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
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.
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.
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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