2018 at 02:03

    Good Article

  3. H.J.Schmid
    September 14, 2018 at 06:59

    I am Swiss and love my country, its history and culture most dearly. It is not the influx of foreigners per se that is problematic, nor is it their culture or religion. The problem is their sheer number. That said, the biggest threat to the average working man is not the people from the south, it is the invasion of thousands and thousands of GERMANS that is a massive threat to our way of life and the Democracy, the only real one that I know of in this world. But let me be crystal clear here, the responsibility and the entire fault lies with our own local elites and their insatiable greed that has no longer any real allegiance to their fatherland. They are always ready to sell out to the highest bidder.
    I live in one of the biggest cities of the country and this part of town is as diverse and internationally mixed as you can imagine, yet we live together in perfect peace and harmony, it is an absolute dream. There is a lot that I could tell you about refugees, for I lived with them as a neighbour. They are not the enemy, they are not savages and not parasites. They are as decent intelligent, worthy human beings as you and me.We do not need to “help” Africa to “solve its problems” The Africans are perfectly capable of taking care of their own business themselves. It is not about giving more to the poor, it is all about taking less, or more precisely, stop robbing them of their last penny.The last persons on earth to talk about human rights, respect for others, corruption, genocide, religious tolerance,etc, morals in general are Europeans and Americans.
    Dear God please let me live through one week of my life without any “breaking news” from the US waging war, messing with other countries, generally being a nuisance to the rest of the world! Just one week! All the negative changes to our rights and freedoms, our national coherence and the power balance between the haves and the have-nots, all the most insane policies that destroy the environment have come from your side of the Atlantic. And the European elites, that went along with neoliberalism and total Western dominance are just as guilty! I have no hate for Joe Blow American working man. Everything the world And I love about America and its culture has been developed and shared by your underdogs, the black slaves and their descendants, the Native Americans and the poor downtrodden whites. Let me say just one word, Rock’n’Roll!
    This world and its multitude of vibrant culture, ancient wisdom, new ideas, time honoured traditions is a wonderful and precious thing. If I had to choose between spending two weeks in San Francisco or among people in some backwood place in a fly-over state of the US, you sure as hell would never meet me in the big city.
    END ALL WARS! LOVE! RESPECT! Der kategorische Imperativ rules! RADICAL DIRECT DEMOCRACY OR DEATH! There is no need for billionaires, Fuck Jeff Bezos and his fellow plutocrats!
    And finally, nobody tell me it is all the Jews fault goddamit, you’re insulting my intelligence!

    Thank you consortiumnews, you are definitely a voice of reason! Sorry for the chaotic nature of my ramblings but you people are smart, you can handle it

    Oh mein Heimatland, oh mein Vaterland, wie so innig, feurig lieb ich dich!

    • Josep
      September 14, 2018 at 13:06

      it is the invasion of thousands and thousands of GERMANS that is a massive threat to our way of life and the Democracy

      Wait… aren’t Germans and Swiss (at least in the German-speaking part) similar culturally and linguistically? What are they even doing in Switzerland that constitutes a threat?

      • PEG
        September 15, 2018 at 04:14

        They are creating big crowds at the ski lifts and taking all the tables at Café Sprüngli in Zurich and Hanselmanns in St. Moritz. ;-)

    • Robbi Gomes
      September 16, 2018 at 16:09

      If Switzerland is overrun with poor Africans and Muslims from the Mid-East you’ll come around and say “I’ll take the damn Germans any day!”

  4. dean 1000
    September 13, 2018 at 12:28

    I actually agree with all the comments above. Xenophobes are often defined as people with an irrational fear of foreigners. Xenophiles are more gently defined as individuals attracted to foreign people and cultures.

    I believe the xenophiles have an irrational love of foreigners. They are as responsible for migrant crisis in Europe and the U.S. as the war mongers because of their unwarranted influence on immigration policy. Their influence is unwarranted because it exceeds their numbers and is therefore undemocratic.

    The free movement of labor in the EU and open borders and a path to citizenship in the U.S. are Capitalism’s Stalinism. I mean economic Stalinism of course. Those to be punished are the locals who have managed to win a decent wage and enough leisure to to grill a burger in the backyard on Saturday afternoon.

    The left, too doctrinaire for its own good are the useful idiots of capitalism’s Stalinism. I do not want a border wall (other than the short stretches recommended by the Border Patrol). I do want changes in the immigration laws including repeal of nepotism for immigrants.
    The U.S. has never been a nation of immigrants. Legal immigrants are part of the State but not part of the nation until they are citizens and fully melted in.

