Italy’s Confused, Radicalized Response to Migrants

Attilio Moro calls for concrete policies to tame the forces of global capitalism which, while overlooked by both sides of the debate, have been driving mass illegal immigration.

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

Two crowds confront each other exchanging insults. 

One raises welcome banners. The other shouts “go back home” to a couple dozen people in a boat (that belongs to an NGO) who are waiting for permission to come ashore.

Some days earlier, a larger group of migrants after waiting 17 days decided to force their way to shore, and were met by the same crowds, shouting at each other. This is what happens almost every day on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa since 2015 – the first year of mass immigration from the Middle East and Africa.

All over Italy — in the bars, on the streets, in the newspapers — people confront each other on the issue of illegal migration. On one side are the grass roots organizations, social centers, philanthropic organizations and Catholic Church which want to give hospitality to all migrants who find their way to Italy. On the other side are the militants of the ruling party La Lega, followers of the very popular Matteo Salvini, the informal leader of the current government, who last year, once in office, closed the Italian ports to the boats operated by a dozen NGOs. His approval rating then jumped from 5 percent to 35 percent and even higher. This showed that a less vocal but more substantial chunk of the public supports his immigration stance. 

Migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa, August 2007. (Sara Prestianni, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Today, immigration is indeed the most contentious issue of Italian politics; and, a majority resent the NGOs, the Catholic Church and the European Union, which support human rights and immigration — although with some differences. For example, the EU, represented by its leaders (France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel) is mainly in favor of accepting migrants, but only if they arrive and stay in Italy, while just a few (mainly the Scandinavian countries) are willing to share the burden. Further, the EU still considers illegal immigration a national, rather than a European, affair.

Dublin Agreement Was a Mistake

For their part, the Italians made the mistake in 1990 of signing the Dublin Agreement, which put the burden of processing and keeping migrants in the country of arrival. Of course, no one at that time could have predicted the flood of African migrants to Italy. And every effort to review the Dublin Agreement has so far failed.

Resentments are profound. Right-wing groups attack the EU and want to ban the NGOs, accusing them of being accomplices of the mafia and traffickers, located in Libya, which profit from ferrying the migrants. In the past few years they found a new enemy in the philanthropist George Soros, who has offered substantial support for the NGOs’ search-and-rescue activities in the Mediterranean.

Some news commentators and politicians believe Soros’ aim is not to rescue migrants, but to fight a personal war against Italy’s Salvini and especially Hungary’s Viktor Orban and their acolytes in Europe, by exacerbating the most intractable of the countries’ problems.  For example, they note that Soros, in regular and suspicious meetings, has done a lot to push his close friend Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, to declare the Italian public  finances “unsustainable” and start an infringement procedure against Rome for violating the Maastricht Treaty (which 12 EU nations signed in 1992 to create a common economic and monetary union).

As a result, the financial market reacted and the spread of Italian bonds, an indicator of investment risk, soared to an unprecedented high, with an added cost for the Italian Treasury of over 1 billion Euros in just a few days, to service its debt.  Whether or not this was actually organized to inflict a lesson on the Italian government, Soros is still considered the public enemy of Salvini, his supporters and anti-immigration Italians.

Seat of the European Central Bank and Frankfurt skyline at dawn. (DXR, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

No Reasonable Analysis

In this confused and emotional radicalization, none have put forth a reasonable analysis to the immigration dilemma. While one side talks of sending back everyone who approaches the Italian coasts and building a wall at the border with Slovenia, the others (vaguely leftists) extol humanitarian values.

However, all miss the essential fact that the mass illegal immigration of modern times is the result of global capitalism.

For example, in the 60 years the EU has imposed protectionist agricultural policies, this has ruined millions of African farmers and fishermen. At the same time, the big multinational agricultural enterprises are destroying soil, diversity and the conditions for survival of small and medium-sized farms. Finally, the wars for oil and dominance in Middle East have created massive instability and refugees. Thus, the “welcomers” and the hard-liners miss the cardinal point: mass immigration will continue and become unsustainable for Europe unless the EU attempts to correct these distortions and push other international players to do the same.

On their side, the hardliners should understand that even given the problems of integration (including the worsening of labor conditions and wages, since the new workers will accept them) – a well-regulated immigration can became an opportunity for countries with negative demographic growth and jobs to fill.  