    • dean 1000
      September 13, 2018 at 12:33

      dean 1000: i should have said i agree with the first 9 comments below

  5. September 13, 2018 at 10:00

    “McCain subsequently embraced every war that came his way while also promoting regime change and doing his best to start new wars in places where America had no interests. Think Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, Somalia and Syria just for starters. A prosperous Libya was bombed into anarchy and is now ruled by gangs who have reopened slave markets. McCain was also an opportunist par excellence, parlaying his dubious war record into a political career and at the same time ditching a first wife whom he considered a liability to marry the daughter of a multi-millionaire Arizona beer distributor to finance his personal ambitions.”

  6. September 13, 2018 at 07:16

    The immigration problem is in large part what we do and not do to encourage/require people to remain in the countries where they now live. In the frantic effort to bash Trump, the proposal floated by Putin and Trump regarding Syria made sense. Rebuild the country and allow/require refugees to return. The author is correct about the entire issue.

    Of course, stop supporting chaos in the Middle East which best describes our policy.

    Where are our “progressives” on this?

  7. PEG
    September 13, 2018 at 05:54

    Interesting and insightful article regarding Italy’s “immigration crisis”. Having resided in the very part of Rome described by Mr. Moro for a couple of days last month, I liked his description of the Termini quarter’s new immigrant population.

    However, this article – like almost all discussions of the issue in Europe and the USA – overlooks the elephant in the room, namely the root cause of the immigration crisis. The immigrants did not just suddenly descend 10 years ago from the heavens like the biblical plague of locusts (not a good comparison, as refugees should not be compared to locusts). They arrived as a direct and totally foreseeable result of Western interventions and regime change in the Near East and Africa. The refugee streams to Italy were caused by the overthrow of the Libyan state by Obama/H. Clinton, Sarkozy and Cameron. Regardless of what one may think about him, Ghadaffi created a strong barrier to economic immigration from Africa to Europe. And the Syrian refugee crisis is also largely the work of the same, aforementioned malefactors, plus other interventionsts.

    In fairness, Mr. Moro does kind of allude to this at the end of his article where he states that “Europe should join forces to govern immigration, intervening [odd word to use here] to wind down African and Middle Eastern wars that create refuguees”. But this creation of the refugee crisis through foreign interventions should be front and center in any discussion of the issue, not just mentioned en passant.

    I agree that Europe should join forces in this area – but in a much more fundamental manner. Europe needs to develop its own independent foreign policy and cut the ties with the countries or leaderships that are leading it down the primrose path to disaster. In this regard, Brexit will be a blessing for Europe, except in the event (should we be so fortunate) that Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister of the UK and makes a U-turn in British foreign policy. And patriotic Americans need to mobilize against the neo-conservative, neo-liberal camarilla that has hijacked American policy to the strong detriment of U.S. national interests – at the present time, the only persons courageous and intelligent enough to recognize the situation and talk about it are on the fringes of the national dialogue – persons such as Jill Stein on the ecological left and Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams on the libertarian right and a few independent journalists, like those who publish in Consortium News.

    By the way: curious whether Attilio Moro is any relation (son?) of the late Aldo Moro (even though I have read a few articles by Attilio M., I couldn’t find details in the internet). Not an uncommon name, but not so common either. If there is a relation, would be very interesting to hear his views on the assassination of Aldo Moro – the European counterpart to JFK – 40 years ago.

    Final note: The “immigration crisis” is making Rome a bit like New York – in the Termini area there is not only a Chinatown, but also a Little India and other ethnic enclaves, adding diversity also in cuisine. Perhaps Rome is heading back to its old days – 2000 years ago, as capital of a multinational empire, people from very diverse backgrounds congregated in Rome, although back then travel wasn’t as easy as today, so no one saw this as a crisis.

  8. backwardsevolution
    September 12, 2018 at 22:52

    If the economic migrants from Africa (yes, economic) were actually trying to flee their own country because of war, wouldn’t you think they’d just go to the country next door, or maybe two countries over? Instead, they are travelling hundreds and thousands of miles to get to Libya.

    Now having arrived in Libya, the narrative quickly became that they were being enslaved, the women were being raped (kind of like the babies being thrown out of the incubators story). According to U.N. refugee law, they’re supposed to take refuge in the next safe country, which would be Tunisia. Yes, still in Africa.

    We’ve all seen the boatloads of people coming from Africa. They are almost exclusively young males. Now, what’s the difference between going to Tunisia and going to Europe? Could the benefits they receive have anything to do with it?

    Although the West has been unfair to Africa (stripping their resources, causing wars) not every country in Africa is or has been involved in a Western-backed war, and not every country can blame their abysmal living conditions on the West. With all the bad the West has done, they have done a lot of good too, like provide medical technology, which has gone a long way to decrease infant mortality, immunizations, clean drinking water, financial aid, and continual food aid. A good deal of the problem has to do with over-population.

    “54 countries make up the continent of Africa, and while population growth is relatively low in some areas, countries such as Nigeria and Uganda are increasing at an advanced rate. In most countries in the continent, the population growth is in excess of 2% every year.

    In addition, there is a high proportion of younger people within the Africa population as a whole, with reports that 41% of the African population is under the age of 15.”

    By the turn of the century, Nigeria is predicted to have over a BILLION people. Nigeria! Africa’s population is predicted to exceed FOUR BILLION by the turn of the century.

    And a good deal of the problems in Africa are caused by corruption by their own leaders, as well as tribal wars. And look at what happened in Zimbabwe. They kicked out the white farmers, starved, then went through hyperinflation where their money was worth nothing. South Africa is headed in the same direction.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

    Now, why would the E.U. have sent out their ships to rescue these migrants? They could have just sent troops into Libya. After all, they did just invade and destroy Libya, didn’t they? What, it’s all of a sudden taboo to enter someone else’s country? It never stopped them before.

    The U.N.H.C.R. has a brand new program called I believe (don’t quote me) the “Migration Compact”. The program explicitly WANTS migration from Third World countries into First World countries. It’s good for “economics”, or so it says in their literature. Read up on it because it’s the new thing, although you won’t find it mentioned in the New York Times.

    Migrants come in, the existing citizens pay for their benefits and welfare, the corporations and farmers get cheap labor, wages are held down for the host residents, the migrants then send money home (called remittances) to their home countries, the home countries buy new TV’s, for example, from the multinational corporations. See? Isn’t this fun? You get to lose your culture because the flavor of the day is “good for economics”.

    Mexico currently gets more money from remittances sent home than from the sale of Mexican oil! I believe $30 billion/year is sent home from the U.S. to Mexico in the form of remittances. Meanwhile, the American citizens, some of whom are having a hard time, are paying for this. Imagine if those tax dollars remained in the U.S.!!!

    No, something else is going on beyond just people fleeing oppression.

    And now the Left doesn’t know what to do? Perhaps if they did the “right” thing to begin with, they wouldn’t have the problem? Do they never see long-term? Help people where they are, in their own country, with their own customs and traditions.

    And, yes, I agree that none of the wars in the Middle East should be occurring. The West needs to get out of Syria and help rebuild the country, along with Iraq and Yemen. Get out!

    • September 13, 2018 at 00:09

      Some inaccuracies.

      The number of migrants between African countries was much larger than migration to Europe, I am not sure about the latest statistics. Actually, the problems of rejection of the migrants are quite acute within Africa, e.g. hostility toward Zimbabweans in South Africa, or expulsions from Nigeria.

      Remittances to home countries do not decrease taxes paid in the host country, existence of “black economy” does decrease taxes, but this is a separate problem that should be easy to solve when the “cash economy” is a diminishing part of the total. It seems that the largest resistance against enforcing laws restricting illegal employment and cash economy comes from businesses that are directly or indirectly dependent on illegal labor, USA is a plutocracy after all. Sudden removal of illegal workers could collapse labor intensive parts of agriculture, many services and some manufacturing. What is needed is a more frank discussion what type of society and economy we want to have. E.g. if the of producing milk (or grapes) would shoot up if we eliminate illegal labor, should we (a) decide to import those products, or (b) increase wages in those sectors and/or working conditions, while protecting them from low-wage competition, or (c) keep things as they are but tone down the criticism, or (d) some other options, perhaps much more clever.

      • backwardsevolution
        September 13, 2018 at 01:10

        Piotr – there should be many “frank” discussions, but no one wants to have them. The “racist” card gets pulled out immediately, along with every other “phobe” you can think of.

        The elite love it. They suck the Left in by saying things like, “But we have to help the rest of the world, we have to raise them up. Let’s all join hands and think global, become internationalists, not nationalists.” They pull at their heart strings because that appears to be the only string they have. The elites are careful not to tell them that they’re going to be “pulled down” while they do it and their culture and their country are going to be destroyed in the process. The elite could give a sh*t about the rest of the world, especially the Third World. Do they care when they bomb them? No. They’re just interested in making more money, but they suck the Left into thinking that they actually care.