The welcomers and traditional left in the EU (which included Italy, in the past), should abandon the sterile human rights approach. Instead, it should embrace a concrete global vision, where mass migrations due to war or economic deprivation are understood not as a humanitarian affair but rather the product of modern, wild neo-capitalism, which can only be solved by taming its disastrous policies.  

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 “Italy’s Confused, Radicalized Response to Migrants

  1. September 26, 2019 at 16:52

    I think people understand very well what cause the exoduse of immigrants ,ie the illegal immoral wars that the people of Europe and the USA were lied into.

    Does that then mean they the same people who were also victims of the USA wars now have to pay for those crimes with their lives and countries?

  2. Pablo Diablo
    September 26, 2019 at 13:08

    We seem to have unimaginable amounts of money for (never ending) Wars. If we invested half of that into economic opportunity for those countries we could nearly eliminate migration. Wars are sacred, immigrants are not. Quit bitching about immigrants until you face the true costs of War and the impending Climate Crisis.

  3. Litchfield
    September 26, 2019 at 12:18

    “However, all miss the essential fact that the mass illegal immigration of modern times is the result of global capitalism. ”

    No no no. Not “all” miss this fact.
    Many have been pointing out this fact for a very long time.
    It is quite obvious.
    And that is why Soros is a good avatar of the whole mess.
    Let’s recall, this is the man who as a capitalist with global reach was able to corner silver markets so that the British pound—what, the value collapsed? I can’t recall the details, but he broke the Bank of England by shorting the pound, and forced the UK to withdraw from some financial policy that they had planned to execute.

    This was effectuated by ONE MAN playing games on the global capitalist board and screwed a whole country’s currency and its financial policy and plans. Has any “nationalist” ever done such a thing? No. Because you have to be a “globalist capitalist” to pull off these kinds of shenanigans. Soros he is perfectly capable of using migrants as a tool to push a country around by playing games with it economy or its finances. Because he can push and pull levers in multiple countries to get the effects he wants. That is the basic definition of globalism.

    It is absurdly naive to imagine that Soros is *not* pulling strings to influence policies all over Europe, and the world. It is his profession. It is what he does. That is his CV.

  4. Robert
    September 26, 2019 at 11:31

    Article is precisely on point. Multi-national corporations are no longer satisfied with obscene profits they make outsourcing jobs from industrialized countries to low-wage countries. Using “humanitarian grounds” as an excuse, they are facilitating illegal and legal migration to industrialized countries to ensure high unemployment, destruction of unions and lower wages. They do this by replacing local workers with lower-paid migrants. In addition, they are deliberately creating wars (profiting from arms sales), government coups, and economic chaos to increase the numbers of migrants. Finally, to ensure public support for these policies, they use corporate controlled mainstream media and NGOs to stifle opposition to these policies with charges of racism, nationalism, right-wing conservatism, and cruelty.

  5. Robert J.
    September 26, 2019 at 11:02

    Unfortunately, and disappointingly, this article is totally in line with about everything one can read about Italian politics outside of Italy —  including of course anything the world’s mainstream media (*) has on offer: the largest political force in Italy (over 30% of the popular vote as of the 2018 elections), i.e. the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, = “Five Star Movement”), gets completely and utterly ignored. Judging from this article you wouldn’t think that it still is the main force in the second government in a row.

    While this omission can often be explained by the threat this movement’s novel approach represents for traditional political interests (whether these are globalist, leftist, sovereignist or whatever other -ist on town), and that it is preferable to ignore a serious threat rather than publicise it, it also demonstrates, more often than not, that most commentators are unable to understand — not to say conceive of — a frame of reference that differs from their own ingrained patterns of thought.

    Yet, for a number of years — albeit with variable intensity — a number of exponents of the M5S have stressed the need for alternative policies such as those suggested by the author of this article. Curiously, he ignores that their positions have at times overtly led to conflictual exchanges (as, for instance, when they attempted to address the effect of France’s CFA franc on the economies of those African countries that depend on it, a criticism that wasn’t well taken at all in French circles); or the very fact that prime minister Conte, considered to be closer in spirit to the M5S than to any other political group, has repeatedly expressed the need for a completely different approach to immigration-related issues.

    [(*) Italian MSM have self-evidently adopted a different attitude, ever since the M5S began taking shape twelve years ago or so: in all that time it would be very difficult to find anything that can’t be categorised as falsities, lies, distortions, defamation, slander, or just plain bashing for bashing’s sake.]

  6. PEG
    September 26, 2019 at 05:23

    Attilio Moro makes some very good points regarding the roots of the immigration crisis in Italy and Europe, especially the role of Europe in impoverishing Africa through agricultural protectionism and the ravages of multinationals, but makes only one oblique reference to the elephant in the room, namely neocon-led Western imperialistic interventions in Libya and in the Middle East, which created giant streams of war refugees – and in the case of Libya, as Col. Gaddafi had warned – removed the barrier to African immigration to Europe.

    The Italian people – who in my (subjective) view – are probably the most intelligent and best informed in the West – largely realize this, and this is reflected not only in the popularity of Matteo Salvini and his anti-immigrant tubthumpers (now waning?), but also in the that of more reflective leaders, especially in the Five Star Movement, who recognize that it’s not the poor immigrants who should be blamed, but rather the warmongering, corrupt establishment in the West which created the mess, both by interfering in Africa and through the “forever war” in the Middle East.

    Earlier this year, 5 Star leader Luigi di Maio ruffled some diplomatic feathers when he announced: “The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean… If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries.”

    How true, but how rarely stated openly!

    The new leadership of Italy – especially Giuseppe Conte and di Maio – rue the day when Sarkozy and Cameron, with Obama and H. Clinton leading from behind – succeeded in converting Libya from a functioning state into an anarchistic jungle infested with terrorists and open slave markets, thereby creating the immigration crisis.

    Let us hope that Conte and di Maio succeed in changing policy not just in Italy but in Europe as whole (which will become easier following Brexit). Let us hope also that 5 star succeeds in developing from a populist movement to a strong and sustainable, long-term political force.

    • Robert J.
      September 27, 2019 at 11:55

      @ PEG: I’d (obviously) agree with almost everything you’re stating here — if it weren’t for this: “The Italian people – who in my (subjective) view – are probably the most intelligent and best informed in the West – largely realize this, and this is reflected not only in the popularity of Matteo Salvini”.

      Italians on the whole are just about as brainwashed and uninformed as anyone else in Europe, and Salvini’s success in the surveys demonstrates just that, in my view. The sensationalist racket he and the Lega have been making all summer, showing off and yelling slogans around the country’s beaches — while Five-Star members of the government were working their asses off — has been happily retransmitted by the media. As suggested by some, this has had the merit of detracting the attention from the achievements of the M5S, that black sheep of politics.

      There are several things at play. While the printed press, as elsewhere, has been consistently going down the drain in terms of sales, the vast majority of people still rely on their TVs as a source of information. Independently from this, the fact that Italians, for historical reasons, have many more reasons to distrust their political class (or for that matter most institutions), has led to people jumping on alternatives, whether they are constructive ones like the M5S or incompetent, narrow-minded loudmouths like the Lega’s politicians (resembling in this Mussolini’s fascists in the early days, see “Goliath” in English by G.A. Borgese)

      As far as people’s use of the net as a source of information, we should note that statistics tell us that Italians are among the least Internet-savvy people on the continent (you wouldn’t imagine the number of people that hardly ever turn on their computers for anything, look at their emails or even bother answering them). This can be related to the aging population, as well as to the poor acquaintance (say, compared to the Germans or the people of smaller countries) with English, not to speak of other foreign languages. I said “computers”, not “smart phones”: personally I do not consider the universal use of Facebook, Twitter and the like as demonstrating that people are more or less intelligent, or better or worse informed.

      To summarize how Italians can very well demonstrate that they are *not* necessarily more “intelligent and best informed” than others, even when they use the internet, for example, the comments to this interview two days ago on Sputnik Italy where top politician and ex-minister Calderoli, one of Salvini’s most repulsive characters (see his entry on Wikipedia, in Italian if you can), shamelessly compares the activism expecting his Lega to that of the Vietcong during the American war! Every one of those comments *applauds* his ridiculous analogy, and only one of them shows a tiny bit of reservations, doubting whether the Lega has the guts to match the Vietcong!

      Addition to both of our posts: the very character of the Five-Star Movement, insofar as it doesn’t play by the rules of the traditional political games and best summed up by the expression “direct democracy”, also makes it vulnerable to manipulations by the media, as evidenced by this article in Sputnik Italy, m5s-in-rivolta-parla-la-fronda-anti-di-maio/ where Sputnik (which tends to be favourable to the Lega) claims in the header that an internal revolt led by the previous Public Health minister is taking place in the ranks of the M5S — whereas it turns out further in the article that she is stating, if not the exact contrary, at least that she and others only have expressed a wish for a different approach to the movement’s internal problems. For a translation, try Yandex.