        The Left, while crying out to help everybody, tend to just ignore the people in their own countries, taking to calling them “deplorables” or “low information voters”. I think it’s them who are low information. They scream about global warming (which we humans are surely helping along, if not causing outright), but then want endless growth on a finite planet. “Let’s help everyone, even if they’re populating themselves to death!”

        Things should not be shipped halfway around the world; they should be made locally. Countries should be able to maintain their cultures, and it shouldn’t be labelled “racist” to do so. If Ghana were being overrun by Chinese immigrants and these immigrants were changing the culture and traditions of Ghana, I’d join the people of Ghana in telling the Chinese to get lost. Cultures and traditions are built up over hundreds of years and they should be looked at as precious things, not something to be thrown away because some elites want to make more money.

        Re “black money”: yes, there is a real market in black money, under-the-counter wages. I remember reading about how the U.S. tracks how much is going back into Mexico because of the way the remittances have to be made. The U.N.H.C.R. is wanting that process made easier. Mexico is laughing all the way to the bank because the U.S. is actually supporting their population with these remittances. The recipients of this money get U.S. welfare and they don’t even have to be living there!

        I have a (d) for you: stop the “endless growth”. Stop globalization. Yeah, just stop it. We are fast running out of oil, we are stripping the Earth, and we will eventually kill ourselves.

        How about letting people face consequences. Maybe let Africa try to sort out things on their own? By sending them constant food aid, we are essentially allowing them to bring more mouths into the world to feed. This is madness.

  9. September 12, 2018 at 17:39

    Many of the xenophobes who are the first to condemn and shut the door on the Third World fleeing masses also tacitly, or not so tacitly, support every NATO and Western intervention in the Levant and around the globe.

    This contradiction is stark and disturbing.

    In order to be consistent on this issue, one must first call for a halt to NAFTA type trade agreements that destroy indigenous autonomy in developing nation-states and, most importantly, one must be staunchly anti-imperialist, consistently and vociferously denouncing Washington militarist madness and violence.

    Once this quandary is addressed only then can one turn to securing borders, but not on a racist or xenophobic basis of course, but rather on a pro-labor stance of supporting tight labor markets and strong wages for workers in the hard pressed industrialized nation-states.

    International worker solidarity is the only way forward: ‘don’t bomb and destroy our cities, farms, schools and villages or annihilate our livelihoods via your Wall Street brokered free-trade agreements (read: investor rights agreements) and we won’t show up on your shores in desperate straits. It’d also help if your elites would stop supporting Western quisling leaders in some of our capitals.’

    • Linda Wood
      September 12, 2018 at 17:51

      Thank you!

    • September 12, 2018 at 18:02

      You dont have to be a racist or a xenophobe to not want competition for scarce jobs and resources.Strikes me that the imperialists and capitalists want to flood countries with poor desperate peoples suffering from wars they lied the world into as a way to crumble the state safety nets for citizens and have the working poor and immigrants fight for crumbs.Our corporate overlords have tired of these “socialist” institutions and democracy and “citizens” welfare to the undeserving “plebs”…..

      Its divide and conquer perfected.And can you blame citizens struggling to survive for being resentful for conditions over which they have no control and are now expected to share dwindling resources with outsiders?They are all victims of the sociopath capitalist monsters who designed the arena for them to fight over scraps.

      Is it xenophobic to want equal right for women and gays now?…….Racist to question the commitment of many Muslims to those goals?Is it irrational to question whether many of these people who lives and countries were destroyed by the western powers if they might have some resentments?I know I would….being altruistic and empathic isnt a suicide pact or is it.

    • Jeff Harrison
      September 15, 2018 at 13:23

      Here! Here! Europe doesn’t have an immigration problem; they have a refugee problem that, frankly, is their own damn fault. They just go along with whatever insane “regime” change crusade the US is on which Europe pays the price for. It’s not as if people in the Middle East and North Africa can walk to the US or get here across the north Atlantic in a rubber dingy. Russia is the only country that put its foot down and stepped on America’s foreskin in both Ukraine and Syria. What did Europe do? They went along with the American sanctions that we imposed because Russia had the audacity to not go along with our agenda. The Europeans need to get a clue and some cojones and tell the regime in Washington to go take a hike. Washington isn’t going to give a shit about Europe except to the extent that they support some American agenda. You need to get control of your countries, your politics, your foreign policy, and most of all your finances. Otherwise you’ll be at Washington’s mercy.

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