    • PEG
      September 28, 2019 at 02:32

      Robert J: Thanks for your very perceptive and interesting reply to my posting. You zeroed in on an over-the-top statement of mine, which I would have expunged or reformulated had I reflected a bit on the posting before dashing it out. I did not intend in any way to commend Salvini (or his minions like Calderoli, who are as noxious as you describe, some at the level of Mussolini’s squadristi), but rather point out the totally new and very productive approach of the Five Star Movement, which is one-of-a kind in Europe as a democratic movement going against the mainstream orthodoxies (in this way, Italy is today unique, as Germany was in the 1980s when Petra Kelly formed the Green Party, which has unfortunately veered in the wrong direction).

      Which is the point both of are making: the Five Star Movement (M5S) is taking a fundamentally new and innovative approach, based on direct democracy, non-interventionism, environmentalism, democratic use of the internet, etc. which is overlooked or brushed away as “populism” by the Western mainstream press. As you say in your posting, the M5S “gets completely and utterly ignored” even though it is the main political force in the country now, and I agree – this can be explained by its threat to established interests and by its having a new frame of reference that conventional commentators don’t understand.

      Also, good comment of yours that the M5S’s “direct democracy” makes it vulnerable to manipulation by the media, which casts democratic differences of opinion as internal revolts or problems.

      The crucial question going forward is what the future of M5S can be and will be, both in Italy and as a movement that can take root in other European countries – such as, say, France, Austria, even Germany – as an alternative both to the increasingly exhausted mainstream and to nationalist populism. Is direct democracy in a political party really viable or is it, like “herding cats”, bound to fail? Also, as you point out, the bullies in the schoolyard – the Lega – get the attention and thus support, while the serious, industrious students (M5S) do not (a situation we know from other countries). The strong, entrenched position of the mainstream “establishment”, which will either ignore or malign or actively subvert new rivals, can’t be underestimated.

      Would be very interesting to continue this conversation.

  7. John Puma
    September 26, 2019 at 01:30

    Well, at least, this sentence is finally written: “(T)he wars for oil and dominance in Middle East have created massive instability and refugees.”

    But it should have read: “The US/NATO wars for oil and dominance in Middle East and Africa have created massive instability, a condition that has created refugees throughout history.”

    The US has created an arc of miltitary/economic conflict that encircles Europe. The US military openly claims to have legitimate “interests” in essentially every African country and the wars it wages in some of them have been shown to have been secrets even to the US congress.

    If “one didn’t know better,” one might be forced to conclude that the US wars in the area
    are being waged to weaken Europe!!!

    A bit more pointed article appeared in August 2018 by Aidan O’Brien entitled In Italy, There Are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees. Connect the Dots.

    A portion of that article:
    “Since the year 2000, the USA has basically turned the Italian peninsula into a dagger, that’s stabbing at the Mediterranean in general, and at Africa in particular. The wars against Islam and AFRICOM changed America’s relationship with Italy. In 2005, the US navy moved its European headquarters from London to Naples. In 2008, United States Army Africa (USARAF) set up shop outside Venice (Vicenza). And Sicily (the Sigonella base, near Catania) became a major center for US drones and other attack and surveillance aircraft – directed at Africa.”

  8. dean 1000
    September 25, 2019 at 22:23

    The free movement of labor is capitalism’s Stalinism. Europe has also been plagued by the refugees of the imperialism of the USA, Israel, and the mafia monarchies bellied up to the Persian gulf.

  9. Sam F
    September 25, 2019 at 21:22

    The effective “global vision” must be economic development and protection of external cultures to prevent displacement. Without that the displaced are blowback, and the disruption should be therapeutic, focusing on redirecting the wasted resources of foreign wars to foreign aid.

    While “mass migrations [are] the product of … capitalism” because the worst tyrants rise to the top where institutions allow purchasing public office, the solution of “taming its disastrous policies” must start with protecting those institutions from money power, that is by restoring democracy.

    We would all be better off if the immigrants could help us to restore democracy. That may require the complete embargo of the US, the failure of its endless illegal foreign wars, and its reduction to poverty, so that the people of the US are forced to immigrate to DC and NY to overwhelm the forces of oligarchy.

  10. Tom Kath
    September 25, 2019 at 19:33

    The political divide in the western world is no longer left/right, labour/conservative, worker/employer. The PRIORITY is rapidly changing to globalist/nationalist. That is why BORDERS are the number one topic and consideration. Cultural/multi cultural, borders/borderless.

    • michael
      September 26, 2019 at 17:53

      While the division of globalist vs nationalist is increasingly emphasized by the media, I think division between the global neoliberal establishment elites vs everyone else would be a more accurate picture. The Establishment, including corporations, government politicians and intelligence agencies/ police states, have self-protected the elites for decades in their forays into global business exploitation of weaker countries resources including cheaper labor. The Rich have benefited greatly; the top 1% have seen their value triple while the bottom 50% have tread water for the last 40 years. For this inequality to continue, expand and somewhat, temporarily sate the greed of the Rich, the Establishment must demonize all aspects of non-globalist non-neoliberalism, particularly through government and their lapdog media, which has lost all credibility. The world exists in their view to dump money into the insatiable maw of the global neoliberal establishment elites. Screw the rest of humanity.

  11. Drew Hunkins
    September 25, 2019 at 12:34

    There is absolutely nothing morally or ethically suspect or pathological in desiring the strong enforcement of a nation-state’s borders. There’s absolutely nothing morally or ethically suspect or pathological in desiring some economic nationalism, as long as the militarist-imperialist impulse is totally squelched and civil liberties are staunchly upheld for all citizens of said nation-state. Of course, totally suppressing the imperialist impulse would do tons to greatly mitigate the flow of poor underdogs to our shores who are often fleeing war ravaged and economically exploited Third World countries by the Washington-Zio exploiters and hegemons.

    It’s noteworthy that some of the biggest cheerleaders for the insane idea of open borders have been the Koch bros and the Chamber of Commerce b/c they fully realize — unlike some of my brethren on the anti-imperialist progressive-populist left that a tight labor market is a boon for workers. When you’re on the side of the Koch bros and the Chamber of Commerce you know you’re delusional at best and deceitful at worst.

    Just as an example, take a look at the Jewish supremacist state of Israel — they enforce their borders with a bloodthirsty ferocity that’s sick and repugnant; yet many of Israel’s greatest champions and propagandists here in the United States are some of the biggest supporters of unfettered immigration. The hypocrisy is not going unnoticed.

    • michael
      September 25, 2019 at 19:42

      Good points.
      The key issue is that, as noted: “For example, the EU, represented by its leaders (France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel) is mainly in favor of accepting migrants, but only if they arrive and stay in Italy, while just a few (mainly the Scandinavian countries) are willing to share the burden. Further, the EU still considers illegal immigration a national, rather than a European, affair.”
      The Neoliberal Globalists want to keep Southern Europe as an exploitable buffer where the problems are “sovereign nation problems” (although the EU has destroyed sovereignty by the Euro alone). In principle, immigrants once accepted into Italy or Greece or any EU country should have free reign over all of the EU. In practice, even the more well off Northern European countries, the most desired residences, refuse to accept and support them. Instead they want to cherry pick the best, cheapest, most exploitable labor.

    • ML
      September 25, 2019 at 20:06

      Well said, Drew. Thank you; I agree.

    • nondimenticare
      September 25, 2019 at 20:39

      Hear hear. What has surprised me is that the lines have been drawn between those Italians who are against a refugee influx (in a country with very poor economic prospects at present for its population) and those who support it (as a humanitarian response). As portrayed in the media (who knows the reality?), it is the evil, xenophobic far right versus the open-hearted, reasonable centre – and no one laying the blame on imperial wars and abject EU acceptance of them. Moro lays the blame where it belongs. How many Italians do as well? Do we know?

    • Marcella
      September 26, 2019 at 11:21

      There’s more to Israeli immigration than people know. For decades, Israel has had a migrant labor population from Thailand or other SE Asian regions. These workers numbering hundreds of thousand lived under deplorable conditions, according to the late Israeli poet and writer Maxim Ghilan, who ran the publication Israel and Palestine. If they had children, the children were undocumented, invisible, and essentially non-entities. Human Rights Watch published the report, January 21, 2015, called “A Raw Deal Abuse of Thai Workers in Israel’s Agricultural Sector.” It is a glimpse into the issue.

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